Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Question of Diversity as More Than a Popular-Culture Trend AKA Race, Comic-Culture, and our Entry into 2015

I've seen something that I think is encouraging, but worry could be treated more as a trend than as an actual shift in our culture. What is it? The growing popularity of racially diverse super-heroes. Simply a year ago this time few would have predicted we'd be getting a Black Panther movie, that a female Muslim teenager would be one of Marvel's biggest super-heroes, there was the possibility a Spider-Man of color will appear in film thanks to the Marvel and Sony Deal, and people are  now excited for a new comic about a black Superman-type character in the 1920's that will be coming out from a stellar creative team--although as Michael Davis points out, that isn't a new concept, just one finally getting more attention (after all, "Blue Marvel" touched on topics of historical racial relations and super-heroics, and was quite a good comic even if few read it).

We are almost at the end of Black History Month, a month I feel is a good thing to have, because even though some foolish people protest, "Well, if there were a White History Month people would freak-out," they miss the point that every other month basically is their, "White History Month," because we as an American society are getting more diverse, but still live in a world where a black man can be choked to death on camera by a police officer and nobody is charged with a crime...except for the person who taped it. As for Ferguson, I already said everything I felt needed to be said by me. In our real lives there is still so much racial turmoil, but in popular culture things seem to actually be getting better; it is great, but I wonder if society truly views this as a shift in culture to more diversity, or just a pop-culture trend to exploit.

Adam Brashear AKA The Blue Marvel
Remember when so-called "Gay shows" first became a huge thing? There are still plenty of shows featuring fictional or real gay individuals, but at one point it was all new and everyone was going on about, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," "Will and Grace," and the so-called, "Metrosexual Trend." In an interesting way, "gayness" becoming a bigger thing in popular culture actually helped our real-world society become more understanding and accepting towards homosexuality, with more and more States legalizing marriage equality. The, "Gay trend," as some called it, seems to have made a positive impact, and I wonder if it stands as a good example for more diversity to occur?

I now sometimes see two distinct groups of people, those who claim the success of shows such as "Empire" with a primarily minority-cast are signs of a change in our culture to an interest in more diversity, and some who just say this is all a temporary trend until the next group gets it time in the spotlight. I think calling someone's race or sexual orientation a, "Trend," is ignorant at best and offensive at worst, so that rubs me the wrong way. However, those who observe that we as a society soon will have a, "Minority as the majority," by the 2040's make a valid point that having more racial and sexual diversity in our entertainment is not a trend, it is a sign that we as a society are becoming more diverse in our entertainment, and hopefully will eventually do so in our actual lives too. In the meantime we can only work for more understanding and diversity.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rant-Reviews: Some Various Recent Stuff

Starting Off
An assortment of interesting comics have come out lately. I read them and then review them, you know how it goes. Shall we?

A Variety of Things
The Multiversity #1: Mastermen
I've been greatly enjoying "The Multiversity" and its titles so far, going so far as to say the "Pax Americana" comic was my favorite single issue of a comic in 2014. "Thunderworld" was fun and the guide-book turned out to be a fascinating mixture of storytelling and encyclopedia-styled facts. Therefore, after that amazing guide I can't help but feel a little let-down by this entry in the series, even with the famous Jim Lee supplying some pretty art.

As this series of loosely-connected comics from the mind of Grant Morrision proceeds, the little ways everything links to everything else are becoming more and more apparent, as well as the theme that almost every issue ends with the world ending or barely surviving a massive cataclysmic event clearly brought about by the ever-so-evil Gentry. Within this issue we see a world where good ol' Superman accidentally lands in Nazi Germany and deals with the fact that his innate Supermanly-goodness really doesn't sync-up with the evil and murderous Nazis--which, if you think about it, there isn't anything in real-life more evil than Nazis. It's expertly-drawn, interesting, and all-around solid.--just not as amazing as some of the other entries in this series.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Lady Killer #2
Joelle Jones continues to supply art and story (with co-writer Jamie S. Rich) for a comic that has a strange dichotomy of taking place in the "simpler" and "wholesome" time of the mid-1900's but revealing how things weren't necessarily any less violent or disturbing back then. This issue has us continue following, "Mrs. Schuller," someone who clearly has been a contract killer for some time (15 years), yet at some point softened enough to marry a husband and have two kids--with the balancing act of  being a hitwoman and happy housewife proving quite difficult. I'm not sure just what sort of agency our protagonist works for, as I at first thought it was maybe a government-type job, but am now not so sure. Watching our "hero" try to have two different lives has made for a neat comic so far, however, and clearly things are going to come to a head soon. I'm excited to see what happens.
4 out of 5 stars.

Secret Identities #1
This surprised me in that I liked it. I mean, another comic focused on what heroes are "really" like out of their costume, haven't we had that enough? Perhaps not, as this comic actually sets us up pretty well with a cast of people who are interesting and complex, with their lives outside of their "hero" activities actually looking potentially interesting. There is the cliche of someone joining the team who secretly wants to take it down from the inside (that's occurred countless times), but the little variations from what we might expect keep this fresh. A super-speedy hero who uses his power to the advantage of having two families (sleazy, but clever), one crime-fighter who is also the President's daughter, someone else who tells lame jokes while in costume and can't get a break in the comedy-scene in their regular life because, well, their jokes are lame. I can see this comic going either way of being intriguing and fun, or falling into genre tropes and being an uninteresting mess. Right now it looks promising, however.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Hawkeye #21
Well, this took forever...and it still has one more issue to go. I recall how exciting it was when the "Hawkeye" comic was first coming out, between Matt Fraction's great writing and David Aja's incredible art it was a marvelous read. Then it started to get delayed and other artists came in. Then it got even more delayed and felt like it was full of fill-in issues (the one that took place in a cartoon was cute but wholly unnecessary). Eventually it was announced this series would end, and finally here we are limping alllllmost to a conclusion before the book re-launches with a new creative team (because if Marvel has shown us one thing lately, it is that they love re-launching titles with a shiny new "#1"). This all leads to the most important question about this series and its penultimate issue though: Was this good? Yes, yes it was.

