Monday, July 13, 2015

A Fistful of Warren Ellis Comics




Conceived and used with the permission of Matthew Constantine and Brad Gullickson, the original dorks http://www.inthemouthofdorkness.com/ .

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 where they also discuss comics and books and TV, 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 regularly pilfer for Warrior27.  As they say:  If you’re going to steal, steal from those you know relatively well, who will not sue you.

Warren Ellis is as well known for his online presence as for his writing.  I couldn’t say whether I came to appreciate that or the writing first, and I couldn’t say, for certain, what my first Warren Ellis comic was (though it may have been that initial Authority collection, with Bryan Hitch).  Regardless, Ellis has become one of my favorite comic authors, as well as one of my favorite prose writers. 

Like Harlan Ellison, another of my literary heroes, Ellis is fiercely dedicated to writing, and, for me, that comes through in much of his work.  Characterized by uncompromising protagonists who lack (or actively eschew) any kind of social filter, with a leaning toward the future and inventive extrapolations from today’s cutting-edge technologies, Ellis’s writing can be harsh and unflinching, but there is always an emotional heart at its core.  Writing across genres, with his distinct voice, Ellis has placed his stamp on the contemporary comics landscape and influenced a number of writers working today, including Jonathan Hickman, Greg Rucka, and Brian Michael Bendis. 

Ellis’s body of work is broad and far-reaching, and I must admit to not having read a lot of it (mainly his early work or a lot of his “cape” work, including the bulk of his Marvel superhero stuff or his Stormwatch run).  That caveat out of the way, here are my five favorite Ellis works, in no particular order: 


·         Frank Ironwine #1 (Apparat Singles), with Carla Speed McNeil, from Avatar Press:

Ellis wanted to do a series of “first issues” of imaginary series, ones that might have been created if the comic industry had followed directly from the pulp magazines and not been overtaken by superheroes.  This was his detective story. 

Frank Ironwine is a detective whose personal hygiene leaves something to be desired, but whose analytical acumen is on par with Holmes.  He understands that it isn’t the lifeless evidence and data that will break a case, but the human interactions.  He listens to people, is sensitive to their emotions, understanding them almost better than they understand themselves, and he also hears the world around him in a way that is almost supernatural.  Juxtaposed against his new partner—young and impatient—readers get to see him work a case and put it down quickly, because of his ability to see and hear what most overlook, because they are either unwilling to take the time or too preoccupied with the wrong things. 

Frank Ironwine is a lovely paean to Columbo, a show that inspired Ellis, which I also adore, with beautiful artwork from McNeil, whose deft handling of body language and facial expressions wonderfully realizes this story.  Buy this already!



·         Planetary, with John Cassaday, from DC/Wildstorm Comics:

As described by Alan Moore, and others, Planetary is an excavation of the fantastical history of the twentieth century by a trio of “archeologists of the impossible,” as they work to reveal the secret history behind this formative century while working to prevent “The Four” from using these same secrets for their personal gain, as they have done for decades. 

With Planetary, Ellis gets to play with all the pulp/superhero/fantasy icons of the twentieth century through analogs created for this series—including the Shadow, Doc Savage, Superman, the Fantastic Four, Captain Marvel (Shazam), Godzilla, Tarzan, and many others—affording a platform with which to critique and update these characters. But this is not a series of “essays” but a single, coherent narrative full of intrigue and drama and emotion, with some kick-ass action thrown in for fun. 

Cassaday, as artist, really shines on this book, too—the book that made him a superstar.  His meticulous linework, coupled with Laura Martin’s lush coloring, enhance the series and make it distinct.  Love this book!



·         Fell, with Ben Templesmith, from Image Comics:

Another detective narrative, this one finds Richard Fell shunted to the bad side of town, stuck in a detective’s office with hollow officers who’ve long since given up trying to make things right for the citizens.  Throughout the nine issues that have been published so far (fingers crossed it will continue, someday), Ellis & Templesmith offer dense, one-and-done stories that reveal the ugliness of the world. 

Like, Ironwine above, this is a tightly plotted series that tells a complete mystery in a single issue, while narrative threads expand across the broader series.  With distinct characters and a harrowing setting, this was one of the most entertaining and engaging comics I was reading when it was being published. 

