Friday, June 26, 2009

Almost Grown Up [A Movie Review]

Opened May 29th 2009
Directed by Pete Docter & Bob Peterson
Written by Pete Doctor & Bob Peterson, additional story by Thomas McCarthy. 

Up is the story of Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner) as he tries to fulfill a lifelong promise to his late wife. Along the way, Carl is forced to associate with a parade of tag-alongs, among them a talkative, energetic boy scout named Russell (Jordan Nagai), a dim companion named Dug (Bob Peterson), and a wild bird dubbed Kevin. Carl struggles to make good on his word while the others do what can't honestly be called help until unforeseen complications throw a wrench in the works. 

The film, though admittedly from a company that has shown tremendous warmth in the past, is surprisingly tender in its subject matter. Older viewers can expect a film that will be emotionally engaging, perhaps much more for themselves than for their children who's typical sort-range empathy might not grasp the scope of Carl's situation. The film's strength lies in this and combined with the film's sincere and well defined characters it's enough to keep audiences firmly engaged, and thankfully so. In creating something so earnest Pixar separated themselves significantly from what brought them so much success: Humor. 

Up is never choked by false or over-done sentiment, and it's often amusing but the amount of actual laugh-worthy jokes could be counted on one's hands. This isn't in itself a problem if that's not the overall goal, but Up is labeled a comedy. Its occasionally stale jokes, or silly concepts have the ability to amuse very young audiences, likely the under 10 (perhaps even younger) crowd, but few outside the demographic. This is partially the material's fault, and partially that the tone of the film doesn't allow for the more absurd ideas to work. Adults simply just shouldn't walk into the film expecting to yuck it up. This movie isn't Toy Story with its over-young-heads  jokes, or The Incredibles with its welcome eccentricities. Up, ironically enough, is more grounded in realism than Pixar's other work and for this reason much of the stuff thats been around the merry-go-round isn't working for it. Regardless, the movie still has a handful of great comedic moments, but many (as often is the case) have been spoiled by the trailers. 

What can be said for the humor case also be said for the film's logical troubles. The film requires a great deal of suspension of disbelief for older audiences- much more than should be, even for animation. Carl's mode of transportation might raise some eyebrows, but it's otherwise something that doesn't even need to be forgiven. Most of these problems stem from the film's antagonist and his situation. Again, it also becomes an issue of tone and appropriateness. For young audiences, and complacent old ones however, this is a complete non-issue. 

Up is the sort of film that screenwriting professors can scream about, for good or for bad. Like most Pixar films, it follows the standard three-act structure to the letter. What can be dubbed the "Angry Pixar Character Scene" can be found in this film, much as it can in the films that came before it (Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, etc) to the point that an astute viewer can now feel the shift in the wind earlier than they should. On the good side of things however, the plot points fold into each other rather nicely. More importantly, the characters are sturdy and within the first fifteen minutes the film has managed to make the audience care about their well-being. Don't be surprised if more than once you end up reassuring yourself that "everything will be okay, this is a Pixar film." 

Up is a film that demonstrates what a more adult Pixar is capable of, though it has tonal issues itself. It's warm without being sentimental, and though it falls into the trap of several Pixar conventions, the intricacy of the plot points is impressive. Visually attractive and rewarding, Up manages to meet high expectations and provide proof of what pixar could be with some lofty ambition. 


PS. This review is messy, and scattered. Sorry. It may also be the first of weekly movie reviews for the length of the summer. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Detective Comics #854

Detective Comics #854
Batwoman (24-page feature):
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: J.H. Williams III

The Question (8-Page co-feature):
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Cully Hamner

In Detective Comic's feature, Batwoman, A new leader is about to assume power in the shady crime religion that has caused Kate problems in the past (52). With Batman's blessing Kate takes up the investigation, desperate to cut off the organization's head before it has the chance to strike again. At the same time, she struggles with her own personal history and relationship problems. In The Question, Renee gets contacted by a man looking to find his missing teenage sister. 

