We’ve posted before that we don’t really like Black Friday. Too much craziness, too many people compelled to work on a holiday. I noted a few stores were actually advertising that they would not be open at ridiculous hours – good for them.
You can learn a lot about the spirit of Black Friday by watching the excellent Teen Titans Go! This show is a staple in our house – the kids love it, and it consistently makes me and the wife chuckle. The show’s writers are obviously from our peer group, often referencing semi-obscure 80’s and 90’s lore in full Seth MacFarlane mode.
The episode rifs on ‘A Christmas Carol’ as so many fine holiday toons have done before, and really put me in the proper frame of mind to go out and do battle within the halls of retail Friday afternoon.
If you have pre-teen kids, you probably already know about Teen Titans Go!, but if not give it a look. The Black Friday episode aired last week and will certainly be on again.
The boy has been watching Batman: The Brave and the Bold on Netflix lately. I knew about this series and may have watched it once or twice during it’s original run (2008-11), but I didn’t recall how fun and well-done this show was.
This is four-color era Batman, with a definite nod to Adam West and Burt Ward and the lighter comic styles of the Silver Age. From its bright color palette to its jazz-infused score and music, the show gives us a less dark and more fun version of DC’s famous detective. The basic premise goes back to the old Brave and the Bold comic, which featured some form of super-heroic team-up (usually, but not always featuring Batman). And they weren’t always the A-list/Justice League-type heroes. So with this series, the producers took a bit of a gamble to include lesser-known heroes like Red Tornado, Phantom Stranger, Blue Beetle, etc.,as well as some of the more obscure (and silly) villains. You will also see Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Robin and more familiar faces, but a lot of the show’s charm is in seeing the full breadth of DC characters. Continue reading
Took in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy last weekend (along with so many others). What a fun show! Marvel Studios continues to hit that action-adventure-humor sweet spot, and we would guess that while the majority of the viewing public never heard of Drax or Groot prior to this film, they’re fans now.
Because no one’s demanded it, we’re going to try a little switch on the review format here. Instead of the longer summary form, we’ll just go with the likes and dislikes, hits and misses, cheers and jeers.
- Cosmic Marvel – The intergalactic, sci-fi area of the Marvel Universe has a lot to offer. Although Stan and Jack originally created some of the aliens and creatures just to give the Fantastic Four or Avengers someone else to fight, the vastness beyond Earth has provided creators with so many opportunities to tell new stories, mix favorite elements of space opera and sci-fi, and envision new worlds. Guardians, with its mishmash of alien cultures and locales, uses this to great effect to create that fun Star Wars vibe. We’ve seen hints of Cosmic Marvel in the Avengers-themed movies (especially Thor), but this one really nails it, with references to old school creations like the Kree and Skrull war, the Celestials, and more.
- Set Design/Art Direction – Closely tied to the above, big kudos to the visual arts team. It’s incredible what they can create on screen these days. Whether it’s Starlord’s ship (orange and blue, baby!), Ronan’s Dreadnought cruiser, the prison, Knowhere (awesome!), or Xandar, the overall result is fantastic. Not just because of the vivid colors and attention to detail, but also how these environments interact with the characters without suspending the disbelief overly much.
- Chris Pratt – Starlord, man! As a big Parks and Recreation fans, we already knew about the comic timing, which Pratt applies repeatedly and expertly. He’s a great choice as that Earth-transplant every-dude. Of course Peter Quill/Starlord has so much potential as an archetypal character. With a boyhood spend on earth in the 80s, he has those frames of reference, the music, the lingo. He knows about Captain Kirk and Han Solo and is fully attempting to pull that off. Pratt’s convincing in the action scenes, and has the range for the more serious moments as well (although you could feel the clowning right around the corner). His scenes with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) were fun and Saldana also deserves a lot of credit for her performance.
- Writers/Script – The story’s pretty straightforward: Quest for treasure turns into a mission to stop the evil overlord. The characters are your typical band of misfits. But give a lot of credit to the writing team – James Gunn, Nicole Perlman, Dan Abnett, and Andy Lanning. There’s real economy in their scenes; they set up character traits quickly, and the comedic moments are plentiful without feeling forced. Drax taking everything literally, Rocket’s antics and tough-guy veneer, Groot… We also appreciate some of those smaller moments and how they worked in a few Marvel easter eggs like usual. They didn’t overdo the Starlord/Quill character arc, they didn’t force some grand epiphany upon the character. And whoever came up with the idea for that final showdown with Ronan – well that writer deserves an award.
