Braver and Bolder

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

FCBD Observations

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

Quick Recs – Sci-fi and Comics

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, Redshirtscomes with our highest recommendations, and I’m looking forward to picking up his most recent offering, The Human Division, soon.

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Review: Thor – God Butcher – God Bomb

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

Review: Aquaman – New 52

In Brief:  In the first two volumes of Aquaman from DC Comics’ New 52 line, the creative team of Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Joe Prado relaunch and revitalize this familiar if not overly popular character.  In Volumes 1 and 2 (the first twelve issues of the series), Aquaman confronts a mysterious subterranean invasion, then his old foe, Black Manta, while learning new details about the fall of Atlantis.

Pros:  This is an A-team lineup from DC.  Johns, Reis, and Prado have produced a beautiful book, well plotted, with mystery and effective characterization.  Johns’ take on Aquaman is somewhat darker than you might expect, but it works well here.

Cons:  There is a certain formula to the Johns storytelling method, and he certainly doesn’t flip any scripts or pull any big surprises here (not that DC would let him).  Some of the fight sequences seemed off in their pacing and could have used more panels to convey the action.

Full Review:  As we understand it, the idea behind the New 52 was for DC to rebrand/relaunch the books and characters in their universe – everything from issue 1, with a lot of the previous continuity jettisoned to make way for new stories.  I previously picked up the Batman relaunch (and sadly did not review it here) and have the JLA relaunch in the queue.  Aquaman probably would not have made the cut if not for a referral from a friend willing to lend me the first two volumes.

The nice thing about the New 52 concept is it does provide a good jumping on point.  I don’t know much about Aquaman beyond the Justice League, but that doesn’t matter here.  Purists may grit their teeth at the loss or sweeping away of so much back-issue history, but taking these familiar heroes, rebooting them in their prime with some sense of their origins and pivotal moments does provide an effective hook for new readers.  Picking up a book about a character with whom I had no prior investment (as opposed to Batman or the X-Men) was also an interesting prospect, allowing me to read and assess a little more objectively.

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Iron Man 3 – CBG Complaints

We took in Iron Man 3 this weekend for family movie night.  Mostly, it was what you’d expect: a fun comics themed actioner aimed squarely at the mass markets.  The kids and wife enjoyed it.  I mostly enjoyed it.  And we understand and fully support Disney/Marvel’s approach here.  We’re glad to have shared-world Avengers movies with a sense of continuity, big budgets, and A-list talent.  However….

However, and not to go all Comic Book Guy here, because Iron Man was never a personal favorite or anything, but I do have to go CBG here.  Because just like Man of Steel, the writers/director sort of missed some key elements with Iron Man 3 and kind of blew it to the point of ludicrousity.

Which isn’t really a word, but you get our point.  Major spoilers below…

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Who you Conning?

We made our way to St. Louis this past weekend for PROJECT: Comic Con at Westport.  A good time was had by many.  The exhibition portion filled two large areas and was generally well apportioned and laid out for the artists, retailers and other folks.  They also had a pair of breakout rooms for panels and presentations.

Organization seemed good.  And the place was full.  Not a lot of space in the aisles on Saturday.  Maybe some additional floor space next year.

So how was the Con?  A fair mix of artists, retailers, and exhibitors.  Plenty of folks on costume.  Featured guests from the biz.  Energy drinks.  So what else do you need?

How about comic books for kids.  I spent close to two hours going through long boxes with the specific goal of picking out some comics for my two young readers.  The problem, of course, is that the vast majority of books are PG-13 or above and cater to guys like me (who were fans in our youth and have now become the chief consumers of comics).  It’s a sustainability problem that will continue to threaten the comics industry, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Continue reading

Movies: Man of Steel

…written by David Goyer, directed by Zach Snyder, starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, and Russell Crowe, based on the comic book by Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster.

Superman is serious business.  He’s the first and arguably the greatest comic book super hero.  Clark Kent has inspired countless spin-offs and clones, including the super hero action blockbuster sub-genre that currently rules in Hollywood.  That doesn’t mean he’s always fared well on the big screen.

