Archive for May, 2010

31
May
10

Summertime and the livin’ is… busy

Well here we are, the official beginning of summer vacation. (I can’t really count the weekend, since I would have those days off anyway. And yes, I know today is Memorial Day, but my school district rarely gets that day off when it falls before the end of the semester. Regardless.)

So now I’ve got just a hair over two months of freedom. What will I do with that freedom, you ask? Work, of course. I know, I’m a fool. But aside from spending time with Erin, pretty much everything I’ve got planned through August involves work of some fashion. I’m rehearsing for the Thibodaux Playhouse summer musical. I’ve got two short stories that I’m trying to complete for submission to a couple of anthologies, I’ve got the usual podcast, column, and review duties over at Comixtreme, and I plan to really work hard on recording the next big project for the Evercast, which I hope to hell I’ll be able to start this month.

Plus, Comixtreme itself is about to undergo a major overhaul, which has got me thinking about a more permanent home for my older features. Time Travel Tuesdays here will give me a way to re-present old columns, but I needed some place for the old reviews. Back when I was a LiveJournaler, I started up a community there where people were free to post reviews of old comic books. I’ve decided to bring back concept as well, and yesterday I spent a few hours putting together a new blog, The Back Issue Bin. I’ll post a few old reviews there every day (or at least most days), and on Mondays I’ll be doing a feature called Somebody’s First Comic Book. Just to give that site some new content.

So I’ll be busy, guys. I’m on a vacation from school, but not a vacation from work. And I’d better get to it.

30
May
10

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 172: Lost-The End

Your good buddy Chase returns for a very special chat with Blake and Kenny about the final episode of Lost! After six years of waiting, what questions did the final episode answer? What was left unresolved? Which episodes were most important and which ones were the most fun to watch? And is the Lost Experience really over? In the picks, Chase goes with Avengers #1, Kenny digs the return of Birds of Prey, and Blake is happy with Fantastic Four #579. Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@comixtreme.com!

Music provided by the Podshow Podsafe Music Network.

Episode 172: Lost-The End
Inside This Episode:

Plus: The newest Disney adventure film has hit theaters! The boys check out Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time in this week’s At the Movies bonus episode!

At the Movies Episode 17: Prince of Persia-The Sands of Time

29
May
10

What I’m Reading: Carrie

Last month, Bryan Wolford of the Drunken Zombie Podcast launched a new project, The Castle Rock Podcast, in which he and his co-host will review and discuss the works of Stephen King in chronological order. I’ve been a Stephen King fan for years, ever since my Uncle Todd gave me The Stand to read in high school, and as I’ve found precious few podcasts that actually focus on prose fiction (as opposed to the volumes of podcasts about comics, movies, and TV shows), I subscribed right away. Although I’ve been a King fan for over 15 years now, there are still several of his earlier works that I’ve never gotten around to reading, and I’ve decided that the Castle Rock Podcast will be the perfect opportunity to play catch-up. So I begin as they did, and as King himself did, with the 1974 now-classic Carrie.

It seems silly to recap the book at this point, so I’ll do it quickly: Carrie White is that girl in every school who becomes the target of the popular crowd who disdains anyone who is different, and as Carrie’s Holy Roller mother has kept her isolated for her entire life, she’s the perfect scapegoat. After a particularly cruel incident, one girl attempts to make amends while another plans the cruelest blow of all. Together, unwittingly, the two girls bring about tragedy.

While the book contains the germ of things that would make King a great writer later in his career (including strong characters and rich descriptions and action scenes), it also contains one of his fatal flaws: the glass jaw that takes out the danger at the end. On the plus side, Carrie isn’t really the villain of the piece, she’s a victim who lashes out once driven past the breaking point, and while she is literally responsible for the death that is left in her wake, I think many philosophers would argue that a much greater amount of moral responsibility be laid at the feet of Chris Hargenson and Billy Nolan. The book also shows an attempt to give a scientific explanation for the supernatural, in this case a gene responsible for Carrie’s telekinetic powers. King has drifted away from explaining such things (or much of anything) in later years, and I have no doubt that were he to write this novel today he would leave out any attempt at quantifying what brings about the telekinesis. He would also probably have a much longer, slower build-up to the full-on reveal of her powers.