Even though it is starting to look like "All-New Hawkeye" is going to come out before the 22nd and final issue of this, at least we are going to eventually get the ending to a story that Fraction and Aja want to tell. Aja actually illustrated this whole issue and did his usual wonderful thing of artsy-meets-action while Fraction gave us more of that now-classic "bro"-talk and hints of just what the overall mystery of all this is (that safe and redhead from the start of the series seems to be integral to all this after-all). It's extremely solid comic-book-reading and a shame it has taken so long for it to approach the finish line. Basically, this is going to read fantastically for anyone who buys the inevitable omnibus and is able to ingest everything in one long sitting-session. Although, for those of us who bought this in single issues and still have some time before the conclusion it has been a basically equal measure of reading-pleasure and waiting-pain. Now to see how long it takes for the final issue to actually come out.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Finish Line
That was a good assortment of titles, wouldn't you a agree? Nothing too bad, and some quite impressive stuff. Yeah, this was an overall solid chunk of material.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The First Three Issues of "Gotham by Midnight" and the Last Three of "All-New X-Factor

Today I shall discuss a series that has just started (and what a start--in a good way!) along with a series that has concluded (and what an end--in a bad way!). Read on for my thoughts!

Strong Starts Via Gotham by Midnight
I will admit that I'm someone who gives DC plenty of grief for some of their actions. It may be rude, but dear God they often are doing horribly stupid maneuvers that bed the question, "What are they thinking?" That said, if DC's upcoming plan to make their comics have more unique voices has the first three issues of "Gotham by Midnight" as an example of this idea, then DC might just hit a few out of the park--because this series is just plain fantastic only a few issues in.

The concept is introduced quickly and efficiently with everything making sense just half-way through the first issue. There is a unit in Gotham that handles weird crimes, they find out about these crimes through one of their supernatural detectives getting help from Batman in a mutually beneficial relationship. Some people think the squad is at best a waste of money, at worst some kind of way to corruptly embezzle funds. The opening of each issue makes such a superb introduction however, pointing out these detectives know they lack trust, and they don't care:
It's a striking beginning to each issue and much of the thanks for this series being so startling belongs to Ben Templesmith and his ability to create artwork that is extremely disturbing yet gorgeous at once. I've seen/heard people say this reminds them a bit of Templesmith's work with Warren Ellis on "Fell" with its twisted tales of detectives, and I can see where that thought comes from but would argue this comic is a unique beast all itself. A fascinating mixture of police procedural and the supernatural, "Gotham by Midnight" is a delicious blend of artwork and writing (Ray Fawkes provides some solid characterization and plotting).

Despite being set in-continuity with the rest of the DC this really reads as something being allowed to exist in its own pocket-Universe of awesome besides some nods to the DC-Universe at-large (Batman, Detective Corrigan and his connection to The Spectre), and it benefits from it. Should the series continue to be as impressive as its start, this will be something fondly looked back upon in the future.
5 out of 5 stars.

Finishing Out With a Whimper Through "All-New X-Factor"
I've discussed on countless occasions the great deal of affection I have for the run of "X-Factor" that preceded this short run of the "All-New" version (seriously, it was one of my #fourcomics).  The 18th and 19th issues are wonderful too, with Peter David's usual trademark wit being spouted off by everyone between some cool adventures.

It wasn't a surprise I found myself greatly enjoying this series up through the 18th issue,and then the 19th issue...not actually the 20th issue. Why did I dislike the 20th issue, however? Well, to put it as politely I as I can, the first nineteen issues of "All-New X-Factor" made a nice bed for this series to go to sleep in with its final issue, and that final 20th issue goes and takes a dump in that bed in the most spectacular fashion imaginable.
Yeah, I have no idea what's being discussed here.
This series, which has had absolutely seemingly nothing to do with the Spider-Man 2099 comic that David also has written recently, suddenly has the main character of that series pop-up in this, and reveal that the CEO who our mutants have been working for is actually someone from the 2099 comic who wants to take down some corporation I've never heard of (because I don't read any 2099 comics) run by some other man I am unaware of (because, again, I've never read the books in this series that up until this issue had nothing to do with it, I thought). I'm not the only one who finds this last-minute story change annoying, and its really saddening considering how much I liked everything beforehand.

The first nineteen issues of this series were fun, well-written, exciting, and other words that mean, "Good." Then, the final issue goes and ruins any goodwill I had. Putting aside that spectacular fiery crash of a climax this was a series I loved, even if it turns out its end is more of a lead-in to a "Secret Wars" mini-series David is writing set in--you guessed it--2099.
The Series Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
The Conclusions of the 20th issue: 1 out of 5 stars.

Closing Thoughts
A series can easily start strong and end poorly, or on the other hand start weakly and end amazingly. There are of course comics that can maintain their quality all the way through their run and other series that are just a mess from the word, "Go." With all these variables for the beginning and end--along with everything that makes up a series in-between--it is always interesting to see what we end-up with. "Gotham by Midnight" has started as a great comic and I hope it maintains its level of quality, and "All-New X-Factor" was a great series but found itself severely hampered by an inability to, actually give us a satisfying conclusion. Beginning and ends, they can be interesting, wouldn't you agree?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tales From the Dollar Bin--Lightning Round of Four comics!

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...

Shorter Tales
Usually I'll just have one tale in a post for you, my beloved readers. However, today I find myself with some dollar-bin items that perhaps don't warrant an entire post, but should still be discussed. Therefore, think of these tales as if they were, "short stories," I suppose. Although, I should mention there is a bit of an over-arching theme to all of these selections that I'll discuss at the end.

Ultimate Avengers 2 #4
A bit after Mark Millar finished his mostly-liked run on "Ultimates," and the long-delayed, "Ultimates 2", Marvel still wanted to make some money from him writing comics relating to those characters in the Ultimate Universe. Therefore, they had him do an ongoing series that was strangely split into some mini-series under the name, "Ultimate Avengers," with this issue of course reflecting the 2nd mini/arc. Whereas the initial "Ultimates" comics he did with Bryan Hitch had the best and worst of Millar's tendencies, this was just the latter AKA it was awful.