- I thought the post-credit mini-scene (now a tradition) was a little weak and somewhat frightening in an 80’s flashback kind of way. This isn’t really a dislike, but rather an observation: the movie had just a little too much violence and a one too many crude jokes for me to bring the kids along. They’re just going to have to wait, which is too bad, because they want to see Guardians very badly.
…written by Simon Kinberg, directed by Bryan Singer, starring Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawerence, Ian McKellan, and Patrick Stewart.
Having enjoyed X-Men – First Class quite a lot, and with this latest X-movie drawing from some of the best X-Men comics runs of the late 80’s and early 90’s, we were really looking forward to X-Men – Days of Future Past. Time travel and the mutant apocalypse – with Bryan Singer back to direct and all the relevant cast reprising their roles. And enjoy this movie we did. In fact, I believe this as my favorite X-movies from the series, which also places it in our top few for all super hero movies.
The premise, as with most time travel movies, deals with traveling backwards to alter history to avert catastrophe. In this case we have a near future in which mutants have been rounded up or hunted to near extinction by the familiar (to comics fans) Sentinel robots. Some of the X-Men continue to hold-out, as we learn, through Kitty Pryde’s mutant power to send a person’s consciousness back to their past self a few minutes. This allows the X-Men to alter the present and avoid the inevitable mass Sentinel assault by a few moments. But more and more Sentinels are coming each time, so when the X-Men rendezvous with Professor X, Magneto, Wolverine, and some others, they decide to try something new.
The Professor and Magneto think they’ve determined a key point in history – in 1971 – when the U.S. Government under Nixon first approved the Sentinel robot program. The tipping point came when Mystique killed the man responsible for designing the Sentinels, Dr. Bolivar Trask. What she didn’t realize is that even though she delayed the Sentinel program by decades, the program continued, and Trask’s understudies managed to collect some of her mutant DNA as a result. They eventually manage to incorporate the DNA and Mystique’s shape-shifting powers into their technology, making the Sentinels so adaptable and lethal in the future. Continue reading
This past Saturday was Free Comic Book Day – which many have characterized as a great idea, often poorly executed. One of our local stores celebrated FCBD with some local promotion and an event. They had a good-sized crowd at the outset. They had lots of kids in the store. They had professional artists there signing their stuff. All the basics of a fairly decent FCBD. But they also made some pretty basic mistakes – some of which would be relatively easy to correct.
To begin with, the store needs to promote better. We knew about their FCBD because our friend and son’s school classmate printed up a bunch of flyers and distributed them at our school. But what about the other 15-20 grade schools in town? What about the library? We realize comics stores don’t have much budget for marketing, but even a spot in the local alternative weekly paper would have helped.
Get your website straight. This store’s site happened to be under construction, slow to load, and generally awful on the one day of the year you want to project competence.
Other issues have more to do with store/event layout and execution: Continue reading
…written by Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely, based on an Ed Brubaker story; directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; starring Chris Evans, Scarlet Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, and Robert Redford.
These Marvel movies just keep hitting the target. Thor – The Dark World was excellent, X-Men – Days of Futures Past looks fantastic based on the trailers, and we’re optimistic for the next Spider-man movie this summer as well. The only one we’ve panned of late was Iron Man 3 (because, gah.) So with the the great early buzz, we were anticipating Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and we weren’t disappointed. This is another great super hero movie.
It’s a different kind of super hero movie, though. Based on comics by Ed Brubaker, the story involves serpentine conspiracies and secrets and healthy mistrust of those in power. Pretty much par for the course with Hollywood’s take on the espionage game. This movie features Cap and Black Widow as Shield’s two prime field agents, chasing down bad guys and running ops for Nick Fury. When one of these ops goes sideways, Cap gets suspicious of Fury’s motives and goals. He becomes even more concerned when Fury shows him the strategic plan to launch three additional heli-carriers capable of linking up with surveillance satellites and securing Shield’s military dominance in the world.
But Fury has concerns as well. He’s noticed something anomalous, a security breach, and confides in the Chief of Allied Defense, Alexander Pierce (Redford). About this time, the Winter Soldier shows up and takes a crack at Fury. Black Widow tells Cap about the Winter Soldier: a legendary KGB assassin rumored to have conducted the most dangerous and sensitive assignments for over 50 years.
In Brief: Superior Spider-man, written by Dan Slott and illustrated by Ryan Stegman, takes Spidey in new directions with a bold narrative twist. Volume 1, ‘My Own Worst Enemy’, and Volume 2, ‘A Troubled Mind’, collect the first 10 issues of this ongoing series. Books like this one continue to show that Marvel is more than a marketing arm – they still produce great comics stories.
