Tuesday, December 16, 2014

FRONTIER from Youth in Decline





I believe I discovered Frontier, the quarterly art and comics monograph series from Youth in Decline, while listening to the podcast Comic Books are Burning in Hell.  I got the initial offering for this new series and it didn’t really grab me.  I was expecting a short narrative comic, but instead it was more a collection of artwork by Russian illustrator, Uno Moralez.  Not that it wasn’t worthwhile, I was just expecting more comics.  So, the series fell off my radar. 

Until I saw that Emily Carroll  recently did an issue (it should be noted that the conceit around the series is that each quarterly issue features a different artist).  I recently read Carroll’s collection, Through the Woods, and was blown away by that.  So, I decided to get her issue of Frontier along with the previous issue, number 5, from Sam Alden.  Am I glad I went back to this well. 


Alden’s offering is an excised piece from his longer work, Hollow.  It’s a haunting tale revolving around older siblings looking back at their life and working to exorcise the demon that haunted, and still haunts, them – a demon embodied as a whirlpool threatening to suck them beneath the water, if they get too close.  There are no easy answers in this short narrative – How real is this horror?  What does the whirlpool mean?  How come it still haunts them, even at this age? – and I like that, a lot.  Discovering that there is more to this story also has me excited.  Now I need to track down Hollow. 

Now, if Alden’s issue was fantastic (which it was), then Carroll’s issue of Frontier, with a story entitled “Ann by the Bed,” is amazing!  Carroll knows what she is doing and is masterful at creating atmosphere in her comics that is unsurpassed by anyone working today – and possibly very, very few who have worked in the medium throughout its many decades.  Her story sucked me in and latched onto my brain with a vigor I don’t often experience when reading comics.  And that final page had me worried I’d be visited by nightmares after I shut out the light (that is no hyperbole, but thankfully I slept soundly).  Carroll is smart enough to understand that it’s not the gore or the surprises that will stick with readers of a horror comic, but the pervasive sense of something bad happening, or about to happen, and she deftly drags you deeper into each of her stories until it wraps itself around you and pulls you under.  Carroll’s comics are some of the best I have read in a long time.



And, getting back to the topic at hand, Youth in Decline has just announced subscriptions for next year’s Frontier series, with books from Jillian Tamaki, Anna Deflorian, Becca Tobin, and Michael DeForge forthcoming.  That is one helluva lineup.  If you like cool comics, you need to get on this now.  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What It Is – week ending 14 December [2014]




With apologies to Dave the Thune (as well as Mike Baron & Steve Rude).


WRITING:
Every day.  1000 words.  That’s the goal.

It’s the holiday season and we are in full Christmas mode at home (purely secular, celebrating the magic of Santa and the beauty that comes from a house decorated with greening and a Christmas tree and other typical decorations), which means the writing has tapered off a bit.  But I did hit my goal of 300,000 words for the year earlier this week.  Feeling very good about that.  And with the four accepted stories, this has easily been my best year yet.  Next year, I need to do a lot of revising – I’ve got a good number of short stories I’d like to polish up and start sending off – as well as finish up the latest novel and then, at the end of 2015, begin revising that.  Always moving forward.




READING:

I finished up my re-read of the Bendis/Maleev Daredevil run.  One of the major works of the early 2000s from Marvel Comics, along with New X-Men by Grant Morrison, et al. and Amazing Spider-Man by JMS & JRJr, it was enjoyable but did not stand up as well as those other two series (and I should note I’ve note read the Ennis/Dillon Punisher series from this same time).  I applaud Bendis and Maleev for daring to write a story revolving around the outing of Daredevil’s civilian identity of Matt Murdock – a plot point from the amazing “Born Again” storyline that lay dormant for nearly fifteen years – but there are some things that hampered my enjoyment of this reading.  Not that I would not recommend this as an important, or a well done, run.  But there are some cracks in the façade that become evident upon a subsequent reading.  I go into more detail with my review here.  Check it out, and let me know if I’m wrong. 



WATCHING:

The Americans from FX.  I’ve watched the first two episodes now, and this is a great show. 

A couple lives just outside Washington, D.C. in 1981 – in their clean suburban home, with their son and daughter, working at the travel agency.  But at night they are retrieving a defected Russian agent or trying to get a listening device into the private study of Caspar Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense of the United States.  They are Russian spies, but they look just like us.  And then, a CIA agent in counterintelligence moves into the home across the street, with his family.  Is this just a coincidence, or is the CIA onto the “Americans?” 