Utilizing a “slimline” format, as coined by Ellis, each story was 16 pages long, with short essays in the back to accentuate the reading experience.  And yet, they never read slowly and never felt slim.  If you’ve never read this, check it out.  Now!  



·         SVK, with D’Israeli, from Berg Eneterprises:

In an alternate London, two former intelligence officers come back together when one—a successful businessman working on the latest surveillance technology—calls on a favor from his old comrade.  Their latest piece of tech has gone missing, signed out by an employee who did not return after the weekend, and who should not have taken out this one-of-a-kind prototype, SVK.  Through the course of a single 44-page issue (with interstitial essays and replica ads), readers learn what this bit of tech can do, what the bad blood between these former colleagues is, and how the world has changed since their falling out. 

This single issue encapsulates everything that makes Warren Ellis a favorite of mine.  He packs into a single issue more story and history, emotional entanglements and double-crosses than a typical six-issue storyline from the “Big Two,” while incorporating ideas and extrapolations from the latest technological research that makes it feel new and vibrant in the manner that most readers crave their science fiction to be.  And, he manages to incorporate the UV-light (or torch) that Berg wanted as part of this package into the actual storyline so that it makes sense and does not come off as a gimmick.  That, I found impressive. 

Then there’s D’Israli (or Matt Brooker) on art.  Ellis & D’Israeli created the much-loved Lazarus Churchyard series, years ago, and his art perfectly conveys this alternate timeline story.  His London comes to life through the details he includes within the panels, without cluttering them.  And when we hit the final reveal—that explains the rift between these former intelligence agents, as well as how this world is different from ours—it is a kick in the gut, conveyed through the juxtaposition of the protagonist’s casual remarks and the image of destruction on that final page, masterfully done by Ellis & D’Israeli.  Great book!  (but good luck finding one)  



·         Transmetropolitan, with Dark Robertson, from DC/Vertigo:

This is Ellis’s magnum opus, his big, long Vertigo series that put him on the map.  And it’s wonderful.  In a dystopian future, journalist Spider Jerusalem is dragged (metaphorically) down off the mountain where he’s been living and back into the city, in order to fulfill his publishing contract.  A foul-mouthed, arrogant, unrelenting, and unapologetic bastard, Spider’s writing is infused with vitriolic righteousness that speaks to the people and pisses off all the right people in power. 

Through the course of 60 issues, Ellis & Roberson attack every moral crime they can, while Spider Jerusalem works to reveal the corruption upon which the next U.S. President, “The Smiler,” has built his powerbase, in order to bring him down.  It’s a deftly handled cat and mouse game between Spider and the Smiler, that is engaging and entertaining, while again revealing the ugly underbelly of society. 

Robertson perfectly complements Ellis’s narrative with detailed art and packed panels that help to flesh out this fully realized dystopian America, as envisioned by these creators.  If you enjoy dystopian science fiction or gonzo journalism or social justice or reprehensible characters who plumb the depths of decency and still manage to be the hero (or heroic, to a degree), then this is the book for you.  Highest recommendation!


There are also a number of Honorable Mentions that should be … mentioned (ahem).  So, here we go: 

  • All the other Apparat titles from Avatar --- the single issues and the graphic novellas, including Crecy, which I spotlighted on the Pulse that included an interview with Ellis.  Check that here:  http://www.warrior27.net/2011/05/fyc-replay-crecy-by-warren-ellis.html
  • Ellis’s “space” comics, including Ministry of Space, Ocean, and Orbiter.
  • Desolation Jones
  • Red
  • Global Frequency
  • Freak Angels, available in print, or for free, online:  http://www.freakangels.com/?p=23   
  • Doktor Sleepless
  • G.I. Joe: Resolute (the best animated G.I. Joe series I’ve ever watched)
  • And his novels, Crooked Little Vein and Gun Machine.  Highly entertaining, with that dark twist I appreciate in Ellis’s writing.

 

These are all great reads, and there are many more.  I definitely prefer his “indie” work, but I’ve also enjoyed a lot of his superhero books too.  So, check out Warren Ellis.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


-chris

Monday, July 6, 2015

A FISTFUL OF CONVENTION MOMENTS




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

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 where they also discuss comics and books and TV, 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 regularly pilfer for Warrior27.  As they say:  If you’re going to steal, steal from those you know relatively well, who will not sue you.