One of the biggest challenges for a writer can be taking a character who has been in continuity for a long time, and placing them in a new series. Pre-series fans don't want back story repeated, and new fans don't want to be in the dark, and so the balance can be hard to strike. Fortunately Rucka has managed to strike a solid median point. Coming into Batwoman/Question was a nervous venture; Batwoman I knew had background dating back to 52, none of which I was aware of, and all I knew from Rucka's now long period writing Renee was the first nine issues of Gotham Central (believe me, Jokers and Madmen is already on my amazon wishlist!), and that at some point in 52 she assumed the identity of The Question. In short, despite that I've been clamoring for this title for some time, I didn't know much more than a perfect layman. However, Rucka eases the reader into Kate's current love life effortlessly, and leaves the reader with all they need to know in that arena. The plot line is fresh, and doesn't require specific expository detail, which leaves Rucka with a fair amount of space to give new readers just a hint of background, enough so that they're not totally lost and not too much as to bore. As for The Question, the premise comes off as very straight forward, and the plot is again, free of pre-existing complication. 

The first adversary that Rucka has lined up for Batwoman is something of an eye-brow raiser. A new character, she bares a certain thematic similarity to a somewhat notable Batman villain, and while an encounter with said Batman villain might seem expected, it also almost seems like it would be a missed opportunity not to pursue that particular avenue. Rucka seems to be pursuing his own subjects so far (the characters and plots are almost all entirely his, including the backstory), but it's not at all out of the realm of possibility that a chance encounter is in the future. Frankly, it wouldn't hurt either. One of the most notable aspects of the Batman franchise is the deranged lot that make up his rouges gallery. For the little panel time this new villain has, she is at least visually interesting, and potentially the kind of villain you keep around for the future-- hopefully she's just as crazy as the Bat-villains to come before her. 

One of the other major challenges facings a writer coming to a new series is that he quickly needs to make his reader care about a character they might have never come across before, and thankfully Rucka knows the routine. He allows his characters as much personal page space that can be allowed in a comic, while still setting up a plot line to keep people coming back. While it's difficult to judge correct characterization and smart plotting with so little so go on, it seems that Batwoman is going to excel, and if Gotham Central is any indication of Rucka's ability to write meaningful characters, I expect Kate will a personal favorite soon enough. 

J.H. Williams is an outstanding artist, and the book's colorist, Dave Stuart, seems to be doing wonders for the book as well. There are a number of pages, particularly the two-page spreads, that are simply breathtaking. The panel layout, while at first jarring, is a welcome deviation from the normal that isn't ever difficult to follow. Curiously, one of the scenes in the comic is much less striking than all the others, notably on the often artist hated "talking head" scenes. The proportions seem the slightest bit off in places, and Kate never quite looks right. It's a small blip in an otherwise visually stunning comic.

A note on co-features: It may be remembered that a short while ago, I was voicing my support for the DC co-feature, as it prevented characters from falling into obscurity, justified DC raising their prices to match Marvel's, and provided a bit more precious work in the comic industry. Seeing the co-feature in action is an odd thing. Because it's only a short eight pages, the story has to move quickly. This means, almost certainly, that readers are unlikely to see very many touching character scenes, but for what things are it seems a small price to pay. The co-features read like well-written Sunday comics of more appropriate length. They give more than a taste, but less than a meal-- the result is something that will take getting used to. 

As for the Question, the story is only just taking off the ground, but as of now has more of a real-world kind of super-heroics to it. So far the story only promises a gang leader for a villain, and it's going to prove challenging for Rucka to keep audience interest up. There are dozens of generic crime lord/bosses that have graced comic pages, each of them around for usually one story in which they're violent temperamental pushovers. Rucka is going to have to work for readers to care, but at least it gives a slight throw back to the fact that Renee was only a cop not too long ago, and her villains maybe shouldn't be too grandiose. 

RATING: 7 out of 10

The series seems to be on the right track, and should be an entertaining read. As promised, Rucka doesn't overblow his character's sexuality, and seems to be working hard to make them mean something to readers. Not a stunning first round, but more than adequate. I suggest you jump on this title now if you're going to read it. 

Does this format work for books with co-features? Do you think there is a better approach to reviewing them I could take up? 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Getting A Hold on Holden Caulfield

J.D. Salinger's modern classic The Catcher In The Rye has been in the news quite a bit with the recent legal developments surrounding writer J.D. California's take off novel 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye. This sort of attention inevitably generates new commentary and criticism on the original work, and the New York Times published an article yesterday that evaluated Holden's longevity, his place as a symbol of the confused youth, and how generation Y responds to a teenager now nearly sixty years old. This naturally forced me to examine my own relationship with Holden, and what my own experience, and responses of others have been. 

