Monday, 24 September 2018

Sometimes Darker Works

-
Spotlight Pick:


Photo Courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program.
Thanks to an alien virus robbing him of his healing factor, Wolverine has been dead since 2014.  For four years we've had to get our adamantium action fix from his daughter/clone (X-23), Wolverine's son from an alternate universe (Jimmy Hudson), an elderly version of Wolverine from an alternate timeline (Old Man Logan), and a Hulk/Wolverine hybrid (Weapon H).

Hold on to your hat, now the real deal is back in Return of Wolverine #1 (of 5), or is he?  Without revealing spoilers, we're treated to a comic filled with our favorite X-Man getting killy with a bunch of bad guys.  Fear not, there's a well written story to accompany the action.

Lastly, don't fret if you didn't read any of the summer's four Search For Wolverine titles.  You can pick up this book and not be a bit lost.  It kinda makes me wonder why I bought those issues of "Search."  Grrrrrrrrr.........



Sometimes Darker Works:


Photo Courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program.
I don't know what took me so long, but I've just begun watching Riverdale on Netflix.  For those of you who don't know, the show uses characters from Archie Comics to tell adult stories.  I think I was resistant for as long as I was, because I didn't like the idea of a screwball comedy comic being retooled into a darker property.

Before I was allowed read superhero based comic books, which my  mother deemed to be too violent, I enjoyed the innocent adventures of Archie, Jughead, and the gang set within the Rockwell-esc town of Riverdale.  I didn't want that image to be tarnished.

I figured the show would be laughed off the air after a few episodes.  On October 10th, Riverdale is due to begin its third season on The CW.  With this in mind, I, begrudgingly, decided to check it out.

The first, thirteen episode, season is one long murder mystery.  I have to say I was surprised at the complexity of the story.  TV is full of, so called, mysteries,  which are completely obvious from the get go.  However, this one has multiple motives and twists.  I am a bit of a mystery buff,  and I found myself challenged by the solution.

In addition to the overall mystery, our heroes and heroines are challenged with their own struggles.  Themes of said struggles included; teen pregnancy, divorce, alcoholism, and student/teacher "relationships."

I know, I know, not long ago I did a whole blog about how I don't like light hearted characters in darker roles.  However, it works here.  Because we already know the characters, the show runners were able to dive right into the story without having to explain who all the characters are.

Riverdale is not alone.  There seems to be a trend in comics, right now, of using traditionally comedic characters in darker stories.  One good example is Scooby Doo: Apocalypse.  In this comic, the world has been mutated by nanites, and Scooby, now a cyborg, and the gang have to come together to find a cure.  While the concept sounds off the wall, the popular title's run earned a 7.5 out of 10 from 175 critical reviews on Comic Book Rounds Up.

Old timers, like me, will always remember Archie and the gang as carefree high school kids drinking milkshakes at Pop's and driving around in their jalopy.  Yet that doesn't mean there's not room for a new generation to reinvent the characters for a new age.    

Monday, 17 September 2018

Season 2 Of Iron Fist Shows Marked Improvement, But...

-
Editor's Note:

I was posting the Current Pick section at the end of each blog.  Then I realized that if I had to leave spoiler space in the main piece, some readers may not see the "Pick" at the end.  Therefore, I'll be putting said section at the beginning of the blog from now on.  That being said, this week's pick is, more of a gripe than anything else.

Current Pick Gripe:


Photo Courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program.

DC Universe is the name of DC's new streaming/online comics service.  For $7.99 a month, subscribers have unlimited access to the site's library of movies, shows, and online comic books.  From their PR, I was expecting a pretty extensive collection of materials.

They have a few movies and TV shows, granted.  Yet, even though last Saturday was, supposedly, "Batman Day," the site has no Adam West Batman, Adventures of Batman, or New Adventures of Batman.  While one can stream Legend of The Super Heroes, which was canceled after two episodes, we can't get the three season run of SHAZAM! 

Streaming material aside, the online comics are a mishmash of weird odds and ends (1 issue of 52, 3 issues of Crisis On Infinite Earths, etc...).  I'm going to stick around until they begin their original content, but season 3 of Young Justice  better be dang good or I'll be cutting my losses.

Season 2 Of Iron Fist Shows Marked Improvement, But...


Photo Courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program.
On Friday, September 7th, Netflix dropped the second season of Marvel's Iron Fist.  In fact, it was my pick in my last post.  Although I had been  bored by the first season of the series, tidbits of news made me cautiously optimistic about the second season.

In its debut season, I thought too much time was spent on board room intrigue instead of super hero action.  I also wasn't impressed with the fights, which just kinda slogged along.  As I said, I'd quit watching season one half way, and only went back to finish it once Marvel's Defenders referred back to the end of Iron Fist. 