This week is Comic-Con and all the Dorks—less Matt, the Omega Dork—are heading across the country to attend. 

[cue jealousy music]

During the run-up to this monumental task, the ITMODcast released their COMICCONcast , which was a great combination of reminiscences and advice (heavy on the reminiscences, which includes some great stories).  If you’re planning to attend any convention this year, or just want to experience it vicariously, you should check this episode out.  And, in honor of their recent episode, I’m sharing my own “Fistful of Convention Moments.”  They may not stack up to helping pull John Landis out of his rickshaw, but they’re pretty close, for me. 

In descending order: 

5.   Paul Pope recognizing me at MoCCA (2007)

MoCCA-fest 2007 took place in April of that year, in New York City’s Puck Building.  It was a great art comics fest, with a bunch of great creators.  One of those was Paul Pope.  I’d met  and spoken with him at the previous year’s SPX, held in Bethesda, Maryland in late September.  He’d had a bunch of his self-published books there—THB, Escapo, Buzz Buzz Comics Magazine—and I’d bought every one, since I’d never found any of those at my LCS.  Pope was generous with his time, speaking with me about comics and creating, and it made a great impression on me. 

That spring, I was now writing for the Pulse website, and I wanted to do an email interview with Pope for my column.  I got in line with Dan.  And when I stepped up to his table, Pope instantly recognized me and remembered our conversations from SPX.  Yeah, it was a “fanboy” moment, but it was pretty damn awesome too.  Oh, and I got to do that interview as well.  Check it here.

4.  Meeting Joe Hill at Baltimore (2013)

Brad, at the ITMODcast, will remember this one.  But first, preamble:

The first short prose story I sold was directly influenced by Joe Hill’s short story, “Abraham’s Boys.”  I’d been hearing about Hill from friends and decided to check out his 20th Century Ghosts collection, to see what the fuss was about.  When I finished “Abraham’s Boys,” it was like Tetris blocks falling into place, for me.  I understood how he’d structured it, focusing on how Joe Hill managed to plant the “story turn” into the narrative without it being forced, and as I sat in the Borders café, I started building that first “successful” story of my own. 

So, fast-forward to Baltimore-Con, 2003.  Brad and I get in line to meet Joe Hill.  Brad has some of Hill’s work to be signed.  I have a copy of Warrior27 (my self-published comic, co-created with Dan) that featured Shane Leonard’s first photo-cover for a comic (Leonard is Hill’s best friend and did similar duty for some of the issues of Locke & Key).  I also had a copy of my chapbook, with that initial story inspired by “Abraham’s Boys.”  When we get up to Hill, I explain everything, tell him I wanted to thank him and share my story with him, and Hill, who is a generous person with fans, thanked me and asked me to sign the chapbook to him.  I didn’t notice, but Brad told me afterward, that the line started to hum, asking who I was and what was going on.  Brad shared the details—Warrior27 and all that—and I got big adrenaline boost for the rest of that day, at the con. 


3. In line for George Perez, Wizard World Chicago (2001)

2001 was the first year I hit a big comic convention.  A 19-hour drive from Maine to Chicago, and it was well worth it.  The highlight, for me, was getting to meet my all-time favorite superhero artist, George Perez.  This man is generous with his time and generous to his fans. 

Day one involved scoping out the convention hall.  Finding where creators were and making plans for attacking the floor the following days.  And it became obvious that I would need to head to Perez’s booth immediately, since the line was capped quite early.  So, Dan and I both did that. 

We were somewhere between 22nd and 25th in line for Perez.  I had my sketchbook, a few comics, and my Batman portfolio, which DC published in the late 80s.  We were in line for five hours.  And it was so worth it.  Perez would occasionally get up from the table, walk down the line, tell us how crazy we were with this huge smile, and then return to his fans.  And each one of us got time to talk with him.  He signed anything we wanted signed (I had decided which of the plates in the portfolio I’d have him sign, but he said, without hesitation, I’ll just sign them all).  And I got a free head sketch of my favorite superhero, the Flash—the Barry Allen version, which he inquired about, because Perez draws Barry differently (with a longer face) than the Wally West version (rounder, and looking a bit younger).  Definitely one of the big highlights of my convention-going.   