Pros: Slott picks up from the historic events Amazing Spider-Man #700 and continue with strong storytelling involving major changes to Spider-man and his world. It’s a much different kind of story, but that makes it no less effective. Stegman’s panel work and ability with the action and staging are first rate.
Cons: Well, this is a major shift. It certainly has the potential to put long-time Spider-man fans, especially if you haven’t been keeping up with the comic books. You just have to give it a chance.
SPOILERS —- SPOILERS —- SPOILERS
Do we still do spoilers? Anyway…
A couple of quick recommendations for readers of science fiction and comic books on a cold February’s day…
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, his first book, is a military-themed Heinlein-ian story with heart and humor. The basic premise: when earth-dwellers reach the age of 75, they have the option go sever all ties with their home and enlist in the Colonial Defense Forces to help protect and advance humanity’s outposts in interstellar space. Not much is known about what happens when you enlist on Earth, but most agree it involves a significant physical modifications. You also get the opportunity to settle in one of the colonies once your enlistment is up.
John Perry, a widower from Ohio, signs up, and we follow him on his journey. Scalzi does a fine job of narrating from the perspective of a man whose lived a full life, confronted by some pretty fantastic dangers and situations.
This is the third book I’ve read in recent years by Scalzi. The last one, Redshirts, comes with our highest recommendations, and I’m looking forward to picking up his most recent offering, The Human Division, soon.
This is what my 2nd grade son told me this past weekend. He handed me a comic book, a trade paperback we’d actually picked up for the kids 2-3 years earlier. The book: Sidekicks by Dan Santat. The boy must have found it on his shelf somewhere, and he probably checked with his sister to get her opinion. Then the read, then him placing it in my hands and telling me to get to it.
Considering where he was with his reading this time last year – doing it but having to be prodded and cajoled – we are pretty excited. For a book family like ours, getting our first you gotta read this is almost like that first music recital or first base hit.
The boy really started enjoying and self-initiating his reading this past fall. Think it was a mix of maturation and the competition of his school reading log (he always wants to be at the top for minutes read a month). That and he was just starting to get enough words to make it more fun. He was into Star Wars and Super Hero reference books. He recently discovered the Beast Quest books and is onto the second series there. He even read about Einstein recently for a school bio project. Like his big sister, he will read at bedtime until he gets tired (sometimes too long).
As far as the referral: Sidekicks features a team of critters who happen to be the pets of aging hero, Captain Amazing. When the Captain announces he needs to recruit a new sidekick, the pets start competing and training for the job. Along the way they learn about their strengths and weaknesses, developing into a team. It’s well written and drawn, with good underlying themes… and jokes.
The boy is all about the jokes. As I was reading the book on Sunday, he would come by the couch once in awhile and point to the page and laugh and read along with me. Oh yeah, Dad, wait til you see what comes next…
In Brief: These first two volumes of Thor, God of Thunder, written by Jason Aaron with principal art by Esad Ribic, give us three versions of Marvel’s Thor from three separate eras. Thor must track down and face the God Butcher, a foe from his distant past, present, and future. It’s cosmic comics adventure that takes full advantage of the current Avengers cross-over appeal.
Pros: The story is first rate – epoch-spanning, with bits of Asgardian and Marvel Universe lore, while clearly being centered on Thor. Ribic’s art has a Dark Horse/Conan flavor that effectively captures galactic grandeur and Middle Age Norse grit.
Cons: Well, the price. The two hardbound volumes retail at $25 apiece. But that’s a problem the comics industry continues to face. Also, movie fans hoping to see Loki won’t find him here.
Review: Reading comics as a kid, Thor was always just kind of there. He was an Avenger. He had a hammer. He talked funny. I never really picked up any Thor comics, which is weird because I really liked mythology. Of course the character has enjoyed something of a revival recently, with a couple of good super-hero movies and the Avengers tie-in. At Marvel Comics they’re no doubt acutely aware of this, and their Disney masters are on them to capitalize. Books like The God Butcher and The God Bomb fit the bill. They can also serve as a reminder to the corporate types (hopefully) that the comics medium still tells stories of high adventure with the best of them. This tale begins in Medieval Iceland, with a younger, brasher God of Thunder enjoying his time among the Vikings. Thor the Younger has not yet proven worthy of lifting the hammer, Mjolnir, but it’s not for lack of effort on the battle field. In Iceland, the Vikings find the decapitated head of a god washed ashore – a god of the American Indians – and Thor wonders who or what is responsible. Continue reading