This year I was somewhat more impressed by the show.  The action began right off the bat with crime-stopping martial arts.  Iron Fist's new showrunner, Raven Metzner (formerly of Sleepy Hollow), kept the focus of the episodes on the battle of good versus evil without distracting the audience with dull board room drama.

The series was further enhanced by the addition of Black Panther's Clayton Barber, who choreographed the second season's  fight scenes.  Barber succeeded in showcasing the characters' advanced martial arts skills with a series of fast paced exciting battles.

I've gone back and forth, with myself, about how much to say at this point.  At the eleventh hour I've decided not to include spoilers, because the season is so new.  However I will say, that the season takes a weird turn, half way along, which kinda spoiled it for me.  While it wasn't all that I'd hoped for, it WAS far better than the first season.

What do you think?  Leave your comments below.  

Monday, 3 September 2018

Star Trek: Discovery?

-
I love Star Trek.  No....  Wait....  I understated that a bit, let me try again.  I LOVE STAR TREK!!!!! 

I own all the movies and many of the television seasons on Blue-ray.  I've attended I don't know how many Star Trek conventions, and collected autographs from a multitude of Trek stars.  I even have a variation of Kirk's uniform hanging in my closet.  I'm a hard core Trekkie (Yes I use the term Trekkie, the whole Trekkie Vs Trekker controversy is stupid).

Photo Courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program.

When I heard CBS was starting another Star Trek series set in the Shatner as Kirk timeline I was thrilled.  Then I heard it would be on their online streaming service and I was less thrilled.  After months of fuming and hoping they'd eventually put it on TV, I broke down and joined CBS.COM.

I'm only five episodes into the series and I have to say it's not good Star Trek.  I wanted it to be, but it's not.   I'm going to watch the rest to see if it improves, but it has some major hurdles to overcome.

SPOILERS FOR SEASON ONE AHEAD! 
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|
|

Arguably the biggest problem with the series is the tech.  OK, I loved seeing the Kirk era hand phasers and communicators again.  I think I released a squeal of girlish glee when Michael pulled her pistol for the first time.  The problem is that the show takes place a decade before Kirk's five year mission begins, but much of the technology they use looks like stuff Picard would envy.

Rather than talking to people on monitors, holographic images of who they're talking to are projected right onto the bridge.  It looks cool, but we're supposed to believe that they went back to 2D image communication ten years later. Holy head scratchers Batman.

Initially, I felt the same way about the spore based method of travel, the show is based on, which makes warp drive look like a skateboard in an Indie race.  However, there are hints of enough problems with the technique that it's conceivable that it was abandoned by Kirk's time.

The technology isn't the only bone I have to pick with the show though.  One thing I've always appreciated about Star Trek is the ability to watch an episode, get a complete story, come back two weeks later, get another whole story, and not be lost.  Sure, watching each week helped you get to know the characters, but you didn't have to know Kirk's role in Spock's mating ritual to watch them steal a cloaking device from the Romulans.

Discovery is structured as a series of interlocking chapters of a single long story.  While the novel-esc approach worked well for Babylon 5 and the reimagined version of Battlestar Galactica, it just feels wrong when applied to Star Trek, DS9's Dominion war aside.

Another deficit of the series is the tone.  The series takes place during a war with the Klingons.  The premise sounds like it'd make a good series, but when everything is about the war, there's no time for exploration.  Ironically, the feeling of "discovery," Star Trek is historically known for, is lost.


Current Pick:
Photo Courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program.
On Friday, September 7th, Netflix is dropping the second season of Marvel's Iron Fist. 

I have to say, I was bored by the first season of the series.  Too much time was spent on board room intrigue instead of super hero action.  When they did get to the action the fights just kinda slogged along.  I quit watching half way through the series, and only went back to finish it once Marvel's Defenders referred back to the end of Iron Fist. 

Finn Jones actually did a great job playing the martial arts based super hero in Defenders and Luke Cage, once he was able to focus on super heroism instead of a corporate soap opera.   Now that the show has recruited Black Panther's Clayton Barber to choreograph the fight scenes, there's every reason to believe that the second season will be better than the first.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Keep My Heroes In The Light

-
Narrator: Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Man 1: Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird.
Woman: It’s a plane
Man 2: It’s Superman!
Narrator: Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands. And who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never ending battle for truth, justice and the American way. And now another exciting episode in the adventures of Superman.


I remember watching The Adventures of Superman every Sunday after church when I was a kid. Between George Reeves' depiction of the character and what I saw on The Super Friends, I knew what Superman was about long before I ever picked up a comic book.  Clark Kent's alter-ego was a shining beacon of hope clad in bright colors to symbolize the positive qualities of truth, justice, and fair play which he represented.