 
2. Selling books all weekend at SPX (2006)

In 2005, Dan and I tabled at our first convention, Wizard World Chicago.  It was a frickin’ disaster—standing behind our table, selling no books, wondering what the hell we thought we were doing, just terrible.  But…it did teach us some valuable lessons à  see here, and here, and here.

So, when we decided to create a second issue of Warrior27 and exhibit at a convention, we chose more wisely and went where our audience (for a black and white book by anonymous creators that has no superheroes and some prose in it) would be—Bethesda, Maryland and SPX. 

That convention was awesome. We were selling books all weekend, and in half the time we sold dozens and dozens more books than we had in Chicago.  It made perfect sense, in hindsight.  Regardless, actually having readers interacting with us and paying real money for something we created, was an amazing experience.  And it kept us both going with this “writing thing.”  This is also the convention where I met some other great creators, like Mike LaRiccia and G.B. Tran and Justin Fox, who’ve gone on to do some great work.  Google those guys, you won’t be disappointed.


 
1. Meeting Harlan Ellison at Dragon-Con (2004)

Without a doubt, this is my ultimate convention experience.  Harlan Ellison is my favorite author, bar none (though Alan Moore, Hemingway, and David Mitchell certainly make a run for that title, depending on my mood) and he was going to be at Dragon-Con, 2004.  Coupled with the first stateside appearance of Warren Ellis in years, this convention was a no-brainer for myself, and Dan & Gibran. 

The interesting thing about Dragon-Con is that it is spread across three different venues (or it was a decade ago, when we drove to Atlanta).  And, as such, it can be difficult to figure out where creators are going to be (or it was for me).  When we finally moved out of the main convention hall, Dan and I had to walk a number of blocks to find the second hotel/conference center where guests were tabling.  And, without knowing, we stumbled upon Harlan Ellison’s table.  I started acting like a little kid. 

The line for Ellison was not that long.  Dan and I stepped up to the table.  And when we got up to Ellison, he regaled us with stories (of him marching in Louisiana during the Civil Rights movement and being imprisoned and beaten for that), told Dan he was a pussy when he tried to share his one time being accosted by the police (I kept my mouth shut, having only received a speeding ticket as my most heinous offense), shared the names of writers we should check out, like W.S. Merwin, and  generally was a gracious, outgoing, entertaining, pleasant, if foul-mouthed, host, at his table.  Great, great moment. 


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

  •           Meeting and talking with Morgan Spurlock, as he was walking around the aforementioned MoCCA-fest, just checking things out with his partner and their child.   
  •           Playing SPOT RICK at Wizard World – an inside joke that Dan and Gibran will get, and I’ll explain if you come up to the table at this year’s [2015] Baltimore-Con and ask nicely. 
  •           Meeting the Beast Master at Dragon-Con and being swept into the conversation he was having with Dan.  That guy is still jacked super-enthusiastic to meet and talk with fans.  Totally cool time.
  •           Meeting and talking to one of my favorite artists, Scott Morse, at SPX.  The guy is a phenomenal creator and super-nice (as most of the artists and writes I’ve had the pleasure of meeting tend to be)


So, there are my top 5 Con Moments.  What are yours? 

-chris


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Writing is Revising


I hit a wall in May, as far as my writing, and that slid on through into June.  I’m pretty sure I took twice as many days off from writing, each month, as I had taken in the first four months of the year. 

But I think that’s behind me now.  One weekend, a couple weeks back, while riding in the car with my son, who has his driver’s permit, I formulated the spines for four new short stories—all ideas that I want to pursue.  So, as my son drove, I did my best to get my fat fingers to punch out my notes on my [not]-smart phone.  Since then, I’ve been working on building these narratives, recently completing one first draft as I transitioned to the next story. 

Now, that preamble is all well and good.  But this post isn’t about my writing “woes” or the content of those four stories—although I would hope to be able to use them in a Maine-themed collection down the line, if I ever break through to the big publishers; we’ll see. 

Anyway.  This post is about beginnings. 

The opening of a short story, a format where you have very little space (1500-5000 words, generally speaking) to get across a full narrative and every single word needs to work toward revealing your story, needs to grab readers.  The advice to start a scene late and end early definitely applies to this. 

Sure, Harlan Ellison can write a story in a bookstore window, but it’s a challenge for me to figure out how best to tell my stories.  Which means, more often than not, my first drafts are complete dreck and often overwritten. 