When I first read Catcher in the Rye, I was a senior in high school and had recently turned seventeen. I hung out with a heavy-rock-and-wannabe-punk-but-actually-emo type of social circle. Like any high school experience it was an exploding bladder of high-octane drama. I was determined to leave my small town, and had dreams of becoming a film maker (writer/director, I naively believed I would be able to avoid doing grunt work) of merit, but certainly not a "main stream whore." I only listened to bands that weren't signed to major labels, had a burning hatred for the main stream consciousness and those who manipulated the artistic process for high profit, and aspired to achieving something artistically pure. In retrospect I have no doubt that a lot of these beliefs I adopted in an effort to differentiate myself, that I was lost, tormented by emotions and having difficulty accepting myself for who I was. In short I was an angsty teen. 

With that picture in mind, I don't suppose it's difficult to accept that Catcher in the Rye would appeal to me. Like Holden I was lost, a hypocrite (which I believe I knew deep down), wholly unsure of myself but expressing my opinions vehemently, and in desperate need of help. However, in light of the Times article, I think perhaps that my sensibilities were much more like those of its young rebellious readers of the sixties, though hobbled and made crooked by the time in which I was raised. Holden may have appeared broken and lost to me in high school, but my state of being was so similar to his at the time that finding him was like finding a like minded individual at a political party meeting to which you're not a member. 

The response of my classmates was much like that in the article, citing him as emo or whiny. For many discussion of the character didn't go any farther than "Who cares? He's gay!"--referring to Holden's less than concrete sexuality. The matter wasn't to be discussed as another aspect of Holden's uncertainty but rather these were conservative children from conservative homes. Those that could see past that I believe largely fell into two separate camps, but with the same root source, also discussed in the article; 
In general, they do not have much sympathy for alienated antiheroes; they are more focused on distinguishing themselves in society as it is presently constituted than in trying to change it.
I believe that this quote speaks directly to the major flaws of generation Y: an obsessive interest in money, fame and overall self-centered concerns. I don't hold myself above it, and I see it quite frequently all around me. Bleeding heart emo music has risen to prominence, I suspect, for those same reasons. It is in this way that the modern response to Caulfield forks. There are those who I believe layer him in 'emo' clothing and relate to him in that way and those that reject him because of the culture's over-saturation of self-concern, or their own inflated self-concern. Ironically, I think the misunderstood youth of Holden Caulfield is now most misunderstood by those of his very age. 

I read Catcher in the Rye a second time this past year, nearly three years after my initial read through. It was with dismay that I read a novel, that seemed to be vastly removed from my own life, and with a protagonist who won only my pity and nostalgic sympathies. At the end of the book, I was thrown by Holden's minutely changed attitude. Hadn't he grown up, matured? At the end of the novel, Holden is still railing and with my own feelings toward "phonies" and counter-culture minimized (though ever-present, evidenced here) I no longer knew quite what to make of him. Holden's journey seemed much smaller to me, almost exclusively focused on fear of failure. Blinded by my expectations, I don't think I understood that is Holden's entire journey. I believe I forgot why the novel would have appealed to me  in the first place, when my aspirations were rocket high and my artistic principles lofty. In truth I feel as though I need to revisit Salinger's classic one more time. Even as I write this I'm unsure of the truth of it, my recollection of the novel only luke-warm. 

In the end, I don't entirely understand why our generation would reject Caulfeild. The motivations may not be quite as pure and selfless as those rebellious first and second generation readers but the aspirations are still high, the fear of failure still looming over everyone. Is it because he's so imperfect? Is it because his social criticisms and opinions, hypocritical though they may be, are no longer relevant? I don't know. If J.D. California's novel does nothing else, the response to it has at the least forced me to re-examine Salinger's classic and reinvigorate my love for the novel. Holden Caulfeild is an icon of American literature, a character both unique and fully realized. It's not lack of timelessness that has caused the divide between Holden and the young reader, but a failing of the modern world that Holden continues on misunderstood. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Comic Book Wednesdays - Mighty Avengers #26

Mighty Avengers #26
Written by Dan Slott
Pencils by Steven Segovia and Noah Salonga

The Mighty Avengers are going toe to toe with the fantastic four in a grudge match that began when famed scientist Reed Richards asserted to Hank Pym's face that he knew more about the pym particles than Pym himself did. Reed and Hank's battle of egos is just on the surface of it; if Hank doesn't get the late Bill Forrester's Dimensional Wave Inducer back from Reed, his lab and even some of the Avengers may be trapped in the Pym pocket forever! All of that is to say nothing of Hank Pym's continued love affair with A.I. Jocasta, whose brain patterns are the same as those as Hank's wife!