It features Mark Millar--a man who  I feel isn't racist but has some troubling issues with writing people of color--giving us a genius black scientist who gains hulk-like strength and uses it to become....a super-powered drug-dealer. A drug-dealer that only works with the U.S. Government so his family he abandoned doesn't learn he is still alive. His name? Tyrone Cash. Also, this issue involves a previous-issue reveal of how the Vice-President of the Ultimate Universe (whom I thought was the same as in the real world, but I guess not) is part of a satanic group that we then witness gives him ghost-rider styled powers.
Cash is kind of like Luke Cage if he were a bad guy and the epitome of every black stereotype.
Whereas with the earlier "Ultimates" comics Millar was maybe giving us some cheeky commentary about U.S. exceptionalism, here he just goes all-in on the absurdity. "Let's have a racially offensive character be a part of a team that fights a demonic Vice-President," is an idea you think would only appear in a parody comic. Yet this was all too real...and all too stupid.

Tempest #1
Big City Comics is a publisher that as near as I can tell is basically dead. The website lists "future" convention stops that are outdated by years. There hasn't been a new title from them since a comic provocatively called "Whore" about a man who does questionable jobs for money. Although, on their Facebook page, every month or so they post something as if to give that slight hint of life, with claims of things being worked on. It's sad this publisher burned out so horribly, as when they first began some kind of interesting monthly titles were coming out from them that then suddenly ended--never to be completed. They had a revival of the "Ant" character that later was mired in controversy due to its creator's actions, an  Avengers-like team called, "Omega One," and some other decent stuff, like this "Tempest" comic.

Basically Tempest was about a prosecutor-by-day (shades of the lawyer-hero Daredevil here) who was also a vampire and had to feed at least once a month to stay alive, so he only would kill people he thought were guilty. It was a mostly unremarkable comic besides in one issue where the hero (Gabriel Tempest) meets a vampire Ben Franklin, that was funny. Perhaps the fact that "Tempest" was just another okay book with passable art is one reason Big City Comics ended up failing. If you just put out, "Meh," comics you probably aren't going to last that long.

The Authority: Worlds End #1
Ah yes, this is one of the comics from the last-ditch attempt by DC to make their Wildstorm Universe relevant and interesting by going and blowing everything up. Seriously, they ended the world in a mini-series titled "Mark of the Beast" that was actually pretty fun and led-up to by other comics. After that, everything got relaunched and when DC could tell this new effort just wasn't working they folded Wildstorm into the main DC Universe after "Flashpoint" created the New 52 Universe.

Still, it is interesting to think back to when Wildstorm was that little imprint-that-could created by Jim Lee for Image, then bought by DC and treated as its own unique Universe that created some admittedly stellar comics. Before long of course it then petered out, ending a weak shadow of what it once had been. So, it sounds like a sports metaphor for that athlete who is amazing in college (the first publisher, Image), signs a contract with a pro-team, and then despite once being impressive can't deliver despite various attempts at different teams (e.g. big events such as this last one that destroyed the world). Yup, Wildstorm basically is a slightly more successful Tim Tebow.

Dark Reign: Lethal Legion #2
Despite it not really being an event-comic so much as a general "event" that many comics tied into, I kind of liked when "Dark Reign" happened. At the end of the otherwise dull "Secret Invasion" Norman Osborn becomes a hero and then proceeds to persecute super-heroes and otherwise be a huge jerk. It eventually culminated in the truly awful "Siege" event, but before that we got some good stories in a variety of ongoing comics, and via some mini-series, of which "Lethal Legion" was one.

Basically a team of baddies were able to abduct Norman Osborn, but got caught, and now are in prison at "The Raft", which is a facility for super-powered offenders. It is thought someone betrayed the team, and at the end of the first issue we see one member of this group was surprisingly enough Wonder Man himself, Simon Williams. In this issue it is explained how when he spoke out against Norman Osborn people mocked him, making it so that when his long-time evil brother came over one night with an idea, it sounded appealing.
Thinking himself like Captain America when would recruit current and former villains (after all, even Hawkeye used to be a criminal), Simon and his brother (villain name, "Grim Reaper,") get some villains, and kidnap Norman Osborn, as we see in some recollections of what happened. Of course, as they are now all in prison something clearly went wrong. The next and final issue reveals Reaper himself--the one who had the idea for the team--was actually behind it all, but I enjoy this issue because we see Wonder Man in a way he normally isn't seen, angry and doubtful.

A bit later once "Dark Reign" ended Williams would be written as a raving lunatic who hates the Avengers but actually makes some valid points about why they are bad in two "Annuals," before then taking some time off and coming back eager to be an Avenger again, apparently. Still, this mini-series--and this issue in particular--showed me one reason I enjoy reading about Wonder Man. Namely, despite all his power he is deep down only human, and prone to trusting those he shouldn't (his brother) or overestimating how much good he is capable of doing.
The recent "Uncanny Avengers" run that had Simon Williams on the team touched on this just a little bit, but this barely-remembered mini-series from an event a majority of folk disliked actually showed me the side of Wonder Man I find most fascinating. Funny how that works out.

The Point of All This
I told you that despite all being very different comics I did have an overall theme I was thinking of with each title I've discussed here today. I'll now tell you how I was thinking that all of these titles grew out of other much bigger things and did not achieve as much success as what came before or was the main event, but were at least interesting (with some even being good too)! "Ultimate Avengers" and the "World's End" comics failed to do the big bucks the titles before them did, and "Lethal Legion" was a barely-read mini-series in a large event, but still quite good.

Oh, and "Tempest?" That is an example of a comic from a publisher that grew out of the optimism in the mid-2000's that having a comic book was just the first step to millions of dollars of success (remember when everyone thought making your movie idea a comic-book first was a good business strategy?). Of course, the economy tanked in 2008 and it became clear that just because something came from a comic book that didn't mean it was going to succeed (Unless it was from Marvel, which interestingly enough began making absurd money thanks to "Iron Man" and its 2008 release).