There’s drama and action and intrigue and suspense and violence, and it’s all smartly written and it’s fun as hell (if you find hell to be fun, y’know), and it stars Felicity (Keri Russell), and she’s grown up and she’s a bad-ass.  Really looking forward to see where this show goes. 


The Mad Max: Fury Road trailer dropped this week.  And unlike the Star Wars, this one has me super-excited.  I’ve watched it a dozen times so far, and it doesn’t get old.  George Miller, 69 years old, comin’ at you with the explode-o!  This movie is one I’m excited about. 


SIGN OFF:

Not much else to share.  Along with Christmas coming, high school basketball season has begun and my son is playing JV and Varsity.  And I have to say, that first time you see your boy come running onto the court in his warm-ups with the rest of the varsity team – it’s pretty damn special.  The team’s 0-2 so far, but they have potential.  Here’s hoping they realize it sooner rather than later. 

As always, check out my friends – Brad& Matt and Don McMillan for their own weekly recaps on things comic-y and geeky, and we'll see what's what in seven.  

-chris


Friday, December 12, 2014

Mad Max: Fury Road Trailer





This is more like it!



Whereas the Star Wars trailer didn't hook me, this one completely did.  This looks, and more importantly feels, just like Mad Max and Road Warrior, two movies I love.  The whole thing might end up being a mess, but what I see in this two-plus minutes has me excited.  And there are a couple of reasons for that:



1)  The original director, George Miller, is involved.  I was unaware of this and had been disregarding all of the hype leading up to this movie as a result.  minus-10 experience points
(Something else pointed out to me online and also worth noting, Miller is 69 years old.  Well played, sir)



2)  practical effects, as pointed out to me by Jim Dietz, makes all the difference in the world.  There is a weight inherent within these scenes that can be lost when something is created through CGI.  I'm guessing Miller understands that.  Too bad others in Hollywood didn't take notice.



Now let's see if Miller & co. can stick the landing.



-chris

Thursday, December 11, 2014

DAREDEVIL by Bendis & Maleev

  


As Marvel worked to make its way out of bankruptcy it gave a couple of indy creators a chance to play in the world of Daredevil (after Kevin Smith put the book back on the comic map with his 8-issue storyline drawn by Joe Quesada a few years prior).  In 2001, Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev began what would become a defining series for both of them, as well as for the character.  It was a return to the hard-bitten streets of Hell’s Kitchen, as embraced by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, David Mazzucchelli, et al. in the late 70s and 80s, with a high concept that would turn ol’ hornhead on his ear.



In the seminal Daredevil storyline, “Born Again,” Miller and Mazzucchelli had the Kingpin discover that blind lawyer Matthew Murdock was actually his most frustrating nemesis, Daredevil.  In these seven issues, Wilson Fisk (the Kingpin) used the information to beat down, both emotionally and physically, Matthew Murdock and then sent him off a pier in a taxi cab to his death.  But Murdock survived and eventually came back, as all heroes do, to defeat the Kingpin without sacrificing his moral center.  It’s an incredible story.  And nobody ever picked up that significant bit of continuity again. 

Until Bendis and Maleev came along.


They opened their four-and-a-half year run with the outing, in the tabloids, of Matt Murdock as Daredevil.  From there, they wove interesting stories that brought a number of characters back to the forefront of the Marvel universe like Power Man and Iron Fist, along with newer creations like Jessica Jones.  It was a series of comics that found critical and commercial success and made Bendis and Maleev superstars in the comic industry. 

I recently went back and read through my collected editions of these stories, and for the most part, they are as enjoyable and intriguing as when I initially read them.  But I did not find them to be as good as they were on that first reading. 


Reading these issues all in big chunks, with the collected editions, I think the stories suffer a bit from being read in this fashion, despite the neatly packaged storylines (often 5 issues, sometimes 6) Bendis and Maleev crafted.  But I think they would have read far better month to month as they were initially being published. 