When I first returned to Mighty Avengers, which also happened to be my first comic review, I said that Slott's Avengers could well become an outstanding character-centered comic. Looking at it now, I can proudly stand by that prediction. Often what happens with super-hero comics is that they become bogged down by the melodramatic and ultra violent. The nineties may be over, by the dark and violent tone has never been more universal. The world is always ending in comic books, so why does every disaster need to seem (ha!) like it's the end of the world? Slott has continued to manage to write his characters light, without ever crossing too drastically into the realm of humor for humor. While Simone's Secret Six has many of the same virtues, its humor is black comedy and it isn't close to the tone that Slott manages to create. The world being what it is, it's refreshing to read a comic that is so purely a super-hero romp and doesn't take itself to seriously.

This particular issue is very strong, but not without flaws. Most notably that U.S. Agent and Quicksilver-- sent on a international mission last issue-- were completely absent this month. Understandably, Slott probably wants to wrap up the clash between the fantastic four and the Avengers, but surely he could have slipped a page or two for the other one-third of the Mighty Avengers. In addition to that, Reed Richards plays a fantastic villain in these past few issues-- so much so that I wonder if the other members of the Fantastic Four should double check and make sure they're no remnants left from the skrull invasion. Slott did the same thing with Tony Stark. I can only imagine that this is some forceful attempt for anti-Pym readers to sympathize with a long disliked and/or neglected character. I can't say that it isn't working, but for those who are already fans of the character-- myself included-- the portrayals of Reed and Tony seem to be coming from a writer who so completely hates the characters.

In addition to all of this, Cassie Lang or Stature, a character I was only vaguely familiar with, continues to be an annoying bothersome presence in the title. From the beginning she has been the person at the party who always shatters the positive with a huge fart, soap boxing about her particular feelings and allegiances. Slott seems to know the character's nature-- she's cut down rather wonderfully by Jocasta in the issue-- but it doesn't seem that he knows how grating she is to the reader. Perhaps those who have read her prior to Mighty Avengers can sympathize more.

Finally, the issue leaves off with a whopper of a cliff hanger that is so mysterious is almost seems unfair that it should be withheld from the reader for another month. It is positive in its way, certainly bringing readers back for the following issue, but overwhelmingly frustrating at the same time as not even a clue is given to the reader to think on.

RATING: 8 out of 10
Slott's Mighty Avengers is a great throw back to the Avengers comics of the seventies, and it gives fans of the true Avengers, rather than those of Bendis, exactly what they're looking for. Hop on as soon as possible as you want in, because it seems that Slott's Avengers run is going to have sprawling continuity that will confound readers trying to get on board too late on.

"In Sweden we don't sue people,"

In the first half of the twentieth century, artists and writers were testing the boundaries, desperate to find out how far they could go with their work. It's not suprising that somewhere along the way the inexcusable excuse "It's all been done before" came about-- and even less surprising that unauthorized sequels and revisionist fiction came about. To mixed results and with often questionable motive, classic stories have been touched by the unwashed hands of writers' seeking success. Unfortunately, not every work of this type has the merit, or respectability of work by Tom Stoppard or Gregory Maguire. The hateful rant begins here.

It appears that a Swedish author-- with the rather pretentious pen-name of J.D. California, pictured above-- has a first "serious" novel coming out in the U.S. soon entitled 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye. The book has already been released in the U.K. It focuses on two main characters; J.D. Salinger and a shamelessly undisguised Holden Caufield renamed Mr. C. In the book, Salinger-- actually intended to be the author-- is trying to kill his character before his own soon and inevitable death. In addition, the book begins with Mr. C leaving a retirement home (note the 60 years later in the title) and experiencing a series of events similar to those in Salinger's famous work.