This is not to say that the novel isn’t good the way it’s written. It’s a very effective story and, like many of King’s works, a strong character study. There’s no question why it’s been adapted so many times, although it’s really only been done well once.

I’ve read the next book coming up in the Castle Rock Podcast already, King’s vampire novel ‘Salem’s Lot. Now that summer vacation is upon me, I may try to read it again before the show hits the internet.

27
May
10

What I’m Reading: Brightest Day in May

Okay, technically I this is my second Brightest Day post in the month of May, following this earlier one, but it rhymes, and I had a rough week, and I’m tired, and shut your face.

I’m sorry, I… I didn’t mean that. It’s the last week of the semester and I’m worn down and… I like your face. Really?

Let’s review some comics, okay?

Justice League: Generation Lost #1

The other bi-weekly series that we’re going to follow for the next year kicked off two weeks ago with this first issue. Maxwell Lord was an entrepreneur with a metahuman talent, the ability to control people’s minds, but the power was a weak one and even a small strain caused him to break into nosebleeds. Instead of becoming a hero himself, he settled for organizing the “International” incarnation of the Justice League in the 80s and 90s. But in the opening days of what would become Infinite Crisis, Max revealed that he was in fact manipulating the heroes in concert with Checkmate, and murdered the Blue Beetle. Wonder Woman was forced to put him down to stop him from using Superman as a weapon, and the fallout nearly destroyed her career. But in the wake of the Blackest Night, Max has come back to life, and in this issue he’s pulling the biggest scam of all time — using his power to make the world forget he ever existed.

Keith Giffen, who wrote the original Max stories back in the JLI era, is the plotter and breakdown artist for this series, helping give it a strong continuity. This isn’t the “Bwa-ha-ha” League he wrote back then, however. He’s giving us a more serious story, with real stakes for our heroes. His co-writer, Judd Winick, has often been hit and miss for me. His humor books (like The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius) are great, but his superhero work often fizzles out. I’m hoping that having him work in concert with Giffen, we’ll prevent that sort of thing from happening here.

As this is a biweekly book, there isn’t much chance of a “regular” art team. Aaron Lopresti does the chores on issue one, and he does a solid job. Working from Giffen’s breakdowns, he tells a solid story that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Rating: 7/10

As it’s been three Wednesdays since I talked about Brightest Day, another issue of this biweekly has already hit the stands. Let’s talk about it, shall we?

Justice League: Generation Lost #2

In the second issue, Max has cut loose with his power and succeeded in not just making nearly the entire planet forget him, but place some sort of post-hypnotic suggestion that makes people reject the truth when confronted with it. Only four people remember the truth, four members of Max’s former League who were in contact with his blood when he pulled his stunt. Booster Gold is already considered a joke to many of the heroes of the DC Universe, so his word is taken with a grain of salt, but now Max is taking steps to discredit and ruin Fire, Ice, and Captain Atom as well. With no one to turn to except each other, they set out to prove the truth and bring Max to justice.

The plot really kicks into gear this month, as the aftermath of Max’s global windwipe starts to come together. The writers have done a good job of filling in the gaps, even to the point of figuring out who Max would attribute each of his crimes to  in order to make people forget him more readily. The things he allows people to believe about Ted Kord’s death are perhaps more insidious than anything else he’s done, and it kind of makes you hope that Booster Gold is the one who lays the smack-down on him when the time comes. I’m also glad that the writers gave us a more scientific explanation (well… comic book science) for why these four and no one else remember Max. I was afraid it would be more emotional, that these four somehow felt more strongly than anyone else, but an answer like that would really be a disservice to Guy Gardner, the Martian Manhunter, Power Girl, and other members of those JLI teams.

Two issues in, I really think the writers have given us a solid start. I just hope there’s enough meat to the story to last a whole 26 issues.

Rating: 7.5/10

Titans: Villains For Hire Special #1

With the former Titans team pretty much disbanded and its members scattered to the four winds, the assassin called Deathstroke takes the name for his new team of mercenary villains. Their first target? Someone known to the heroes of the DCU all too well.