Case in point, that most recent first draft I completed.  My initial opening scene ran for three pages and roughly 700 words.

 
PAGE 1

I’d recently read Annie Proulx’s collection, Close Range, and the pictures she painted with her words are breathtaking and distinct.  Her writing is beautiful, and reading this collection made me want to try to write something in that same vein.


 
PAGE 2

But one should also be aware of one’s limitations.  I’m not Annie Proulx.  I think my strength lies in dialogue and in concision.  My half-assed attempt at crafting an oil painting from my lexicon fell flat. 


PAGE 3

And luckily, as I reached the halfway point of this first draft, my mind came to that realization.  I decided to do what I do best, and just excise all the flourishes and get right to the meat of that opening scene.  Here it is.  Compare that with the three pages I’ve shared here (note, all the highlighted text are my notes to myself, as I’m writing, to help with clarity when it comes time to revise)


Tim Samuels could barely hear his own voice.  “I killed her.”  The expanse of the church engulfed the phrase, but the words hit him in the chest like a thunderbolt.
The pastor did not flinch, motioned for Tim to sit down as he settled into the pew in front of him.  “Please.  Start from the beginning.” 


Only 56 words.  And I’m a lot happier with it. 

That’s writing…revising. 


chris

Friday, June 19, 2015

Positive Review! (it feels good)



The first prose story I had accepted for a print publication was "You Gotta Give Good..." in the steampunk anthology, New Orleans by Gaslight.  I'm proud of that story.  Anyway.  I popped over to Amazon to get a few copies of the book to have when Dan and I head to Baltimore in September for the Baltimore Comic-con, and I got lured into reading the reviews, most of which are a couple years old, when the book was published.  I was kind of glad I did (emphasis mine):

This anthology has been a welcome escape from dry academic reading for grad school. All of the stories are well-written, action and adventure with rich, relatable characters, in a world I would love to become lost in. Often, even in these works of fantasy, the themes are both tragic and highly relevant, such as in Crescent City, allegorical of the gross mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath; and Super Dome, which deals with the horrors of war. My favorite story in the book is You Gotta Give Good. Buy it. You'll see why.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Opening Scene - MAGNIFICENT SEVEN!

Another great episode of the ITMODcast dropped today--the Remember the Alamo segment on John Ford & John Wayne's THE SEARCHERS.  It's another fantastic conversation, revolving around my favorite film genre, centered on my favorite director/actor combination.

But, if we move away from The Searchers, as they do in the episode, we find that one of the hosts, Brad, can't enjoy The Magnificent Seven because he's unable to divest the film of its debt to Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.

Brad, I understand, but how can you not be all in after this opening scene?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Always Late to the Party – Man of Steel…some thoughts









Man, oh man, oh man of Steel…people hated on this film something fierce when it came out.  But, we do reserve our strongest online opinions for those things that matter most ß sarcasm. 

Ahhhhh, the interwebs. 

The expectation, from myself and those who know me, was that I would hate on this movie too.  I was born in ’72, am an 80s child, and Christopher Reeve’s Superman is my Superman, full stop.  What Reeve did with the duality of Superman and Clark Kent is phenomenal.  You not only believed a man could fly, but you believed he could trick everyone with a pair of glasses, boring hair, and a slouch.  I love that first Superman film in the way one can only love those things we are introduced to at a certain age.  Superman: the Movie will always be the top of the heap for me, even with the ridiculousness of Gene Hackman’s Luthor and his sidekick, Ned Beatty.  So, Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel had a rough hill to climb if it wanted to make a serious impact on me. 

Let’s bullet-point this:



·         Lois Lane: 
I loved the fact that she used her investigative skills to discover who Superman was, before he was even Superman.  We’ve been told for years that Lois Lane is an award-winning journalist, but we’ve never seen that in the films and rarely, if ever, in the comics.  Having Lois track him down demonstrated her ability and made her more than just a cipher. 
Added bonus: this changes the dynamic of the relationship between Clark/Superman & Lois in a way that is novel and interesting.  Big props for this storytelling point. 