Notable about Salinger, in addition to his literary accomplishments and reclusive nature, is that he has always kept a tight reign on his work. He has saw to it that none of his work has ever been adapted for stage or screen, despite that he has had whopping offers come in from everyone as high up as Steven Spielberg. In addition, Salinger has always keep a tight watch on his private life. Salinger tried to block publication of a biography featuring his letters, and expressed dissatisfaction about the publication of memoirs by both his ex-wife and daughter. In short-- Salinger comes out of his shell only when he or his work is threatened, and sues accordingly.

Apparently this well known fact escaped Mr. California (I refuse to call him by his real name. If he wants to look like a jackass, let him) because when asked for comment remarked that he was very surprised, issuing the rather imbecilic comic statement "In Sweden we don't sue people," California's surprise amounts to one of two things-- either he never researched Mr. Salinger for his book (in which, I repeat, he is a character) or he knew well what was going to happen and this entire court case is a stunt to sell copies-- which I frankly think is immediately evident upon hearing the synopsis for the novel. It would be difficult to conjure up a safer bet for a lawsuit, and publicity.

I have read all of Salinger's work in available print -- save those only available in the New Yorker's pricey digital fiction collection, and Slight Rebellion of Madison, included in an anthology entitled Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker -- and he is one of my favorite writers. Naturally I take offence to this development on a number of levels. First of all, Salinger is a frail ninety year old at this point, with a number of heath problems. His passing in not so far off that publication of such a work couldn't wait, and excitement and emotion surrounding the court cast is only going to expedite matters. As a fan of his work with the small hope that Salinger's unpublished fiction will see the light of day at the time of his passing, I'm in no rush to see him pass on should it mean the incompletion of a novel or story. Considering that Salinger's work focuses so on childhood, is there anyone with a respect for it that isn't interested in his insights into old age?

If that concern and hope weren't enough to hate this book from the onset there is also the simple fact that it reeks of a money grubbing scheme, desperate to take hold of Salinger's coat tales. J.D. California's name didn't given you enough indication of his character, this fiasco certainly does. The man undoubtably has no earnest respect for the book or the author whose back he's using to reach the first rungs on the latter of success. If he did, he wouldn't have written the work in Salinger's lifetime-- he certainly has time himself, being a writerly-young 33-- and he it wouldn't be such a slap in the face on top of things.

I thoroughly believe that Mr. J.D. California should be ashamed of himself, and his book being barred from publication isn't punishment enough. When one calls himself or herself an author by profession, I believe you are bound to respect the art form defining work that came before you. It doesn't have to be liked, but it must be appreciated. Those that have gumption to take such notable work for the basis as their own should only do so with the purist of artist interests in mind. Commercialism in fine in its own right, but not at the expense of slapping the great authors and writers in the face. On that note, kudos to Seth Gram-Smith for his success with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Maybe I'll read it when I've finally gotten around to the unrevised version.

Do you have any feelings about this court case? Do you think California is just doing this for publicity, or do you think he has a legitiment creative work?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Superhero Movie Projection and Wishlist

It's impossible to deny that superhero movies have hit the Hollywood mainstream in a big way. It started in the summer of 2000 with the release of Bryan Singer's first X-men movie, and has continued on to such heights as Iron Man, and The Dark Knight, and lows as lowly as the likes of Elektra and Punisher movies. They show no sign of stopping either-- Marvel has at least eleven comic book films planned for release; evidenced most significantly by their contract with Samuel L. Jackson for nine movie appearances to unite their properties in Marvel's blockbuster magnum opus, The Avengers.

With all the projects Marvel and DC alike seem to be grabbing for some of their more obscure properties. Iron Man, despite being a Marvel icon on the comic page (and my favorite comic character growing up), was forcefully thrust on the pop culture stage with the release of his 2008. Unknown comic properties are on the table, and if the trend continues, will only become more obscure. With all this in mind (and in a bit of filler for Comic Review Wednesday), I've written up a list of the comic movies, both real and wished for, that I'm excited to see on the big screen.