One aspect that hampered my appreciation of the stories was the dialogue tics found in Bendis’s characters.  Certainly, this is a hallmark of Bendis, as a writer, and part of what has garnered him such wide appeal with fans, and I would mark myself as one of those.  It wasn’t so much the dialogue, per se, as much as the need – it feels like a need, a compulsion, on Bendis’s part – for him to infuse this hesitating cadence into much of it.  Sure, one could argue that he was attempting to infuse a sense of tension and fear, on the part of the characters, by doing this.  Except that it appears to infect almost every single character who walks “onstage” in the book.  If it were unique to one individual, it might be less off-putting, but when I started running into this stuttering in storyline after storyline, it soon began to grate on me. 


Another aspect of this run that becomes far more obvious – and, for me, bothersome – when reading these DD stories all in a run is Alex Maleev’s use of repeated images within different panels.  Compounding this, for me, is the fact that Maleev’s artwork is all-digital, and he would often pull in closer onto a detail from a previous panel, which is a good effect, except that the clarity of the linework would deteriorate when he zoomed in on the image for the later panel.  Again, this is a good tool in the comic storyteller’s toolbox, zooming in on a character to show tension or some other emotion, depending on the context of the scene.  But there are many cases where the same image is used multiple times (look at Sammy Silke, Jr. in the first storyline, “Underboss”), which pulls me out of the story because time is supposed to be passing in a scene but this character hasn’t so much as twitched the whole time.  There needs to be some change in the character, otherwise I become far too aware of the fact that I’m “reading something” rather than allowing myself to become immersed in the story.  And this technique is peppered throughout the entire run, to a point that becomes frustrating.  For me. 


Now, these two, admittedly subjective, faults can be overlooked, especially if the stories are good.  And they are pretty damn good.  But with the final storyline – “The Murdock Papers” – Bendis and Maleev take the train right off the tracks.  In this culmination of their run, the Kingpin agrees to give up the evidence he has proving Matt Murdock is Daredevil, if the U.S. government will drop the charges against him, release his assets, and allow him to leave the country and live out the rest of his life.  As an insurance policy, Wilson Fisk gives the story to Ben Urich.  Urich writes the story and it is, obviously, front page news. 

WHAAAAATTTTT????!!!????

Hyperbole aside, this is completely out of character for Urich.  Not only has he already come through the Kingpin’s threats and pressure on his family in the “Born Again” storyline, but I also just re-read Daredevil #164, “Expose,” wherein Ben Urich first discovers Daredevil’s secret identity and takes this information to Murdock, who is in the hospital (still masked, naturally).  They discuss the entire thing, and in the end, Urich burns up his notes, despite the fact that it would have earned him a Pulitzer, because he knows the city, and especially Hell’s Kitchen, needs a hero like Daredevil. 



And yet, at this point, we are to believe that Ben Urich would write a story that as much as states that Murdock is indeed Daredevil – lending far more credence to the rumors that began early in this run, since those stories came from the tabloids, not a bastion of journalism like The Daily Bugle.  This took me right out of the story, even though the underlying plot of the Kingpin was an elegant little plan.  It’s too bad.  It may seem a minor point, but there needs to be internal consistency for any fictional narrative to work, or else the entire thing might collapse under its own weight. 


Did this final crack in the foundation ruin the overall run for me?  Not necessarily.  But I don’t know that I’ll be going back to this series of comics with as much fervor the next time.  If I ever do choose to revisit it. 


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Fistful of Influences – movies



Conceived and used with the permission of Matthew Constantine and Brad Gullickson, the original dorks.

Everyone has a “Top 5.”  But Brad and Matt, choosing to walk a different path, amended that to “A Fistful…” over at their blog, In the Mouth of Dorkness.  A film-centric blog focused on genre movies – though they very often cover the topics of comics and books and TV and are certainly not averse to classic and non-genre films – these two regularly share their top 5, ranging from “Heroic Kids” to “Spies” to “Summer Movies” to “Punches” to all things in between.  Always fun, often insightful, and something I hope to irregularly pilfer for Warrior27.  As they say:  “If you’re going to steal, steal from those you know relatively well and who will not sue you.” 

With their inaugural podcast, the ITMOD guys delved into their fistfuls of influences, those films that helped to make them the particular film fans they are today.  So, without further ado, here are the fistful of influences that have directed my own path through film fandom (to a far lesser degree than the dorks, it must be noted).  Enjoy.