·         Pa Kent: 
Man, this portrayal by Kevin Costner sure did have a lot of detractors.  And I get that.  This Pa Kent does not teach his son to be the hero the world needs.  He does not instill in Clark the selflessness embodied by Superman.  This Pa Kent was selfish and scared of what would happen to his son, if his secret was discovered.  That’s not Pa Kent. 
Despite the fact that this interpretation missed the core of this character, I was impressed with how consistent the characterization was throughout the film, including the tornado scene.  His motivation came from wanting to protect his son, at all costs.  And though I disagree strongly with this characterization, I, as a parent, fully understood and empathized with this Pa Kent. 

·         Krypton: 
I did enjoy the visualization of this alien landscape.  It was a bunch of flash with stunts we’ve seen before (did anyone believe Jor-El wasn’t going to be caught by something when he stepped off into that freefall? No.), but it was cool.  And I’m always down to watch Russell Crowe onscreen.  So, put this one in the plus column.



·         The Kiss (amid the ruins): 
Where did this come from?  It’s possible I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but this felt completely forced, especially amid all that destruction.  I didn’t feel they built up the romance well enough (which, to be fair, can be said of 95% of the romances in Hollywood films), and the fact that they were surrounded by all that destruction…Superman is selfless.  One could argue this is Superman before he’s truly become Superman, except that one’s moral core is formed through one’s childhood.  So, even if he’s new to using his powers, he should not be new to feeling empathy for others.  Bad narrative choice here.
o   Aside: we rarely see Superman putting others first during the destruction of Metropolis – the sidestep of that oil tanker (which he could have stopped, avoiding the destructive explosion) is the prime example of this – which is odd, since that seemed to be at the forefront of his mind before he discovered and put on the spandex.



·         The Battle with Zod et al: 
Yes, Superman needs action.  And we got that with Man of Steel.  But it was so over the top, from my point of view, that it just pulled me out of the narrative.  It was ridiculous, the figures looked obviously animated, and the speed with which they moved made things muddled.  Somehow, the Flash television show does a better job with super-speed battles than this feature film did. 
o   Beyond how it looked, a lot of people were upset with the wholesale destruction of Metropolis.  It felt too real for them, reminded a lot of people of the September 11 terrorist attacks.  And I get that.  But, viewing this film through the lens of my personal experiences, I didn’t agree with this criticism.  Anyone who’s read Superman comics or watched Superman/Justice League cartoons has witnessed a similar level of destruction.  When Kal-El can let loose with his full force, and has an equally strong foe, there’s bound to be a lot of explosions and crumbled buildings.  It is part of the appeal of superhero stories.  And have Michael Bay films or the Marvel films shied away from cartoonish examples of destruction?  (if they have, apologies, I haven’t seen many of them, though I remember some dynamic explosions in the ones I have) 
o   (another aside: why, as a general rule, is violence something we don’t usually discuss in our entertainment, but sex and sexuality are always being put upon by righteous people? ßrhetorical)
o   Why didn’t Superman lead Zod away from Metropolis or Smallville? 
Good question.  That is what Superman should do.  It’s his M.O.  And I don’t know that I have a good answer.  Superman/Clark seems to have a bifurcated characterization in Man of Steel.  Before he attains “the suit” he is the mystery man with great power who assists people, anonymously, apparently out of the goodness of his heart.  He puts others first and often sacrifices his latest identity in order to save people, then moving on to become someone else.  And yet, once he has the big red S on his chest, he seems to regress in his characterization, unthinking of all those millions of people suffering and dying as a result of his battle with Zod.  It’s strange.  One one level, it makes sense with what we see of his upbringing by Pa Kent, and yet it goes against everything the audience learns of him while Lois is trailing his mysterious deeds.  I don’t know. 
That said, as I watched the battle beginning with Zod threatening Clark’s mother, which throws him into a wild rage, it never felt like Superman/Clark had time enough to breathe or even consider taking the battle away from the city.  Sure, the writers and Snyder, as director, set it up that way, but there really was no respite for him to consider the consequences.  He was just reacting.

Ultimately, I was less bothered by the actual battle and destruction and more annoyed with the actual execution of it onscreen.  So, let’s call this one a wash.



·         Superman as Jesus: 
Did you catch it?  DID YOU CATCH IT?  Subtle, Zack Snyder ain’t. 
Obviously, they are going to utilize this metaphor in the upcoming Batman v. Superman film.  Of course, I shouldn’t be coming to Hollywood blockbusters for nuance. 

