Friday, July 19, 2013

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up - mixing fun with your superheroes

I don't buy any monthly comics from the "Big 2" (Marvel and DC) anymore and have not for a few years now.  And I buy very few collections, if any (mainly I will borrow things through the library, but I did break down and get the Kirby Kamandi omnibi and will indeed be getting the new Sandman series by Neil Gaiman & JH Williams III).  The reasons for this require a longer posts - or series of posts - but I don't feel like going into that right now, so let's just call this a preamble and get on with it.

Superheroes are supposed to be fun. Sure, there's room for angst and gritty and serious (just like there's room for tropical and wild berry and tart-n-tangy in the Skittles family), but there's a sense of wonder that is built into the genre and is part of what makes it distinct, in my opinion.  And that sense of wonder is part of why I read superhero comics, and part of why I was, and am, more a DC guy than a Marvel guy.

That said, one of the comics from the past decade that I find myself returning to, and a run I finally completed at last year's CGS Super Show, is Ultimate Marvel Team-Up (surprise! you never saw that coming, did you?).  I bought the first 8 issues off the rack, when they were first published, and have no idea why I did not keep up with the series, at the time.  But it is great.

Initially, I was drawn to the series because of the run of artists on the book - open with Matt Wagner, followed by Phil Hester & Ande Parks, then Mike Allred, Bill Sienkiewicz (SIN-KEV-ITCH!), John Totleben, et al. - but I was also a fan of Bendis's having read some of his early crime books as well as some short stories in Negative Burn.  And this book gives me what I want from a superhero comic - wall to wall fun (I think that Sienkiewicz mini-run is probably rather dour, but Bendis would still have Ultimate Peter Parker throwing quips along with webs).  Bendis is just having a blast with these stories and the art is phenomenal.  All of the artists bring their A-game, and the diverse styles only add to the luster of this series, for me.  

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up is a premiere book, and it's too bad it stopped publication before its time.  Though, maybe that's a good thing, because the 16 issues + special are some stellar examples of good, fun superhero comics.


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Write a story with Neil Gaiman

As part of Neil Gaiman's publicity tour for his new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Gaiman provided the opening line of a story to the Guardian and asked readers to finish the story.  This was the line:

It wasn't just the murder, he decided. Everything else seemed to have conspired to ruin his day as well. Even the cat.

I thought it was a great stunt but did not plan to offer my own (I was working on something else that day).  But once that germ of an idea had set its hooks into my brain, the idea of not writing something soon vanished.

It's funny how a lot of ideas, bits of dialogue, and other pieces of my writings come to me while my mind is focused on another thing entirely.  Which I take as a good sign because it means that my mind is always working on these stories, even when I'm not conscious of it.

Anyway.  Here was my contribution:

It wasn't just the murder, he decided. Everything else seemed to have conspired to ruin his day as well. Even the cat.

That damn cat, which was how Gil had come to address the third wheel of their domestic bicycle. It wouldn’t stop licking his face or swatting at the blaze orange tie Deirdre had gotten him. She’d been so excited; told him once she spied it in the window she had to get it for him; wrapped it in sparkly paper and offered it as a 6-month anniversary gift.

Looking back, he could see that had been the first sign. A 6-month anniversary – it frustrated the entire meaning of the word, from the Latin annu, meaning yearly, meaning not every six months.

And blaze orange. That was a winning color.

Subsequent signposts on the road to unhappiness had built up exponentially, like the Fibonacci sequence or that video game he’d played as a kid, Tetris. Built up until they’d formed a metaphorical pyramid of Giza.

Signposts Gil had actively ignored.

The damn cat should have been the last straw. Deidre knew of his allergies, and still she’d invited the stray into their home. “Only for a few days, until its strength is up,” she’d said. Days had turned to weeks and then months until it welcomed itself into their bed evenings, and Gil had moved to one of the guest rooms.

It was all obvious now, looking back over the previous three years. Three years. Had they only been married three years?

Seemed longer.

The biggest surprise had been the fact that Deirdre, figuratively speaking, had been the one to actually pull the trigger –

And another piece locked into place. No wonder his wife enjoyed those crime and legal dramas on television so much. They’d been research.


At least it had been painless. Gil could thank her for that. No doubt the poison would be hard to trace, as well. Which gave him time to properly figure this ghost thing out. And on the bright side, Gil finally had an answer about the afterlife.

He smiled, picturing the weeks ahead invisibly tormenting his now-widowed Deirdre. And that damn cat, too. It was, perhaps, the best revenge of all.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Redressing an error: TOMBSTONE (in the top 5 Westerns)

I wavered on this one yesterday, when I posted my top 5 westerns.  Ultimately, I originally went with Unforgiven at #5.  But when it was brought up to me on the FB, by my friend (not just virtual, either) Ben Roberts, that maybe I'd gotten this wrong, I considered his argument ("Tombstone is a better film than Unforgiven," if I may paraphrase) and decided he was right.

#5 - Tombstone
Not only is this one hell of an action-packed western.  Not only do we have serious shoot-em-ups and idealized, if flawed, larger-than-life characters and revenge and a femme fatale and scenes that will just sweep you up, toss you around, and then drop you where you lay, but this movie is also full of heart.  Not just a classic western with a contemporary sensibility, Tombstone also says something about family, about friendship, and about the lengths one will (should) go for these bonds that should be the most important things in our lives.