My point then, is that for every big thing, little things can grow out of it, some succeeding more than others, but in this case all being lesser-known...tales from the dollar bin!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Explaining my "#fourcomics"

What is #fourcomics?
A bit ago I talked about how "#comicsforward" was trending, and there is another Twitter idea that came about recently which I thought I would comment about/join-in on. It is "#fourcomics", and was created by comic-writer Jim Zub. It started out as discussing four comics that influenced you growing up, but has morphed into being four comics that matter to you in some fashion.

I posted my "#fourcomics" on Twitter at the start of the month and thought I would share why they are my four comics that matter to me. I suppose it all comes down to how they really impacted me in life either when I first read them, or sometime after.

My #fourcomics
New X-Men #127
This could quite possibly be my favorite single-issue of a comic, ever. Yes, in all of time. I even remember how I picked this up, it touched me so deeply. It was from a local newsstand-store that back then sold some comics too, and it struck me with its weird image of a metal-headed man staring at a cheeseburger. I had been reading some of the "New X-Men" comics off and on but could not recall seeing this strange character, so I picked it up. It was amazing. I mean, all of Grant Morrison's run on this title was amazing, but this issue...just, wow.

The art was just the right kind of moody for its story of Xorn, the man with the metal head to contain the sun that served as his head, as he investigated a series of pets going missing around a part of New York City colloquially thought of as the mutant area of the metropolis. He writes in a journal we see excerpts of how he is trying to get a grasp of life here in America (he was a Chinese citizen locked in a prison due to fear of his power), and he stumbles upon a young teenage mutant in the process of changing, whose mother unfortunately has given him and herself an overdose of pills out of fear of how he will be treated when people learn of his changing and extreme hunger that led to eating local pets. Xorn tries to help, but it's all for naught. Life goes on though, as he remarks at the issue's end.

This all struck me as so deep and impacting when I first read it, and then of course later in Grant Morrison's run the dark truth came out that Xorn was Magneto in disguise all along. This should ruin the issue for me, but actually makes it even better. Xorn says things that hint at what Magneto would state--in the issue and others--and in a way this issue shows what a kinder, gentler Magneto would be like even though much of the journal entry he created could be fabricated.

This is just an amazing comic and one thing I hold up as a reason for why I read them.

Moon Knight #13
This is from the run on the title that happened not too long ago, but due to various cancellations and relaunches of the title character's series now was...three ongoings ago if we count the current one? Whatever the case, it doesn't really matter, as not since Doug Moench's early Moon Knight stories had I enjoyed a run as amazing as Huston's on Moon Knight. I came across a hardcover of the first six issues from his run, loved it, and proceeded to follow the second arc to this amazing 13th issue, the last one Huston wrote alone before passing writing duties to Mike Benson, and God, what a way to finish. Coming out of Marvel's "Civil War" and its aftermath, this issue focused on how in a world where heroes have to register, a normal human who happens to fight crime like Marc Spector might be a tough case to judge. 

A borderline psychotic character whose violent tendencies make Batman look like he uses kid-gloves on criminals, how would Spector possibly get government approval to be a hero? Well, this issue tackles that and it is glorious in its showcasing of how Spector's own instability could very well serve him in scaring enough folk to give him what he wants. This issue encapsulates why Moon Knight is arguably my favorite comic-book hero, namely, he is someone you don't always root for, but a character who is fascinating to witness the actions of.

Doktor Sleepless #13
Arguably the comic that introduced me to Warren Ellis, in a sense. I say, "In a sense," as I had read things by Warren Ellis before, but not necessarily his "big-name" works that really showed-off his personality. Therefore, having been unexposed to the unique madness that is Ellis, opening up and reading something that was quite possibly the most "Ellis-y" comic ever was quite the shock to the my system--in a good way--over its amazing uncompleted run. Yes, that's right, another Warren Ellis comic that ended suddenly and may never be completed (there are a number), with this last, and marvelous, issue literally ending with a grenade flying through the air at a riot, now seeming to never be drawn exploding--just perpetually floating. 

Full of radio-rants by the main character, Jon Reinhardt, that sound like mini-essays by Ellis, the comic concerns a future that has let people down. Graffiti covers the city with messages such as, "Where's my fucking jetpack?" and the populace finds themselves so disaffected with the world they've taken to physically modifying their own body with technology in an attempt to be able to feel again. Then the Lovecraftian monsters appear and its clear we are really dealing with something fascinatingly weird.

The fact that after the first arc our mad-scientist main character retreats into the background as various secondary characters attempt to make sense of the madness he has caused only makes things even more curious, with the mystery just possibly starting to be revealed a little bit more as it all suddenly ended on a cliff-hanger. I truly hope "Doktor Sleepless" comes back someday, but know it most likely won't. I treasure the issues I got though.

X-Factor #6
I've often discussed in the past just how influential "X-Factor" was in my life, with the series overall probably being my favorite run of a comic thanks to Peter David's amazing writing and great contributions from various artists. This issue itself may not be as incredible as some later ones in the series, but this was the start for me, i.e. the first one I read. I went back to enjoy the previous issues and "Madrox" mini-series that led into it, but this was the start of that magical journey.

"X-Factor" was a comic where every issue may not have been amazing, but enough were that you knew you had to follow the series. A big thing I appreciated was how Peter David didn't, "Write for trade," with his long-game being apparent in how he would have a character in one issue say they'd be back, and then 30-or-so issues later have it revealed they were behind a lot of events. Just that kind of thoughtful writing where you can see someone actually planned stuff out months and years in advance is something I like, especially in this era where it can feel like publishers don't have anything planned beyond an event or two.

Four Wonderful Comics of Many
It can be hard to pick just four comics, but these are prime examples of comics that make me proud to say, "Oh yeah, I'm a comic book fan." It is interesting and a bit sad three of them are older Marvel titles, with me reading less of that publisher lately, but so it goes. Anyhoo, what are your #fourcomics, my dear readers?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Spider-Man Will Be In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Let's Get Cautiously Optimistic!