Plenty has been written about this issue already, so I won’t belabor the point, but there is one positive thing I can say about it. I promised that I wasn’t going to go out of my way to get every Brightest Day related title, but until I read this issue I was afraid that might happen anyway. Now, the chances of me following this story into the ongoing Titans comic are slim to none. First of all, the hero that’s killed in this issue is done so almost in a perfunctory way. I feel like he was discredited, killed just to show how “badass” the villains are. Death in comics, especially in a post-Blackest Day world, should mean something. When Ted Kord died, for example, it was very clearly the opening shot in a war. I don’t get the sense that there are going to be any serious repercussions for what Deathstroke’s team does in this issue.

What’s more, the team doesn’t really make any sense. Deathstroke has never needed a team before, and the only reason this book is called Titans is because no one seems to know what to do with the franchise. There are only two characters in this book I’m interested in reading on a regular basis, Tattooed Man and Osiris, but neither of them are villains. Neither of them belong on a team full of murderers. There’s an attempt to explain what Deathstroke has over them, but it doesn’t make their inclusion seem any less forced.

I was really happy to see Osiris among the living at the end of the Blackest Night, but my happiness was short-lived. I won’t be following his future adventures in this book.

Rating: 3/10

Birds of Prey #1

The birds are back! Barely a year after the title was canceled in the restructuring of the Batman universe, Gail Simone and Ed Benes return to the title they made great. Oracle decides to get the band back together for a new mission, calling up Black Canary, Huntress, and Lady Blackhawk to once again help her protect the heroes of the DC Universe from threats they can’t face on their own. While she’s rounding up her friends, however, the recently-resurrected Hawk is having some issues re-acclimating to life among the living. It seems he and his partner, Dove, may have to find a home among the Birds to figure out where to fly.

This new dynamic offers some really interesting story possibilities that I’m sure Simone will have the guts to address, and I don’t just mean the fact that Hawk is the first male member of this traditionally all-female team. Before he died, Hawk walked around for some time in villain’s clothes, and he killed a lot of people, including several founding members of the Justice Society of America. I can’t imagine the folks at JSA headquarters are going to be wild about him joining the “911 operators of the DC Universe,” as Simone often refers to this squad. This is something that almost has to be addressed. But I have every faith in Simone’s ability to do it.

Benes’ art hasn’t lost a step. He’s still got great, energetic, dynamic pencils and fantastic fight scenes. Coloring has progressed even more since his first run with these characters, and it’s not hyperbole to say this book looks better than ever.

I was really bummed when this title was canceled, but I couldn’t be happier to have it back, and back in the best of hands.

Rating: 8/10

The Flash #2

In part two of “The Dastardly Death of the Rogues,” Barry Allen is on the run from a group that mimics his worst enemies, but claim to be from the far future. This group, the “Renegades,” is in our time to arrest Barry because he’s going to murder one of their members 84 days in the future. Barry is none too keen on the idea of being arrested, of course, especially for something he hasn’t done (yet), and the Flash is soon on the run. Meanwhile, the present-day Rogues approach their recently-returned member, Captain Boomerang. Boomerang is none too happy with his old friends, though, as they seem intent on making him “prove himself” before they let him back into the club.

It’s not really clear how much of his time as a Black Lantern Captain Boomerang remembers. Does he remember killing his own son? Does he remember that his teammates basically gave him the boy as a snack? Does he even really want to reunite with the old team? One of the things that made Geoff Johns‘ first tenure on the Flash so memorable was the way he redefined the villains. It looks very much like he’s poised to do the same here.

Something that’s different than when he wrote the adventures of Wally West, though, is the way he’s bringing in more of the goofy comic book science and tech. Things like the Renegades are a very Silver Age-ish concept, and he’s executing them nicely in the present day with a more modern edge. Add in some great art by Francis J. Manapul and you’ve got another book I’m really happy with.

Rating: 8/10

Brightest Day #2

While some of the returnees have splintered off into the other titles we’ve been discussing, here in Brightest Day the focus really seems to be on some of the other characters. Firestorm is in a quandry, with Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond fused together in the Firestorm matrix. The situation is even more uncomfortable because Ronnie doesn’t remember, as a Black Lantern, killing Jason’s girlfriend. Jason, however, remembers it all too well. Also this week, the Martian Manhunter is seeking out the daughter of the scientist who brought him to Earth in the first place, and the Hawks are hunting down their oldest enemy. Firestorm is probably the most interesting part of this book to me, though, with Deadman coming in a close second. Still being jerked around by the White Lantern ring, Deadman gets a fantastic last-page cliffhanger.