-The Real-

Batman 3 (Batman Begins/The Dark Knight Sequel)

While this project might not officially be out yet, that doesn't mean the rumor mill hasn't been churning in full force. A few months ago, it seemed like good news for this movie when Christopher Nolan, the first two film's director, signed on to do another movie at Warner Brothers-- presumably part of a package deal to get Nolan to direct the third film. It seems ludicrous to outline why I'd be excited for this movie, and the only real justification I need is to point to the first two films. The Batman movies under Nolan are absolutely unchallenged in quality when it comes to comic adaptations-- and I'd say that isn't because Batman especially lends himself to screen adaption but because Nolan is one of the few directors to take a comic project that was not only talented, but saw the importance of both removing and not removing it from it's comic source. In other words, he took it seriously. A lot of the casting rumors have mentioned Johnny Depp as the Riddler-- I firstly think it would be a mistake to pursue Riddler, and secondly cringe at the thought of Johnny Depp in anything (though trailers for Public Enemies caught my attention). I personally feel Depp has worn out his welcome and would do well to take a five year hiatus. I feel I should make a separate post for casting speculation on Batman 3

Jonah Hex

Before I go on, I should say that some pictures of the Jonah Hex movie set have been released, but knowing they'll probably have CGI added in post-production I chose to go with this. Now, I'm no big fan of Jonah Hex. In fact, I know very little about him-- although I do think he looks awesome and I'm a huge fan of historical fiction, especially that of the Civil War-- but I'm looking foreword to this movie a whole lot. It has the possibility of not only bringing something new to the Superhero genre, but to Westerns as well. Hex is the type of character who somehow manages to grab a strong following and hold on to it; like Iron Man, I think this film may make a strong showing because of the strength of its main character. The cast also looks to have some potential as well. I'm not saying this is a solid bet for a good movie-- far from it-- but it may well be one of those surprise blockbusters in the next few years. 

Green Lantern

This is said to have a script so good, that the studio antied up on directors for fear that the previous one attached would botch it up; that, dear friends, is a script. Despite this I still had reservations about the film until I saw the exceptional fan trailer that came out not to long ago-- while I'm not keen on Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan, the trailer paints a picture of the kind of movie Green Lantern could be. Plus, it's about time that some of the cosmic properties at the big companies hit the screen. With Star Trek being the success it is, any space-type movie is likely to be charged with trying to ride on it's coat tails, so people should get on that. 

I don't mean to exclude Marvel films from the list of real movies I'm excited for, but the fact is that Marvel doesn't like writers, in fact, Marvel slaps every writer on the face when they continue to hire people like David Goyer and Zac Penn (Tip: If you either name attached to a movie, save for Goyer when associated with Chris Nolan, you automatically know the movie will be badly written). 

-The Wishlist-

The Question 

I realize the Question is viewed as Batman light to a lot of people, but here is why I love the Question (besides how cool he looks): He actually gets to be a detective. People expect Batman to be pulse pounding action, and to have a specific set of rogue for every film, and that inevitably means there is little mystery in the crime solving. You also have to be PG-13. Both of Nolan's films have made a fight for this, but it's a tough sale for modern audiences. Hell, apparently even Sherlock Holms is an action star now! My dream project for Question would be a forties noir kind of film with shocking murders, stunning violence, vexing mystery, and topped off with unexpected last minute reveal. I'm all for Montoya as Question too, but I feel that skipping over Vic Sage is a sin, and Montoya would cause fans to expect a Batman connection. 

Swamp Thing Remake (Or a Moore project done right).

I've only read the first volume of Moore's Swamp Thing, and while I found it a tad preachy (the first arc involves mother nature striking back at the Earth, among other better aspects) I sense that in the remaining volumes there is more than enough mileage for an outstanding film. The film would be best served to capitalize on the horror aspect of the comic rather than the super-heroics. The Louisiana mood would be imperative, and so would the themes of humanity. I can't say if Swamp Thing should be a plant struggling with his identity, as wonderful of a concept as that is, simply because I don't know that movie folk can swallow that. Really, it doesn't matter what Moore book you adapt, it just needs to be done well; in some cases better than the book. Comics are still fighting for public acknowledgement and in many ways Moore is the best to be found in the traditional American market. 