This could be on the big-screen now!
It seems like just yesterday I was reflecting on a big announcement by a comic book company--oh wait, it was--and here we go with something else! It was announced really late last night/early this morning, so such a degree it took much of the day for the dust to settle, but yes, Spider-Man will officially be able to appear in a movie set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe through an interesting deal where he is not having his film rights sold to Marvel, but leased, in a sense.

No money exchanged hands, instead it's a true sharing of the character that benefits both Sony and Marvel. Spider-Man will pop-up in a Marvel movie (more and more folk are thinking the "Captain America: Civil War" film) and then afterwards will have his own solo-movie that mostly if not completely ignores the original three films and the most recent re-boot (goodbye, Andrew Garfield, you were actually a pretty good Peter Parker despite overall criticism of the movies).
"But I was supposed to star in a trilogy!"
I am, as the title of this post says, cautiously optimistic. This could result in fantastic movies, or become more of a crutch for Marvel--after all, would we have gotten such stellar movies about once lesser-known heroes such as Iron Man or Captain America if Marvel had the ability to make Spider-Man, X-Men, or Fantastic Four movies?

This has moved around the future release date of some other Marvel films, and apparently makes it so that the "Sinister Six" movie will be happening at a later date,but with the new Spider-Man the world will meet in "Civil War" and then follow the adventures of in his own flick. This is exciting and could result in some great story-telling possibilities (Miles Morales would be awesome) but let's be honest about why this happened:

So that everyone at Marvel and Sony can literally bathe themselves in money. So, so much money.

Monday, February 9, 2015

DC is Doing Some Retooling

It Begins...Again
Apparently DC will be making some changes after they finish the, "Convergence," event that occurs in April and May. It will lead up to the release of Free Comic Book Day's "Divergence" and then, basically, they are going to quit using the, "New 52," moniker (which is good as there hasn't been 52 ongoing series for quite some time) followed by the cancellation of a bunch of comics with the launching and re-launching others.

It isn't a reboot as this will still be the same Universe folk have been reading about since the actual re-launch in 2011, but apparently there will be some big changes in the comics. We will see attempts made to give the titles a more unique tone  full of diverse writers and artists, as opposed to sticking to a house-style of art and writing. The slang term for it has been the, "Batgirling," of DC, with such a term stemming from the success of when DC re-launched the "Batgirl" comic with a new creative team that brought a unique art-style and peppy, alternative tone.

This isn't to say DC is going to make all their comics a bright-and-cheery affair. No, the idea instead seems to be allowing creators the freedom to tell the kind of yarns they want--"Storytelling over continuity," as the previous article and the one I just linked-to both discuss. It is kind of funny as not long ago we were constantly reading about writers and artists leaving DC over anger at editorial interference. Now, DC is bragging about how they plan to let creators do whatever they want in the hopes of getting more, "Harley Quinn," or "Gotham Academy," styled comics--and not in the sense they involve Batman tangentially, but in how they are "different" and a bit quirky in tone.

 I myself am just pleased that Cyborg is getting his own ongoing comic, as every member of the current Justice League has had at least one title dedicated to them, and I personally feel Cyborg is more interesting than some members of the League (Hal Jordan, I'm sorry but you're kind of the most boring Green Lantern of any). As for if these new comics will turn out to be intriguing different or more of the same....we shall see.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Impressions on the Earlier Parts of Various Video-Games

A Sampling of Gaming Delights
I've had the chance to play some of the earlier segments of some various games and thought I would offer my thoughts as some early-impression reviews. I sampled these on a Playstation 4, for those who are curious.

Some Games
Dragon Age: Inquisition
I must confess I never played any of the previous "Dragon Age" games, but did a variety of research so that when I booted this up I would know the difference between a Grey Warden and a Templar, or what it meant to be a Circle Mage as opposed to a Rebel one. That said, it still felt like quite the info-dump being dropped into the this world and struggling to keep up with all the characters, plots, and so forth. I actually liked that though, as it kept me on my toes to have this story that was a fascinating mixture of politics, high-fantasy, and some action-filled gameplay with decent controls.

There is an overwhelming amount of things you are given to do at the start, but as many websites helpfully point out, you shouldn't spend all your time in the first big area (the Hinterlands) and instead play the missions that take you all over and let you explore the fascinating world of Thedas. That said, despite such a neat plot and mostly-interesting characters serving as your allies, the game-play itself can be a bit tricky. I'm supposed to be the Herald of Andraste (kind of like the 2nd coming of the world's Messiah) and I can kill a dozen demons with ease but I can't even handle a single bear with my full party backing me up? It's annoying, and the controls can be a bit floaty, but the story and all the cast are just so great I can't let myself get too mad at how a simple fight with a cave-spider nearly kills me.
4 out of 5 stars--although as it is such a huge game and I'm still in the earlier stages I could grow to love it more.

Lego Batman 3
These games are always a joy, although it continues to often surprise me how the puzzles in these can be tricky despite the "Lego" games being geared more towards children. This improves upon the previous entry in the series by streamlining a lot of features (it is much easier to change costumes), letting you play as many more characters in the main story-mode, and dropping the open-world that could be a chore to traverse in the past entry, instead having some interesting yet condensed areas.

The humor within the games continues to be top-notch, the controls are spot-on (except for the occasional weird occasion where a button with multiple functions does the one other than what you wanted), and it's a great game to play with a friend. I love the "Lego" game series and this is another stellar entry, something I can tell just from finishing the first few levels..
5 out of 5 stars.

Dying Light
This game can shift incredibly quickly from being a jolly good time to feeling like an utter slog. Having come out recently, "Dying Light" features you as an undercover operative for some Government agency after a file is stolen....and honestly, the story is just atrocious with its cardboard-cutout characters and laughably evil villains, so let's quit talking about it. Instead I want to tell you it is absolutely exhilarating to scurry up buildings and jump from rooftop to rooftop...and then it is really annoying to have your powerful weapon fall apart after a few swings at a zombie.