I haven't seen this movie in a long time.  I believe I need to change that soon.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My Top 5 Westerns

EDIT:  1, 2, 3, 4, 6?!?  What happened to #5, you might ask.  See the post that follows this one for the explanation, because "justice is coming."

Last month I offered up my top 3 casts in a western.  Then, as the Lone Ranger opened in theaters, with Johnny Depp as Tonto (?), my friends at In the Mouth of Dorkness offered up their top 5 westerns:   Matt  Brad.  So, of course, I must follow suit.

I grew up as WTBS, the Super Station!, was first starting its broadcasting.  It carried a lot of old westerns, and a lot of John Wayne westerns.  I was hooked and have been unable to shed that nostalgic sense of awe to truly come around to Clint Eastwood as THE iconic western actor.  I recognize his contribution, but the mythic, almost super-heroic, quality of the western, especially the John Wayne western, is so infused into my DNA that I have to just roll with it.

That said, and with my bias firmly in my sights, I offer my top 5 westerns of all time.

#6 (that's right, SIX)- Unforgiven
The western given a modern bent that, for many, portrays a more honest representation of the times.  This is Clint Eastwood, along with Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, & Richard Harris, creating a distinct coda to his "Man with No Name" films, as he maneuvers through the wilderness he helped bring about, as an old man with all the weight of regret and missed opportunities that entails.  An amazing story that is also a wonderful
commentary on the western film as a mythical "object," this is a timeless classic that rewards with each new viewing.

#4 - Once Upon a Time in the West
Sergio Leone. Charles Bronson. Jason Robards. Claudian Cardinale.  And Henry Fonda, as one of the most unfeeling and vicious villains in all of western cinema - mainly a result of the fact that this was HENRY FONDA, coupled with the insistence of Leone (when Fonda showed up unshaven and with contacts to hide his baby blue eyes for the first day of shooting) that he wanted HENRY FONDA, clean-shaven, blue-eyed, and handsome as his villain.  This is epic filmmaking at its best with a very personal, human story underlying the whole thing to give it a resonance so often lacking in many films.

#3 - The Searchers
John Ford and John Wayne are a legendary filmmaking director/actor duo, and their specialty was the western.  And this is their most brutal, most honest, and best film within their oeuvre.  Wayne is relentless and unforgiving in his quest to find his young nieces, kidnapped by a Comanche tribe.  The end resonates with questions long after the final credits roll, its ambiguity of character symbolized by Wayne's homage to early western star, Harry Carey, as in the final scene, silhouetted by the cabin doorway, Wayne holds his right elbow with his left hand before fading away.

#2 - The Magnificent Seven
Hollywood took one of the greatest films (Seven Samurai) of Akira Kurosawa, considered by many to be the greatest film director of all time, and transferred it to the American west.  And with Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, Yul Brynner, James Coburn, Eli Wallach, et al. they managed to create an equally compelling film here.  From the opening scene, which reveals Brynner and McQueen's characters with very little dialogue, to the final shootout, this is a great film in the grand tradition of the western genre.

#1 - Lonesome Dove
Yes, it was made for TV, but it was not a regular series like Stagecoach or Gunsmoke, back in the day, nor was it a long-form TV series like Deadwood (which would garner the top spot, easily, if it were eligible within the specific and fluid guidelines I have in my mind)

Honorable mentions:  Tombstone, Red River, Appaloosa (Viggo Mortensen & Ed Harris, come on), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Posse (has, perhaps, the greatest "high noon" shootout I've seen), The Proposition, The Man From Snowy River, and Young Guns.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Finally - Queen & Country news

This is just a quick post, but I caught a tweet pointing to an interview Greg Rucka did with the New York Post's Parallel Worlds blog where Rucka divulged that Tara Chace would be returning next year, in comic form, from Oni Press

Queen & Country is one of my all-time favorite series - crossing over from comics into three novels, written by Rucka - and I cannot wait to see where Chace is at, emotionally, when the series returns.  Do yourself a favor, if you haven't already, and read these books now.  They are some of the best spy fiction you will ever read, regardless of medium. 

I plan on doing a big re-read, and will be writing about it here, as we draw closer to release of the new books.  Until then, go read some Rucka.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

J.H. Williams III, the Sandman, oh & Neil Gaiman

Many were excited with the announcement of a new Sandman story from writer Neil Gaiman and artist-extraordinaire, JH Williams III.  Just as vocal (if, as I believe, smaller in number) were those decrying this "Before Sandman" story, riffing off the "Before Watchmen" series of series that were receiving much internet flack during the same general timespan.  Come on, it's the internet.  It's what we do in our "virtual" personae - vent and rage at things we've not read/seen/understood/bothered-to-even-glance-at.  Well, some of us (and I have done my small share of that, yes, so I am not vindicated by my scorn of this tactic).

Anyway.  Williams has revealed his cover for the first issue.  It's #$%&ing gorgeous!  Wow!

Despite my feelings regarding DC and Marvel (which is a post I need to get to soon), I will be buying the hell out of this series.