The main mystery of Brightest Day seems to be split between this title and Green Lantern, with this book delving into those who returned from the dead and why. I’ve heard a few people understandably perturbed by the lack of Lantern content in this book, but I don’t think that’s what this is about. It reminds me much more of 52, the weekly series Johns co-wrote a few years ago, in that it follows a group of characters in the wake of a major event and examines how it changes their lives and, as a result, their world. Taken on its own merits, I think this story is succeeding quite well.

While I don’t expect a biweekly book to have a regular art team, it bothers me a bit when there are so many different artists on a single issue. Guys like Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Adian Syaf, Scott Clark and Joe Prado are all fine artists, but their styles are too different from one another to transition without a jolt. Hopefully future issues will be able to have a little more consistency.

Rating: 7/10

Justice League of America #45

This issue is part two of the two-part prelude to the five-part Justice Society of America crossover, “The Dark Things.” (They really should have just called it a seven-part crossover.) Jade, a Blackest Night returnee, comes back to earth inside a crystal. This “Starheart” is the mystical artifact that powers her father, the Golden Age Green Lantern, but now Alan Scott’s power is going haywire. The Justice League, Justice Society, and a few friends get together to try to prevent a disaster, but Power Girl seems to have gone mad. There’s only one person Batman can find with the juice to face her — Supergirl.

We know Supergirl is joining the team full-time soon, and this issue works very nicely as an introduction to her membership. She’s called up to deal with a specific threat (a nutcase Power Girl), but she’s already working well with the rest of the group. Robinson seems to want to build a JLA that’s built around all of the main “families” of the DC Universe without actually having the usual members. That’s an interesting idea, and as such, Supergirl is a very good candidate to represent the House of El.

The end of this book is an interesting cliffhanger, if not an earth-shattering one. Future solicits have already spoiled the end of this book (I hate when that happens) and I doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that’s likely to be permanent anyway. Still, it’s a pretty good superhero team-up, and it seems to be helping the League on a much-needed march towards stability.

Rating: 7/10

Green Lantern #54

The other main mystery in this series is that of the White Lantern itself. Fallen to Earth, we see as Hal Jordan, Carol Ferris and Sinestro (the “New Guardians” of the Green, Violet, and Yellow Lantern Corps, respectively) step up and try to lift the Lantern. It becomes clear, though, that the Lantern isn’t there for just anyone. It’s waiting for someone… or something.

Geoff Johns throws in two different B-plots in this issue, and each of them is intriguing. Atrocitus, “New Guardian” of the Red Lanterns, is prowling the subways of New York in search of something, while the entity that captured Parallax a few months ago makes a play for another of the entities that power the seven Corps. The mystery of the entities is one thing that Blackest Night didn’t dig into very deeply, and I’m really glad to see that storyline is being fed here. The whole “Sword in the Stone” analogy for the White Lantern seems a little on the nose, but that may be a red herring (or green or yellow or whatever the case may be). Atrocitus is becoming more and more interesting as a character, and I’m very curious to hear the long-awaited story of Dex-Starr.

I’ve said it over and over, but one of the best things to come out of the Blackest Night are the new characters in the new corps. I want to see more of those guys, and that’s what Johns is giving to me. It doesn’t appear that’s going to change any time soon, and I’m very happy about that.

Rating: 9/10

Green Lantern Corps #48

Closing off our look at the recent Brightest Day releases, we have Tony Bedard‘s debut as the new writer of Green Lantern Corps. As Guy Gardner leaves for a mysterious new mission of his own (which no doubt will be the focus of the upcoming Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors series) John Stewart comes to Oa to help with the rebuilding of the planet after the war. As he and Kyle Rayner help the rest of the Corps with reconstruction, the former Guardian called Ganthet approaches his brothers and sisters with a fateful decision — he is renouncing his status as a Guardian for any Corps, and instead will become the new permanently-stationed Green Lantern of the planet Oa.