The city you wander through (called Harran) is gorgeously rendered, but it seems every character in the game wants to send you on fetch quests for their camera or some chocolates instead of giving you something interesting to do. This mixture of the fun from exploring but boredom from the awful story and mediocre missions results in something that is oftentimes fun, but also can irritate me. Although the mission where a man who isn't quite right in the head has you grab a copy of the movie, "Charly," is a clever reference, what with how that movie came from the book, "Flowers for Algernon" where a severely mentally challenged man becomes a super-genius. Nice allusion there.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
I'm amazed that considering how the Lord of the Rings movies (which are set in this Universe) are all PG-13 that such an utterly violent game was allowed to be produced set in the world of Middle Earth. I literally grabbed and shivved an Orc to death before chopping the head off of another in one fell swoop. Such a feat was possible because the controls for combat are really solid, which is nice as the story has struck me as pretty bland. You're a soldier-type who has his family murdered in the first 10-ish minutes of the game and proceeds to exist as a kind of "wraith" getting revenge by killing a bunch of Orcs, Uruks, and other ugly-sounding creatures.

The much-discussed and very-interesting feature of the game that I expect to see copied immensely in the future is, "The Nemesis System," whereby you can fight and kill (or seriously hurt) a variety of monsters, or kill certain ones so others gain a higher-ranking in Orc society, so that when you do kill them you get more power points. Basically, no matter what, in the end Orcs end up dead (and sometimes buggily come back to life), but you can influence how soon they get murderized in interesting ways. That said, besides the solid controls and intriguing system of making enemies in the game it is mostly another unremarkable open-world full of revenge and gore--a shame considering how rich the Middle Earth is when it comes to potential lore (although in my playing there was some fun interacting with Gollum).
3 out of 5 stars.

Far Cry 4
People say it dismissively, but it's true, this is basically more "Far Cry 3". Well, it is more "Far Cry 3" but with a better villain in the form of Pagan Min, and a story that actually is kind of intriguing as opposed to the so-so tale of the previous entry in this series. If you enjoyed "Far Cry 3" you're going to love this, if you didn't...move along.
3 out of 5 stars.

Fun Was Had
I may not have played a ton of the games, getting more than 9 hours in some and just 4 or so in others, but I enjoyed trying these various ones out and imagine you will too.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Television Tuesday--More "My Big Fat Fabulous Life" Review-Thoughts

More Thoughts, You Say?

Two weeks ago I posted a review of "My Big Fat Fabulous Life," or, "BFFL," as I like to call it. I quite liked the show but cautioned how with many a new program you have to watch more than the first couple episodes to truly get a feel for a show. Having enjoyed the hour-long premiere and four half-hour episodes (there have been two every Tuesday since the initial one), I can conclude that "BFFL" is indeed a delightful show, oftentimes hilarious and occasionally even a bit touching.

My earlier review has gotten some comments both for and against the show, but with the majority of people feeling supportive of our main protagonist, Whitney Thore. "BFFL" follows her efforts to lose some weight while also maintaining she has no body shame, just an interest in being healthy even if that means still having some poundage. We continue to see little-to-nothing of her brother, but her parents, Glenn and Babs, are just awesome and make the show even more fun than it already is. The episode where Whitney suffers through a one-year anniversary mourning of their previous dog, Gorgi, is a bit depressing at first, but after Babs gives a tearful speech about how the dog was her little, "Crumb-catcher," both Whitney and us viewers can't help but crack-up at the absurdity of it all. It's both funny, and human--and just one example of why this show is so enjoyable.
Watching Whitney and her mom interact is often funny.
While her parents are a delight, Whitney is of course the main draw of the broadcast, and as I've said before, her warm and bubbly personality is the primary reason this show is so fun. Were Whitney a cranky or unpleasant individual I would probably hate this show chronicling her attempts to lose weight, find love, and spread the joy of dancing. Thankfully, Whitney is really cool and one of the few people with a reality-show I think I would actually enjoy hanging out with--as opposed to say everyone on junk like, "The Bacherlor," who can go jump in a shallow creek from a high bridge.

Watching Whitney discuss her struggles over things we as a population take for granted (feeling comfortable going to the beach for the first in time 20 years, putting up with name-calling from strangers about her weight) is eye-opening for those in the population who may not think about how larger people deserve respect instead of being victims of jokes. As Whitney has mentioned on her show many times, being fat is treated as one of the worst crimes someone can commit in America, and seems to be one of the few things left in society it is okay to make fun of people for or otherwise be dismissive about, even if there are medical reasons for the weight such as Whitney with her Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS).
Whitney finds the perfect swimsuit in one episode.
"My Big Fat Fabulous Life" is a rare example of TLC actually living up to its name as, "The Learning Channel," and teaching us something about not judging others based solely upon their appearance. Whitney may be a big woman, but she also is a dancer, smart, funny, and yes, sexy--even though our society seems to have a weird opposition to  treating overweight people as sexual beings, instead preferring to pretend that if you way more than 200-ish pounds you're a celibate being.

"My Big Fat Fabulous Life" has not just been as good as the debut episode, it actually has gotten even better, delivering on laughs, teaching lessons, and teasing the possibility of Whitney finding love--be it through dating or possibly with her longtime friend, Buddy. I'm genuinely surprised and pleased that TLC has created a show about a large person that doesn't treat them as some kind of freak show or individual to pity, but instead a person to look-up to for their grace, sweetness, and otherwise being a superb individual. I look forward to the next two shows tonight and whatever else the future holds for Whitney!
5 out of 5 stars.

Links, Yes Links!

Because I love you all, here are some links to interesting topics...
As someone who loves their iPhone 4S, I would not be at all opposed to a new iPhone with the same size and toughness, but more computing power within its similar dimensions, as this editorial discusses.

This piece by The Atlantic discusses why so many Art Forgers actually want to get caught, whether to enjoy the attention, or see if they can paradoxically make a profit out of being found out to be faking other artworks.

A big publisher such as Marvel wants people to pick-up their comics, so why can it be so hard to get a comic if a ton of copies aren't ordered right away or a big reprint happens for an already successful book? It really ends up making the argument for trade-waiting if you can't pick-up a book you've heard is good, but was initially under-ordered, under-printed, and now is just unavailable.