·         His powers, and did the filmmakers do anything “new” with them?: 
Even as horrible as Superman III is, the scene where Superman crushes a piece of coal into a diamond, along with that opening scene where he freezes the top of a lake and carries the sheet of ice to the refinery to put out the fire, are scenes that stick in the memory, because it was a new way, onscreen, of seeing Superman use his powers.  Though much of what we see in Man of Steel isn’t new, we did get a new way of experiencing his heat vision, and I thought it was pretty great.  I liked the visualization of it, along with the way it was used (even if the final scene with Zod doesn’t work).  So, chalk another one up for Man of Steel.
 
·         Zod’s Death: 
Doesn’t work. 
I understand what they were going for with this, but the filmmakers missed the mark.  Snyder seemed to want to draw out the tension of this scene by lingering on the heat vision as it just burned into that one spot beside the family who are unable to move away from that wall.  What?  Superman is holding Zod’s head still, why doesn’t he do something other than that hackneyed move where you pull your hands apart and the person’s neck you were holding breaks?  (Is this even real?  It’s at least a cliché we recognize.) 
For this scene to work you don’t need to up the tension; you need to have it be a split-second decision.  Then it would have felt true to the narrative.  Zod starts his heat vision, Superman plows through him and finally kills him, or Superman uses his heat vision on Zod and kills him, or Superman drives an I-beam (there must be some just hanging around in the rubble) through Zod and kills him.  Bang-bang.  It has to be quick like that, or it doesn’t work.  And it wasn’t quick.  And it doesn’t work. 
The core of the idea is an intriguing one, and an idea that John Byrne left for others to play with when he was writing and drawing Superman in the mid-eighties, but they dropped the ball on this one.  



All this being said (written), this wasn’t a bad movie.  There’s a lot to like in it.  Ultimately, I was bored with Man of Steel and likely won’t be checking out the follow-up.  I’ve got too many other things I want to read/watch/do.  Plus, I view Superman as an aspirational character, a hero to look up to.  He needs to be differentiated from the grimness of Batman because they are different characters with different backgrounds, who work well within their distinct milieus.

But, I suppose forcing Supes into the grim ‘n gritty box that’s worked so well was the safe bet.  Too bad, because we already had that grim ‘n gritty hero, the Dark Knight, and it’s difficult to have the darkness of Batman without it being offset by the lightness of others, like Superman.  Ah, well, what do I know?  I guess it’s official, I’ve become the curmudgeonly old man who wants you off his lawn. 


So, get off my lawn!

chris


Friday, May 8, 2015

A Fistful of a League of Extraordinary Avengers


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 where they also discuss comics and books and TV, 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 regularly pilfer for Warrior27.  As they say:  If you’re going to steal, steal from those you know relatively well, who will not sue you.

            This latest “Fistful” is in response to the ITMOD guys’ latest podcast, where they came up with their fistful of Avengers (or Revengers) from across the film spectrum that they would bring together to combat Thanos, in a world where the Avengers did not exist.  The guys on the ‘cast came up with a great collection of “toughs.”  Here’s my meager addition to that:


·         “Harmonica”  (Charles Bronson) from Once Upon a Time in the West



He’s all about the long game, and he’s not stopping ‘til you are done with this Earth.


·         Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) in The Searchers



Driven doesn’t properly describe Edwards in this film.  You know he’s going to find and kill whoever wronged him, or die in the attempt.


·         The Bride from Kill Bill



She’s the Bride.  ‘Nuff said.


·         Snake Plissken



Again, what more need be said about Snake Plissken.  Throw him into an impossible situation, it don’t matter, he’s coming out of it.  Though probably a bit worse for wear.


·         “The Wolf” (Harvey Keitel) in Pulp Fiction



The Wolf is the Captain America of this group.  He knows what needs doing, has a plan, and will make damn sure you get it done, and done right.  Because you do not cross the Wolf.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

What It Is – week ending 3 May [2015]


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


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

But sometimes, the goal needs to be set aside.  One of the things that has pushed me with my writing is that feeling of irritability I get when I go a few days without writing.  And this isn’t something I notice, consciously—at least, not for quite a few years.  It would take me those few days to notice that I was snapping in frustration at things that did not merit such a response.  I’d then roll through reasons for this, eventually falling on the fact that I hadn’t written anything for a number of days, realizing that was the crux of my frustrations.  Greg Rucka expressed a similar sentiment at a convention panel I attended a number of years back, and that was the lightbulb that clued me into this aspect of myself, but it’s still taken me years to lock onto that lack of writing as the basis of my crappy mood, at the top of my internal Google search.  So, it was odd that I was feeling that same sense of frustration a few weeks back, since this year has been my most productive, as far as hitting my daily goal.  I’d only taken three days off from writing all of 2015, at the mid-point of April. 