Witness the latter Chris Reeves Superman movies (but please, don’t).  Even Superman and Superman II, which we love around here, don’t hold up all that well over time.  2006’s Superman Returns embraced Richard Donner’s same big-screen mythology and floundered.  Now the team of David Goyer and Zach Snyder, with input from Christopher Nolan, have rebooted with Man of Steel.  They are hoping for that same mature and riveting re-imagining of the the Kryptonian Mythos as Nolan provided with his Dark Knight trilogy.  Warner Brothers needs a foil to the Marvel juggernaut, and it’s Big Blue to the rescue.

But, like an ill-fated Lex Luthor plot, they come up a little short.

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Movies: The Avengers

…based on Marvel Comics characters created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, written by Zak Penn, directed by Joss Whedon, starring Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Scarlett Johannson (Black Widow), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).

By now, after Hulk-smashing 1st and 2nd week box office records, nearly everyone who reads this blog has seen Marvel’s The Avengers.  It’s the greatest team super-hero movie of all time.  After the last few years’ series of Avengers solo movies, starting with Iron Man up to last summer’s Thor and Captain America, the geeks of the planet have had this date circled.  We’ve watched the short Nick Fury cut-scenes at the end of the movies.  We’ve debated on the internets.  We’ve all hoped it could somehow live up to expectations, seeing Earth’s mightiest heroes together on the big screen.

And Joss Whedon’s super-powered popcorn epic hits the mark.

Yes, the first act is a little slow and awkward at points, introducing the characters with their back stories from the other movies, while setting up Loki and his quest for the Cosmic Cube (the Tesseract in the movie, don’t know why they had to call it that).  No, Black Widow doesn’t really belong on the team, and the Agent Coulson-uniting-the-team card is one Whedon has used over and over again.  Yes, the Chitauri alien villains were pretty generic and definitely had some storm trooper factor.  However…

Joss Whedon

Whedon has been lobbying to do super hero movies for years.  At one point he was linked with an attempt to bring back Wonder Woman and he recently helped the Marvel Comic Astonishing X-Men refocus on that team’s roots.  Beemsville has been a fan of Whedon going back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer (still the superior teen-angst with monsters TV series), Angel, and Firefly.   Other than the Firefly-spin-off movie, Serenity, a modest success, Whedon hasn’t directed a blockbuster type movie.  Until now.  He is, however, a lifelong comic fan; a guy who grew up with these characters, reading and re-reading their origins, marveling at the great cross-over four-color stories.  He gets it – he understands the source material, the importance of certain interplays between characters and their symbolic moments.  Contrast this movie to something like Batman and Robin – another big-budget ensemble with a director, Joel Schumacher, who certainly did not get it, and you gain even better appreciation. Continue reading

Books: Ultimate X-Men Collection(s)

In Brief:  Ultimate X-Men hits the reset button on Marvel’s mutant heroes about ten years ago, re-imagining and re-casting the familiar characters in a more contemporary light.  The Collections compile 12 issues – or roughly three trade paperbacks – each in four volumes.  The Ultimate line reached new readers more familiar with the movie versions of these characters and not well-versed in the voluminous back-stories that go with decades of comics.

Pros:  Marvel placed the hottest writers and artists of the day on the Ultimate books.  The stories have enough familiarity for those who know the characters, but they are (usually) fresh enough to be compelling on their own.

Cons:  Some of the narratives are rushed or weak – almost as if the writer had lost interest in introducing certain well-known elements of the X-Men mythos.  The metaphorical linking of mutants with terrorists gets old and played out, and the Ultimate War Storyline was pretty poorly done.

Full Review:   When I was growing up, the X-Men were favorites.  Not sure when exactly it happened – probably about 6th grade – but all through junior high and high school I pretty much read the X-books.  This period, now remembered fondly by many, had Chris Cleremont writing voluminous and ansgt-ridden tales that still managed to be action packed and heroic.  The X-Men, scorned by many for their genetic heritage, yet still rescuing humanity form monsters, aliens, and villains on a routine basis.  I stopped reading the books in college, but still enjoyed the movies (mostly) and would pick up a trade paperback from time to time.

Marvel’s Ultimate line came along about ten years ago and immediately became a critical and commercial success.  Simply put:  the writers and editors hit the reboot button and started telling the stories of their best characters from scratch.  Next summer’s Avengers movie is largely based on these comics, as were some aspects of Marve’ls other recent movies.  Ultimate Spiderman is very good – a great book particularly for pre-teen/teen readers.  So when I saw the Collections for Ultimate X-Men on sale recently, I decided to check it out.

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