He is one of the few male sex-symbol characters in comics, so it makes sense to ask, "Why is Nightwing Hot?" and explore the question.

Everything is not fine in game development, but that in a way could help, argues Rami Ismail in this superb read.

These "Redpillers" that exist on the internet sound like miserable human beings to be stuck in a room with. Often horribly misogynistic, racist, and otherwise unpleasant people, they are interesting to read about, but I bet nightmares to be around.

"Oh, that dent? Yeah, that was already there."
You take your car to "The shop" for a simple oil change or some other minor repairs, and then it comes back with a nasty dent or scratch. Who should have to pay? Not your or your insurance despite what some garages might claim.

Should you get a new PC anytime soon there are certain programs you should install, and if you have a smart-phone there are a variety of apps worth trying out too. I don't know if I would like them all, but I am familiar with enough useful ones to say these articles are helpful.

Simcity 2000 was a game I put countless hours into, with few things rivaling it time-wise in terms of playing besides maybe "Fallout 3" and of course "Simcity 4". Therefore, this person saying it was the most important game they ever played sounds reasonable, and especially touching after reading the story.

Another solid article from the The Atlantic discusses why even talking about Donald Trump and his faking interest in running for President is a waste of time. He's never going to do it, it is all just to promote his shows and his brand, so let's quit pretending he might run, okay?

Jezebel makes a good argument as to why single woman marrying themselves instead plays into patriarchal views more-so than going against it. Therefore, people  really should stop doing it.

Now to finish with an interesting piece; I've always found World War One intriguing historically with its mixture of old technology and the birth of new ways we as a society discovered to kill each other. It's kind of depressing to think some of our biggest technological leaps occur from things created during wartime. Therefore, one big element of warfare in the first World War that was afterwards banned--gas weapons--makes for a fascinating read in this article that asks if gas warfare actually was particularly effective, or more useful as a tool of fear.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Let's Do a Feature about Lion Forge and Their Comics!

It Dawned On Me One Day...
What comic-related goodness resides in our fair city?
I was sitting around thinking one day about how some cities really are hotbeds of comic activity. You have Portland, Oregon with its assorted publishers, I've been to shops in NYC full of locally-made mini-comics, and of course when someone hears the name, "San Diego," images of that huge comic-con enter their mind. As I continued thinking, I wondered what we have here in Saint Louis in terms of comic-delights. There are some small-press folk who put out titles, and that's cool, but we don't have any super-popular shops (well, we had the nationally-known Star Clipper, but yeah) even though I can recommend some cool places locally (Newcastle Comics is great).

Then I got to the question of if we have any comic-book publishers around here. At this moment it occurred to me that one publisher who has been growing in popularity with their digital releases and shift into some print releases too is in fact Saint Louis-based! Yes, I am referring to Lion Forge.

Some Background on Lion Forge

Launched four years ago in 2011, Lion Forge is a publisher which has primarily been involved in the digital space, but is in the process of getting more physical titles out via a deal made with IDW to assist with the print-side of things. One big release I am excited to read is, "Miami Vice: Remix" which will be available via Lion Forge and IDW with writing by the incredibly talented Joe Casey and art by the equally-amazing Jim Mahfood.

Lion Forge has an number of original titles, but many may know them for their licensed properties which they've made comics about, from NBC properties such as "Knight Rider" and "Saved By the Bell" to acquiring the license for The Care Bears thanks to their deal with American Greetings.

Lion Forge has some good comics and the intriguing way of how they went digital-first as a publisher and then added a print aspect made me  interested in talking to them. I was pleased that they were eager to speak with me too!

Talking To the Lion

I spoke with the CEO of Lion Forge, David Steward II, and the Chief Creative Officer, Carl Reed, about  Lion Forge as I was eager to learn about certain things. I wanted to know what had inspired them to do a focus on digital and David told me that back when they started in 2011 digital had not yet exploded to quite the degree it has now, but they saw how it was due to happen and wanted to, "Get ahead of the ball," in a way unlike how the music industry did (remember Napster?). As a group of professionals and friends who had experience in animation, graphic design, and the like, all the founders of Lion Forge were excited to do comics, but thought with how digital was going to grow massively it made sense to focus on that avenue.
Some of team Lion Forge, from left to right:
Carl Reed, Ike Reed, Lorenzo Lizana, David Steward II, and David Gorden
I asked David and Carl what they found most enjoyable about digital and they told me how it opens a lot of opportunities from a storytelling standpoint which may not be available in print. Bits of animation can occur, such as Kitt's headlights popping on in the "Knight Rider" comic, to give one example. Also, tricks of shading can occur which would require multiple panels in a comic but can be  handled easily through digital. That said, they do still love print and always were eager to start putting out comics through that method too once the chance arrived, which it has through their current deal with IDW.
When asked about titles they would recommend to folk who wanted to try Lion Forge, David said "Crystal Cadets" is a greatly enjoyable book focused on teenage girls who go on surreal journeys and Carl talked about how he was a fan of "Wonderous 2" which follows real-life cosplayer Yaya Han in unreal adventures.

Lion Forge has some great comics out and even more cool ones on the horizon. I greatly enjoyed talking with David & Carl and foresee an exciting future for Lion Forge!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Rant-Reviews: A Smaller Publisher Examination

It Starts
There are other comic publishers besides the, "Big Two," as those of you who read comics a lot
undoubtedly know. However, plenty of folk don't necessarily hear this and assume Marvel or DC put out all the comics in the world. They don't, and I felt like spotlighting such a fact with some comics from other publishers that are of note due to their high-quality or being less-than-good. Let's begin...

The Meat of the Article
Uber #21
Avatar Press has been putting out more and more quality comics since the early 2000's. Kieron Gillen continues to write a stellar comic set in an alternate World War II where the invention of super-powers dramatically altered events. This issue also has Caanan White, the initial artist on the series, penciling this so as to provide some high-quality visuals, drawing the bejeezus out of super-powered people beating each other to a pulp. It's violent, full of dramatic characters, and just thoughtful enough to be more than simple ultra-violence. There's a reason Gillen was my favorite writer of 2014 and quality comics such as these are why.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

Supreme: Blue Rose #6
I know Image isn't necessarily a smaller publisher--I mean, they have "The Walking Dead" for goodness' sake--but your general consumer of comics probably is unaware of this publisher by name, and this is my post, so I'm gonna do what I want and review this extremely opaque comic.