Talk about tough sales, but here's something that could be a comic- as in humor- masterpiece. A few volumes of She-Hulk ago in 2004, the comic was relaunched under the helm of writer Dan Slott. Slott, rather than taking a traditional super-hero route, wrote a volume of She-Hulk where the focus was on Jen Walter's career as a lawyer. She got herself a job at a top law firm in a newly established superheroics division to help settle law suits and the like. One arc dealt with a super-villain suing the mighty Hercules for using excess force. Another dealt with J. Jonah Jameson finally taking Spider-man to court. You get the idea. Think Harvey Birdman meets some sanity and super-heroes. The biggest problem with this is removing She-Hulk and her origin from Hulk. Of course, with a concept this nutty you could almost certainly start without explanation and people would simply except it. Anyway, the movie would be littered with throw aways for the fans, and include an intricate plot that stems from a case Jen is working-- all, naturally, a full on absurd comedy. Besides, the only female super-hero outings are Elektra and Catwoman. Ouch. 

Green Arrow

I think what can be learned from this is that I like characters without powers and/or who are green. At any rate, Green Arrow is a great character and since Marvel's Hawkeye is totally unrealistic, the only possible chance for an archer to make the movie screen. Like many of the characters on this list, my knowledge of Green Arrow is limited, but from I know of his personality he's make a great screen presense. Mostly, I just really like him. I don't really know what kind of story could be forged for Green Arrow- I know that his main rival is another archer, and I'm not so sure that would work but where there is a will there is a way. 

Alright, so that's not all I'm looking forward to and what I'm hoping for but that's about the best and the most of it. Iron Man 2 might have made my list if the talk of Tony deals with "personal problems" wasn't so high, and his alcholism offically ruled out. It sounds like they're pussy footing around, and my childhood favorite deserves better. Also, I saw some photos of Micky Rourke as Whiplash. Goodbye optimism. 

What comic/Super-hero movies are you looking forward to? What super-heros would you want to see on the screen, realistic possibility or otherwise? 

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Comic Review Wednesdays - Secret Six #10

Secret Six #10
Written by Gail Simone
Pencils by Nicola Scott

After two issues of "quiet" stand-alone stories, the six finally have a new gig; They've been hired to protect a mysterious large slab-looking thing (Han Solo in carbonate!) by a sketchy trio of slave drivers. Bane continues to struggle with his reawakened venom addiction, and Deadshot and Jeannette continue to flirt (in Ireland!). To complicate matters even further, the trio claim that their employer is none other than Mockingbird-- the shadowy figure who united the six in the first place.

After a brutal, and stunning opening gambit-- for some reason is seems to be a developing motif that the six's employers will inevitably become their enemies-- Simone turns her attention to the small character moments that make Six such a great comic to read. It is inevitably what makes the issues of six such a pleasure to read, so much so that you almost wish that six wasn't about a vicious mercenary group, and rather just a comic about the crazy adventures of a group of mismatched friends (frankly, it almost is already). That desire has never been more apparent than in reading the pages of this issue.

Simone is at her best when she's writing the brutal, the blackly comic and the sincere-- an odd combination to be sure, but none the less the truth of it. Simone knows her characters, and she knows what's funny but at some point in this issue she falls flat. The opening gambit is gripping, the characters moments are captivating, but with the meeting of the new employers and the six, things begin to get long winded and uninteresting. The characters make light of this later in the issue-- but it doesn't excuse the sluggishness of the scenes, and the difficulty they have grabbing an audience.

The end of the issue is something flat and not entirely gripping-- this isn't so much of a problem, it's significance will likely play into the events of the story arc-- but new readers certainly wouldn't come back after something so seemingly empty and if Secret Six needs anything, it's certainly more readers (Read it!). In addition, the characters have a strange, unsurprised response to finding out that their employer is the notorious Mockingbird. Given their association with him (I'm being careful not to reveal any spoilers from Villains United).

The fact is that Simone is a dynamite writer, at least for these characters, and they're damn good characters in addition to that (scoff at Catman if you like but he's come a long way under Simone's watchful eye). Her plots have been solid, and the solicitations for this particular arc seem very promising. Despite all of the complaints above, they're really only a light sprinkle on an otherwise perfect day. While this issue may not be the best of the run by any means, it's solid, and that's a critique I given when I didn't even feel like reading my comics this week.