 

5. Enter the Dragon, starring Bruce Lee, directed by Robert Clouse

I was young when I first saw this Bruce Lee classic.  I was a genre fan, already, but this opened my eyes to stories outside of fantasy and science fiction, and outside of a white, Western-centric focus.  My best friend had this on VHS (or maybe laser disc; it was the early 80s) and his taste was always to be trusted.  This was a revelation.  Crazy martial arts, beautiful ladies, death without remorse, and the question of how the good guys would get off the island.  Oh, and Bruce Lee.  His charisma was obvious even at a young age, and from the love of this film would eventually come my appreciation of John Woo, Chow Yun Fat, Lone Wolf & Cub (the manga), and Ruger Hauer (Blind Fury!). 

 

4. Memento, starring Guy Pearce, directed by Christopher Nolan

I watched this with friends the night before I started my eight-plus-year slog in retail.  My life was turned upside down at the time, and I had no idea where I was going.  That night, sharing this movie with relatively new friends, was a big deal for me.  Watching this would lead not only to close friendships I still value today, but also pointed me to newer filmmakers who would become important to me, such as Ang Lee, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and Darren Aronofsky. 

 

3. A Woman Under the Influence, starring Peter Falk & Gena Rowlands, directed by John Cassavetes

I don’t know how I discovered Criterion.  I think I just happened to notice the common trade-dress for their DVDs at local movie/music/game/bookstore, Bull Moose Music.  Regardless, I started checking them out, reading the backs of the cases, doing some investigation online, and “Woman Under the Influence” was the first Criterion film I watched.  It was a revelation.  I am a huge fan of Peter Falk, specifically in his seminal role of Lt. Columbo.  This was like nothing I’d ever seen from Falk – an ugly, flawed, horrific, yet slightly sympathetic man, and the struggles his wife endured in their relationship.  The filmmaking was distinct, the story engaging, and the performances incredible.  This led me to discover the French New Wave, Nicolas Roeg, Costa-Gavras, and Kurosawa (finally), among many other amazing films and directors in the Criterion collection. 

 

2. The Sons of Katie Elder, starring John Wayne & Dean Martin, directed by Henry Hathaway

I grew up on westerns, specifically John Wayne westerns, and this was the first one I remember latching onto.  Now, I can look objectively at the decades-old debate of Eastwood vs. Wayne and say that, in general, Eastwood’s films are more affecting and more genuine.  But I am so steeped in the Duke’s films, thanks to the superstation WTBS, that I’m unable to divorce my nostalgia from the equation.  This film did lead to Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone and Howard Hawks and John Ford and any number of great westerns, a genre that continues to be a favorite of mine today. 

Of course, these films also formed not just what kind of a film fan I am, but also contributed greatly to the type of person I am.  I romanticize things to a strong degree and love the white hat cowboy in a way that overrides my critical faculties.  This is something I struggle with in my own writing, working to avoid the simplistic cardboard characters that can infest these films.  But still, it fails to dampen my enjoyment of them, even to this day. 

 

1. Star Wars, starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher, directed by George Lucas (like you didn’t already know that)

This is the ur-text for “Chris Beckett.”  I was five years old in 1977.  I saw Star Wars in the theater.  And with that opening shot – as the Star Destroyer continued to pass overhead, seeming as if it would never come to an end – I was all in.  Star Wars inspired a deep affection for science fiction and fantasy stories – Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Dune, Bladerunner, comic books, Star Blazers, Akira, BSG, X-Files, Babylon 5, Harlan Ellison, etc. etc. etc.  I had the figures, the toys, the laser discs (I got to watch them, along with the behind the scenes specials, whenever I wanted Matt), the sheets, the poster books, the popcorn bucket from the ROTJ premiere, the Burger King glasses, the lightsaber, the radio dramas, the comic books, etc. etc. etc.  For years (decades) Star Wars was the focus, the spiritual center from which I crafted my snide remarks, the quotes I dropped into conversations, the reference points for most everything, even if I kept them to myself.  It’s the start of everything, for me.


-chris

Sunday, December 7, 2014

What It Is – week ending 7 December [2014]

With apologies to Dave the Thune.




WRITING:
Every day.  1000 words.  That’s the goal.

With the coming holidays, and other responsibilities, my writing has tapered off a bit this week.  When last we met, I had written roughly 290,000 words for the year, with 231,000 of those being “new” first drafts.  At this point, I have reached 295,325 words with 236,475 “new” words.  I will easily pass my goal of 300,000 words for the year, but life is conspiring against the daily goal. 