This image survived Christopher Reeve's cinematic portrayal, TV'S Lois & Clark series, and the animated series.  In 2006, Brandon Routh donned a darker version of the time honored uniform, complete with a dark red S.  I grumbled all the way to the theater, but forgave him once I saw his effort to capture the spirit of Reeve's performance.

Fast forward to 2013's Man of Steel travesty.  Not only was the traditional garb a shade away from being black, but Cavill played Superman as a dark and brooding hero.  The filmmakers, for some reason, turned Superman into a super powered version of Batman.  That's OK though, because the next movie gave guns to, traditionally gun hating, Batman, turning him into a well funded version of the Punisher.

If those bastardizations weren't atrocious enough, DC will be kicking off their streaming service with a live action Teen Titans series.  To unveil the series, DC showed a trailer at San Diego Comic-Con, in which the Dick Grayson version of Robin says, "F%#k Batman!" then shoots a bunch of thugs with automatic pistols.  I can see Jason Todd making such a statement before going ballistic on a bunch of bad guys, but it doesn't feel right coming from a boy scout like Dick Grayson.

Meanwhile, Aquaman has adopted the look of a Dothraki warrior and Captain America has blackened his star. Granted, the Captain America movies are pulling from his Nomad story arch. Yet, Captain America only used the nomad personna for five issues (#180 - #184) back in 1974.  When Marvel has a limited amount of screen time to tell Captain America stories, referencing a five issue story arc from forty years ago,  in order to make the character dark, seems like a bit of a unnecessarily deep cut which ignores the overall spirit of the character.

I'm not saying there's not room for dark comic book characters on the big screen.  Batman, Venom, Punisher, and Spawn will always be staples in the comic book realm.  That being said, I see no reason to force traditionally bright characters into that dark role.  Keep your dark characters where they belong,  but keep Superman, Captain America, and alike as bright symbols of hope.


Current Pick:

Photo Courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program.
Now that I've ragged on dark comics, I just picked up issue No. 1 of Batman: Kings of Fear.  Judging it by the cover, I actually thought it would be darker and scarier than it was.

The issue begins as a pretty good Joker story and evolves to give cameos to a lot of Batman's rogues.  While many of the bad guys don't play a major role, their inclusion was fun nonetheless.

This book's greatest strength was its art.  Kelley gave us colorful, well-drawn fights, which brought the action to life.  For $3.99 this book is my Current Pick.


Final Note:
From now on, I will give a Current Pick at the end of each blog. These picks may be comics, movies, or TV episodes, which stand out at the time.  So, stay tuned.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Comic Books As Literature

-
To kick things off, I am reposing a piece I wrote back in 2012.  It is a good overview of what I think of comic books and their impact on the pop culture.  It's a bit of a read, but I think you'll find it interesting.  Enjoy.
-
If you ever want to watch a bunch of nerds turn spastic and beet red, all you need to do is go to your nearest comic shop and state, "Comic books are not literature."  Mouths, rich with foamy spit, will spout phrases such as, "Sequential art," "Paleolithic age's cave paintings," "Hieroglyphics," and "Renaissance churches' pictorial narratives," in an attempt to put the illustrated tales into a larger historical context.  While it's true that mankind has told stories through pictorial representations for thousands of years, I'm not sure this fact, by itself, is enough to classify comic books as literature.

It IS undeniable that comics do enjoy a mass readership.  According to a *May, 2011 Facebook poll, 1,209,800 Americans identified themselves as "comic book readers."  These weren't all just little boys, with baseball cards and slingshots protruding from their back pockets, either.  304,700 (%25) of polled readers were women, and half the readers reported to be; married (186,700), engaged (42,740), or in a relationship (256,580).   Of course, these numbers don't include American readers who aren't on Facebook (there are a few, believe it or not), readers not willing to identify themselves as comic book readers, nor non-American readers.

Fiscally speaking, the **North American Comic Book Market (including sales of newsstand comics and graphic novels from bookstores) earned an estimated $660-690 million in 2011 alone, which is more than twice what the market reported in 1997.  By comparison, ***sales of non-comic books of fiction; novels, novellas, and short story collections; saw a 10.2% dip in sales, to $307.1 million, during the first half of 2011.   While E-Reader sales are undoubtedly a big part of the decline in sales of traditional books, the fact remains that the sales of comic books have begun to outpace the sales of traditional books.  Yet, just like their roots in history, sales numbers alone can't  define comics as a form of literature.