The idea of Ganthet stepping down and becoming a “grunt” is an interesting one, and to the best of my knowledge it’s something that’s never been done before. Between that and the trade-off of Guy for John, Bedard has immediately created a very different feel for this book than it had under Peter Tomasi. As good as Tomasi’s run was, this new approach has a lot of promise of its own. John has really been forced out of the spotlight in recent years, ostensibly sharing the main Green Lantern title with Hal, but really getting very little screen time. Putting him in this book is already giving him a higher profile, without sacrificing any of the focus on Kyle Rayner or the rest of the cast. We also get a new mystery surrounding the Alpha Lanterns, characters that seemed to be out of a purpose not long ago. Bedard has re-purposed them and is turning them into something different, ominous, and fun to read about.

It’s a new era for this title, but it’s still a very strong part of Brightest Day.

Rating: 8/10

26
May
10

Everything But Imaginary #353: Return of the Conquering Heroes

It’s Everything But Imaginary time again, friends. It’s true that I haven’t been wild about many of the choices Marvel Comics has made in the last seven years or so. But a new day has begun, a “Heroic Age” as it were. This week I look at a few of the Heroic Age titles and discuss my thoughts on where the Marvel Universe seems to be headed.

Everything But Imaginary #353: Return of the Conquering Heroes

25
May
10

Time Travel Tuesdays: Moviemaking 101

It’s that time again, friends, time to step into the Wayback machine and examine a classic piece of Blakeyana. This time around, I’m going to prove that my utter disgust and consternation with certain motion pictures is nothing new. Let’s look at how Tim Burton pissed me off way back in August of 2001. It should be noted that, since this column was written, Burton has come back with a few excellent films, like Big Fish. Of course, he also did the Johnny Depp version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the tepid The Corpse Bride, so I’m going to stand by my point.

Moviemaking 101

August 11, 2001

The human species has always derived a certain amount of entertainment from the animal kingdom, including our cousins in the primate family. In fact, scientific studies have proven that (with the possible exception of llamas) monkeys are the funniest mammals on the planet, far more entertaining than creatures like the platypus or Tom Green. This is why today we’re going to lament the fact that Tim Burton has embarrassed every biped on Earth with his atrocious remake of Planet of the Apes.

I know I’ve spent a lot of time discussing movies lately, but there are good reasons for that. First, this is a cautionary tale, something that needs to be said in order to warn filmmakers of the future. Second, it’s August and there is very little going on for me to make fun of. Even Congress is in recess and will spend the next month trying to make the president look bad for taking the same amount of vacation time that they get, only with more work for HUD.

What I find really amazing is that Tim Burton, who directed the film, used to make good movies. He did the first two Batman films. He did Sleepy Hollow. Although he didn’t direct it, he was the brains behind The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Sometime before he hired Joel Schumaker to direct Batman Forever, though, I believe his brain cells began to explode one by one, the result being this movie. In order to salvage his career, I’m prepared to offer Mr. Burton some advice. Now granted, he’s a Hollywood director and I’m not, but as I am fairly certain I have seen more movies than Burton will ever make (especially if you count the shorts), I think I’m in a good position to administer this crash course in Moviemaking 101.

By the way, I hate it when people spoil the endings of movies, so I’m going to try to refrain from doing so. However, I am going to have to refer to some things in this movie, so if you haven’t seen it and you’re masochistic enough to want to, you may want to save the rest of this column for later.

Lesson One: If the climax of your film is built around a “startling revelation,” it is generally considered good if that revelation is not evident in the first scene. About two minutes after the opening credits ended I realized I already knew the Secret of the Planet of the Apes, and Marky Mark hadn’t even left the space station yet.

Lesson Two: Try to use a little logic while constructing a film. Granted, not every film has to be a masterpiece, but am I the only one who finds it difficult to believe that some massive taxpayer-built space station has no method to detect someone stealing a spacecraft until it’s actually outside the station?

Lesson Three: They are called “laws” of physics for a reason. Albert Einstein would be very interested in a spacecraft that can travel the distance between Saturn and Earth in about seven seconds. Even that slowpoke light takes a few hours and heavier objects (defined as “matter”) would take years.