RATING: 7 out of 10.
If you want to hook up with Simone's Six (please do! Marvel has already canned Captain Britain-- DC can't be too far away from scrapping six) you can start reading with this very issue, or it likely wouldn't be too difficult to find the entire 10 issues out already!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Don't Gamble. Just Move Along. [A Book Review]

Nobody Move
A novel by Denis Johnson
Published April 2009
(First appeared in serialized parts in Playboy magazine throughout 2008)

The newest novel by Denis Johnson, literary fiction writer behind critically acclaimed works like Jesus' Son and Tree of Smoke, is an excersize in genre fiction that first saw publication in men's delight magazine, Playboy. Unfortunately, those coming to Johnson's work for the first time (like myself), are bound to be disappointed as they find themselves confronted with a run of the mill work of genre fiction arguably of the same forgettable quality that the cover of Johnson's work pays homage to.

Nobody Move follows Jimmy Luntz, a proud and passionate gambler with no luck to speak of, as he runs from a non-descript crime organization/loan shark to whom he owes money. The chase is lead by Gambol, a thick-headed thug with a grudge and pension for saying "fuck you" as much as Jimmy says "Wow." Along the way their paths cross with that of Anita Desilvera, the soon to be ex-wife of a county prosecutor with a vendetta of her own and a means to score 2.3 million dollars. From there, things get more complicated and spur on sex, violence, and murder.

Most disappointing is how little Johnson brought to this novel that was outside of the the typical conventions of the genre. When picking up a novel by someone like Johnson-- even if it is a work genre fiction-- there is an expectation of high quality in writing. No one expects a National Book Award winner, and Pulitzer finalist to produce the same level of material as a 5.99 straight-to-massmarket-paperback writer. What's expected is a work of genre fiction with the same level of suspense and intrigue as a genre fiction writer, but infused with literary elements, devises and themes. At the very least, Johnson could have made a statement on the nature of gambling, or the gambler, or the self-destructiveness of personal vendettas but these truths are left unexplored or only lightly touched on. In short, the work is unbecoming on a literary writer of Johnson's supposed caliber.

Without the added benefits of genre fiction by a literary writer, the novel has to be examined on it's own merits as only genre fiction (of which I'm no expert). The plot in itself is nothing original, and is in fact rather plain-looking by the standard of crime fiction. The source of the money involved is inconsequential and has little baring on the story, there is virtually no police involvement in the story despite the murders and gun-shots, the double crosses are minimal and never pull the carpet out from underneath-- they in fact have little significance on the story as a whole, and the novel can really only be called suspenseful in it's last two section at the very best. There is nothing exceptional about this work as genre fiction, and it was an active struggle to finish the last section of the novel-- the most action-packed and heated. The characters, while interesting in their own way, never really resonate and to some extent resemble the caricatures that undoubtedly proliferate the genre. Luntz and Anita hold up best under examination, particularly Luntz, but it is in large because of the concepts connected to them that never get explored.

Oddly enough, one of the most difficult aspects of the book to tolerate was the amount of sex "scenes" and references. Obviously its original publication source needs to be considered, but at the same time the scenes begin to weigh the material down because of how unnecessary they are. There are only about four instances of sex in the book, but two of them are completely unnecessary, and a third is wholly unwelcome despite its purpose. The scenes aren't even written to be erotic, thankfully, but that only makes it obvious that they were included to appease or with the intent to appease the people at Playboy. Sexual themes, subjects and scenes are welcome whenever the serve a purpose but when they have none it just reads like a pathetic appeal to the basest of human urges.

Finally, and most shockingly, it seems necessary to point out Johnson's difficult to follow prose. Things are often mentioned off-hand or completely ignored which forces the reader to reexamine a passage several times in order to comprehend what has transpired. For instance, within the first three pages Luntz is confronted by Gambol, and for whatever reason climbs into his car. The problem with that particular passage is that Luntz begins to talk about leaving the car, without Johnson referencing him ever getting in it. These types of omissions are minimal, but present. Much more common are passages in which too much happens in a single paragraph or half-page and they need to be re-read to determine what happened and how.

Other reviews I have skimmed of this novel referenced it's dialog as its saving grace, but while the dialog is fluid and natural (for a crime novel, at any rate), it is far from redeeming. Johnson's foray into genre fiction is totally unimpressive and only a dozen feet from a dismal travesty.