Surely though, we can't apply a single literary label to comic books, across the spectrum. When Marjane Satrapi wanted to chronicle her experiences growing up in Iran, during the Islamic Revolution, she chose to write the, now critically acclaimed, graphic novel, Persepolis.   Harvey Pekar, released his gritty no-holds-barred autobiography as a series of comic books called American Splendor.  The crime based father/son tale, Road to Perdition, had originally been published as a graphic novel.  These, and other thought provoking works, have been written for adults, and would unquestionably be considered literature if they'd been published within the standard book format.

Additionally, comic books come in a variety of genres.   We have funny comic books such as Archie, Goofy, Looney Tues, and Uncle Scrooge.  Horror comics, including Tomb Of Terror and Tales From Crypt, have been written to deliver chills to readers wielding flash lights beneath blankets.  Space fantasies, along the lines of; Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Star Wars; tease imaginations with tales of the final frontier, while crime comics satisfy more hard boiled appetites.  There are also war comics, western comics, educational comics (usually about historical figures or key battles in history), and we've seen a brief experiment with teen romance comics in order to attract a larger female readership.  On a, in my opinion, darker note, underground comics, which depict tales of; heavy drug use, binge drinking, and X-Rated content; have gained a small, but steady, following.

Be that as it may, when someone says, "I read comic books," more often than not, they're referring to colorfully illustrated stories of tight wearing do-gooders, who protect the innocent from the forces of evil. Put more simply, they're talking about superheroes.



Photo Courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program.
In 1938, Action Comics No. 1 first showed America a cape clad hero who ****"came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman ... who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!"

By 1940, Superman had his own radio series and newspaper strip.   This success paved the way for the 1941 debut of Batman, followed shortly by the unveilings of The Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Hawkman, who all became icons for DC COMICS in their own right.  In response, smaller publishers began publishing their own superhero titles such as Captain Marvel, The Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, Phantom Lay, and The Spirit.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor, heroes such as Captain America an Wonder Woman were created to fight fictional Nazis and increase public support for the war.

Photo Courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program.

Yet, it wasn't until the 1960s, when Marvel began publishing; The Fantastic Four, Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk, and The X-Men; that the superhero genre began to dominate the pages of comic books.  One possible reason, which is often sited for the surge in the genre's popularity, is the fact that Stan Lee, and other Marvel writers, made a point to have their superheroes deal with real issues.  Peter Parker/Spiderman  was raised by a single guardian, Aunt May, and struggled with financial worries as well as typical teen dilemmas.  The X-Men fought the good fight against race prejudice, bigotry, and fanaticism, centered around the fictional mutant race "homo-superior."

Whether due to the increased quality, and relevance, of the content, or not, the fact remains that by 1970 superheroes ruled the comic book world.  While I can't find the specific ratio of superhero to non-superhero comic books, which defines today's market, *****American cartoonist, Scott McCloud has made the observation that the terms "comic book" and "superhero" are practically synonyms, due to the saturation of the genre within the medium.  This being the case, we're left with question, "Are illustrated superhero stories forms of literature?"

Perhaps the most persuasive argument in their favor is the impact comics have had on society and pop culture.  Via their wide circulation, as well as the multitude of; radio shows, movie serials, TV shows, feature length movies, toys, games, and clothes; these characters have been heavily woven into the fabric of everyday life.  Think about it.
  • Wen we get an uneasy feeling, don't we say, "Our Spider-sense is tingling?"  
  • When a specific substance causes an intense allergic reaction, many sufferers think of the substance as "their Kryptonite."  
  • The commonly used term cliff-hanger stems from the nail biting chapter endings to movie serials, which were spawned from comics.  Dale Arden or Lois Lane would end a chapter hanging from a cliff, or embroiled in some other mortal danger, and movie goers had to return the following weekend to find out IF they were rescued.  
  • During the recent Occupy Portland protest, protesters fashioned their own version of the Bat Signal in order to call like minded activists to action.
Yet, even given their impact on pop culture and our vocabulary, I personally consider comic books to be pieces of pop lit, rather than literature.  While the stories may occasionally address social issues, I'd wager good money that's not why most readers read comic books.  I think most readers, including me, read comic books to take a temporary break from reality.

We're not looking for War & Peace, or anything deep.  We want to see imaginative colorfully illustrated stories, in which our favorite good guys thwart (beat the poo poo out of) our favorite bad guys.  We just want to have some fun, and in the end, comic books ARE fun.
-


*Source = http://www.themarysue.com/comic-book-demographic/
**Source = http://www.comichron.com/yearlycomicssales.html
***Source = http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry
****Source = http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adventures_of_Superman
*****Source = http://books.google.com/books
******Source = http://www.bluecorncomics.com/popicons.htm

Sometimes Darker Works

- Spotlight Pick: Photo Courtesy of Amazon's Affiliate Program . Thanks to an alien virus robbing him of his healing factor,  Wolver...