I am a huge fan of Warren Ellis; he is one of my favorite writers of comics and fiction books ever, so I 'm sorry to say he has really been annoying me with this title. In this penultimate issue of the mini-series some things are starting to become clear, but everything still is mostly confusing as Hell. I think the idea is that we are witnessing an alternate Universe where characters from other "Supreme" comics have been written out of reality but still exist in another land where they live when their stories aren't taking place.

Throughout the series we have seen some of the residents of this new universe struggling to figure things out, with some of them possibly recalling what happened, and others now existing as characters on a television show, etc., etc. It's actually kind of a Morrison-esque idea, that all the stories we've ever told about particular characters are in essence "true" and just waiting for a chance to return. At least, I think that is what we are getting at after an hour of sitting around and thinking about the series so far. I could be completely wrong, and that's the problem with this series making so little sense (other reviews mention confusion too, so it ain't just me).

The saving grace of this series has been the incredible artwork by Tula Lotay which is absolutely, incredibly, undeniably, gorgeous. Unless this final issue delivers some answers this will have basically been just seven issues of amazing visuals and a story that made practically zero sense. For now though, I would be tempted to give this just a below-average score, but that artwork raises this up to at least being fair enough I'll read the last issue in the hope things get cleared-up. If not, at least it'll look purty.
2.5 out of 5 stars.

Lady Killer #1
Another publisher that isn't necessarily that small (Dark Horse), but still a brand most civilians (e.g. non-comic readers) would be unfamiliar with. This comic is the most bizarre mixture of ideas, with a happy-go-lucky housewife in the 1960's also being a bad-ass assassin.  It's a strange juxtaposition between Joelle Jone's art looking perky and silver-agey and then getting really gruesome, but it works quite well.

There is something interesting in seeing how despite being a dangerous killer the protagonist also wants a happy home-life and has to put up with sexism in her own job of spy-work. This first issue establishes a good "feel" for the story and introduces a variety of characters, but for now it is still a little too early to tell if this is going to be great series, or a one-note idea that wears out its welcome quickly. We shall see, but regardless of what future issues hold this debut was promising.
3 out of 5 stars.

Holy F*ck #1
When I heard about this I really thought it would be better than it is, and that's disappointing. A comic inspired by the grindhouse films of the 1970's and 80's full of over the top violence, sex, and featuring a religious twist. The basic idea is that Jesus is back on Earth and is recruited by a Nun to stop other deities from wrecking the world and causing people to worship them. It's a clever idea, but the comic seems more interested in saying, "Look how controversial I am," instead of being good.

The art is cartoony, which works for the comic, but is also extremely simplistic and lacks much of any detail, which doesn't work well at all. You can only get so much mileage about of pure shock value, and while Jesus smoking drugs and kissing Satan at the end of the comic is surprising, a fun story it does not make. There are plenty of excellent comics that use religion as a springboard for controversial stories (just look at "Preacher"), but this one reads more like a half-baked idea with quarter-baked presentation. It's a shame, as publisher Action Lab does have some good stuff coming out. At least this has a few jokes that save it from being awful.
1.5 out of 5 stars.

Terminal Hero #5
One more issue after this and "Terminal Hero" will be done with its unique and quite strange story. I've discussed in the past how this comic seemed to moving at too-fast a speed, and I'm glad that in these later issues things have slowed down a bit to develop Rory's character and his motivations. I've enjoyed this series so far and as long as it manages to, "Stick the landing," it will be a good example of what the publisher, Dynamite, is capable of with their Creator's Unleashed brand.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose #90
Throughout the history of "Tarot: With of the Black Rose" Jim Balent has been the writer and artist, with Holly Golightly providing the color-work. Also, Golightly has done a webcomic with print collections titled, "School Bites," which is a manga-esque creation. Each title has been done by the husband or wife of this famous duo, but other than Golightly providing the colors on "Tarot" there has not been any cross-over. That changes with this 90th issue, in which the teenaged vampires of School Bites find themselves in the "Tarot" Universe. I've always enjoyed "Tarot" despite some dismissing it as sheer cheesecake, instead often finding stories that are generally clever and enjoyably, "different," one could say.

Switching up the usual routine, both Holly and Jim co-write and illustrate this issue, with the art-style switching off between Jim's art and Holly's manga-look at various points where either style is better representative of the action in the story. The plot for the characters meeting-up is a bit simplistic (a time machine malfunctions and instead changes realities), but in the case of 99% of cross-overs the reason for various realities meeting-up is silly so I'll let that slide--after all, the reason we really read cross-overs is to see what happens when different characters are put together.

So, we are reading this to see different world collide, and this issue serves as a good introduction to the school of vampires that teaches them to drink blood responsibly, but if I were to have a complaint about the book it would be how Tarot and her sister, Raven Hex, actually appear in the book for less than half of the issue. As someone unfamiliar with "School Bites" I did appreciate the lengthy introduction to the cast, but would have loved to see more of them interacting with "Tarot" and crew (it would have been especially fun for Jon AKA Skeleton Man to show-up drawn in Holly's style, but one can't get greedy with cross-overs).

Between the usual strong art from Jim and injection of extra-cuteness from Holly we get another solid issue of "Tarot" which also will probably help raise awareness of "School Bites". A successfully entertaining issue that takes advantage of being an independent comic by being its usual awesomely strange self.
4 out of 5 stars.

In Closing
You may be "In the know," about how there are more comics than by Marvel and DC out there, but many people are unaware. As these reviews illustrate, there is a lot of stuff out there beyond what the biggest names put out, and there is plenty of it to pursue...and honestly, avoid. Anyways, I hope you enjoy what I recommend (and skip what I don't). Should you know of any good indie comic I've never mentioned on the blog do please mention it too as I'm always on the look-out for quality reads.