I’m not one who balks at pressure—I tend to relish it.  But I was feeling the pressure of needing to keep on my writing streak.  So, I took a break to recharge, to read some, to watch some TV, to just take it easy.  And it felt good.  Ultimately, it only ended up being two days off from writing, but that’s what it took, because by the third day the voices were sliding around in my brain again, begging to be let out.  And that’s what I did.  I jumped back on the horse and started writing. 

Best piece of advice I’ve ever heard on being a writer—which I’ve read in numerous places and mentioned multiple times here—is that one needs to write.  But you also need balance. 


READING:
Finished up Tom Sawyer this week.  What more can I say?  It’s a classic, and there’s a reason for that.  The characters, the dialogue, Twain’s way with words, it all works fantastically.  Glad I finally took the plunge. 


As for comics, I’ve been wading in nostalgia over the past couple years, and it’s been great.  Not that there aren’t comics being made today that don’t interest me, but there aren’t many that necessitate my seeking them out upon publication—most of them I’m fine reading in collected form, long after they’ve hit the stands (the prime exceptions are Ed Brubaker’s book, Velvet & The Fade Out, and the upcoming Providence from Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows).  But the pile next to the bed has included early issues of G.I. Joe, Suicide Squad (Ostrander et al.), and, lately, The Badger.  I started reading Baron & Butler’s Badger a few years back, when I put together a full run of the book, across all its publishers, but I stopped at some point around the mid-30s.  But with my hankering for 80s comics, to really excite my inner child, I picked it up again from the start, and it’s been a great ride.  This book is crazy, in that it doesn’t follow anything resembling a “traditional” take on superheroes.  It’s not just the Badger, who suffers from multiple-personality disorder, or his supporting cast, which includes a 500-year-old wizard, but it’s the plots that Mike Baron and his artistic collaborators conceive—an adventure seeking out a truffle hunting pig, an issue where the Badger rides a buffalo in search of a rampaging rhino, and other “out of left field” concepts.  It basks in the glory of being a comic book, which makes it such a fun book to read.  If you like your superheroes a bit off-center, you should definitely dig into the back issue bins for these books. 



WATCHING:
So, everyone was going on about Daredevil on Netflix (did anyone find any fault with the show?), which led me to head back to Central City and catch up with Barry Allen, The Flash!  I watched the big time travel story—comprised of “Out of Time” and “Rogue Time”—which had people going crazy on the internet about a month and a half ago.  And they were great.  I go into more detail at this post here, but these two episodes really leveled up this series for me, and I’m back on board until the season finale.  The creators are infusing so many concepts from the comic books into this series, while tweaking others, and it all works so well for me.  And the brightness of the show and the positive outlook of the character of Barry Allen just adds to much to it, and is the right comic book TV series for me, right now.  It’s the difference between the real take on these over-the-top characters so often taken in both film and comics today, and this aspirational take, which is what I want from my superheroes and leads right back to why I’ve been reading so many comics from my childhood.  Not that you can’t have brooding, serious characterizations (especially for heroes like Batman or Daredevil), but you need to have variety (hear that, DC comics?) in order to not just appeal to a broader audience, but also to better define these characters—because if they are all “grim ‘n gritty” how can you tell them apart?  (other than their four-color costumes)



MISCELLANY:
Put down a stone walkway at the house this weekend.  (homeowner win)  I need to make them flush with the ground.  But that’s for another weekend.  (let’s not get ahead of ourselves here)


SIGN OFF:
As always, check out my friends – Brad& Matt and Darren Smith (with Bryan Young on accompaniment, when he’s available)  and Don McMillan, as well as Dan’s foray into podcastdom, the Potato League Podcast, for their own weekly recaps on things comic-y and geeky, and we'll see what's what in seven.  

-chris