All of this writing is paying off.  I got a huge email this week.  A crime anthology I wanted badly to be a part of will be publishing the latest story I submitted to them.  It still feels a bit surreal, and I plan on going into a bit more detail when publication gets closer, so I’ll keep it vague a while longer.  But, for now, I’M IN!



READING:
Finished re-reading the Bendis/Maleev Daredevil run.  It is still enjoyable, but upon this subsequent reading, some cracks in the foundation revealed themselves to me.  Nothing to heinous that it ruined the experience for me, but enough so that it trickled down the list of “favorites” a bit, which also reaffirmed my affection for my favorite DD run of all-time (Born Again, excepted) from Ann Nocenti & John Romita, Jr.  I plan on writing more about both of these runs, so we’ll leave it at that, for now.  Look for the Bendis/Maleeve piece soon, and the Nocenti/JRJr piece far down the line. 

Comic Geek Speak has also been reading and discussing Daredevil this year on their podcast.  The most recent episode dealt with the “[Frank] Miller era.”  This 2 ½ hour discussion really got me excited to go back and re-read my Miller Visionaries trades, and I’ve almost completed the first one of these, which includes all the work written by Roger McKenzie, with a fill-in by David Michelinie.  And they are pretty great, even better than the first time I read these a few years back.  I think at that point the hype surrounding this run of stories was too much to live up to, especially considering hos stellar “Born Again” is, which the CGS guys did not get to with this one.  That book, they will be tackling issue by issue, it sounds like, and that is something I cannot wait to hear.

  
WATCHING:
Watched the second Hobbit film, “The Desolation of Smaug.”  This one, even more than the first, diverges far away from the source text, in order to make it more exciting for the audience.  I suppose that’s smart – different mediums and all – and I know that my middle son said he really enjoyed this one.  But, for me, I am unable to divorce this movie from my childhood experience with the book, and with every new obstacle that need not be there, I shake my head.  *sigh*  Which means my objections should be taken with some sense of skepticism

It feels like a cookie cutter script due to this, rather than consequences growing from choices made by the characters.  We never get a chance to know these characters, because they are always on the run, battling some new obstacle, and doing it with a grace and facility that rings untrue (let the elves have their grace with their lithe bodies, but give the dwarves a different fighting style, please).  And the romance between Tauriel and Kili.  Ugh. 


That said, Smaug was magnificent (see what I did there?)  I enjoyed the scenes with the dragon immensely, even those that trailed far from the path of the book.  I felt a sense of dread for Bilbo (and, come on, Martin Freeman is wonderful as the hobbit, though it feels much like he’s playing “himself” or at least a character very similar to Sherlock’s Watson), and the hubris of Smaug was defined well, though not as expertly as in the book as there were moments where it felt like he should have just roasted the dwarves, quite easily, but that would have been the end of the film with no third film to come.  And I am anxious to see what comes in the final film, for no other reason than where it ends with Smaug.  So, despite its flaws the film did its work.  We’ll see how “The Battle of Five Armies” turns out.

Started the FX show, The Americans.  Only halfway through the pilot, but it’s pretty awesome thus far.  1981.  Russian spies in America.  Their new neighbor is a counterintelligence FBI agent.  Let the fun begin.  And, come on, how did the writer of Speed (Graham Yost) manage to get this and Justified onto the small screen?  Doesn’t matter, because it feels like he’s got two certifiable great shows on his hands.


MISCELLANY:
In the Mouth of Dorkness – the great, and frequently updated blog, from friends Matt & Brad – is now a weeklypodcast, with the able assistance of newest dork, Darren Smith.  The initial ‘cast is almost two hours long, but it didn’t feel like it.  These guys sounded comfortable behind the mics – they should, having been talking all things dork for some years before ever starting the blog – and there was none of those uncomfortable pauses or bits of dead air one might expect from newer podcasters.  They discussed the new Star Wars teaser trailer along with some current films, and then went into their “Fistful of Influences,” their top 5 films that have formed the film fans they all are.  It was fun and insightful and well worth listening to if you enjoy film, especially genre film – though they do cover the gamut with regard to eras, genres, filmmakers, etc. leaving no stone unturned, or some other treacly cliché.  Fun stuff.  Check it out.

And look for my own "Fistful of Influences - movies" in a day or so.


SIGN OFF:
As always, check out my friends – Brad& Matt and Don McMillan for their own weekly recaps on things comic-y and geeky, and we'll see what's what in seven.  

-chris