Lesson Four: Slipping in an inside joke is fine, if you know when to use them. Having characters repeat memorable lines from the original “Apes” movie could have been cute, but doing so when a character is on his deathbed in what is allegedly an emotional scene sort of ruins any effect the director was trying to create and makes viewers want to beat him with pogo sticks.

Lesson Five: The line “Can’t we all just get along?” is never funny. Never. It wasn’t funny when Burton used it in Mars Attacks six years ago and it isn’t funny now. If, four thousand years from now, that line is inserted in a movie about plucky humans trying to rebel against their alien masters, it still won’t be funny.

Lesson Six: A twist ending must be surprising yet still make sense in the context of the film. “Twist” does not mean you end the movie with a nonsensical joke that nobody who has graduated sixth grade would find amusing.

Lesson Seven: Yes, characterization is important. For example, if a character has no lines until the beginning of the third act and then turns into a 14-year-old Braveheart all of a sudden, that is bad characterization. If a character abandons a belief system he has held dear his entire life, a belief system which just came true as far as he’s concerned, and betrays his best friend at the word of someone who was just trying to kill him, even if that someone is right, that is bad characterization. And most importantly, if the movie is halfway over before the audience discovers that any of the main characters have names, that is bad characterization.

Come back to us, Tim. You made good movies before. You can make good movies again.

Just don’t make another one of these.

Blake M. Petit hopes that if they ever make a sequel to this movie… oh, heck, he just hopes they never make a sequel to this movie. He invites anyone with comments, suggestions or a machine that can wipe this film from his memory to contact him at BlakeMPetit@gmail.com.

24
May
10

Changing how stories are told

A lot has been written about the final episode of Lost already, just 24 hours after it finished airing, and while I have a lot to say about it I’m not going to attempt to do so now. The Showcase boys and I are going to get together soon to record our thoughts as completely as possible (and if you’d like to share yours on the show, you can e-mail Showcase@comixtreme.com), but before then I want to talk a little bit about what I think Lost, ultimately, is going to mean. I’m not going to talk about the story of Lost, but about what I think it could mean for storytelling in general.

Genre fiction has always struggled on network television, but Lost ushered in a whole wave of science fiction and fantasy based television series on the major broadcast networks. Granted, it had to trick the viewers, first by disguising the fact that it was a science fiction show and then, in the last two seasons, disguising the fact that it was ultimately a very spiritual story. And granted, a great many of the shows that have followed in Lost’s wake have struggled – Invasion lasted on season, Flashforward’s cancellation was just announced, and although Heroes lasted all the way to season four, people have been claiming the death knell was sounding since season two. Sometimes these shows will falter because the writers try to copy the Lost formula too exactly – a story so layered that it collapses under its own weight. Sometimes they falter because they don’t pay enough attention to Lost and it becomes clear that the writers don’t know where they’re going.

Lost proved that telling a long-term story can walk if there’s a clear plan, but shows that don’t know how to map that out falter, and fans that don’t love the show as much as Lost fans love theirs grow impatient. (Let’s be honest, a lot of Lost fans got impatient too). And sometimes, the usual cycle of a TV season can wound a show. I believe that the lengthy mid-season hiatus contributed to Flashforward’s demise, and although V survived, it did so by the skin of its teeth.

Here’s what I’d like to see begin to happen, and I think it’s happening already. I want to see more networks that have the courage to give a long-term story a chance. Granted, it’s up to the writers of those shows to give the fans enough up front to sustain them through to the end, and to know how to shape the story along the way, but Lost has proven that it can work. Also, I think we’re going to see more and more shows done in uninterrupted form, the way Lost was in its last three years. Film enough episodes up front that you can show the entire season without a hiatus or lengthy chunks of reruns, and show the whole season at a stretch. Some shows will be fall series, some will be spring series, some (gasp!) may even find a home in the summertime. But I think for a show of this nature, this is probably the best way to do it. British television (Doctor Who, for example) usually follows this format already, and I think American genre shows will benefit by taking a page from that book.

But the most important thing that Damon Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse showed was that if you have a plan, the courage to execute it, and a cast and crew of gargantuan talent, you can create something special. You can move mountains.

Hell, maybe you can even move islands.

Thoughts on the show itself will be coming this weekend.




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