Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Post-FLASHPOINT DC Universe is the New Post-CRISIS DC Universe


Annnnnnd BOOM goes the dynamite.

For those who don't already know, DC Comics pushed the shiny, candy-like reboot button on their entire comic book universe today in an article for USA Today.  Starting on August 31st with Flashpoint #5 and another Justice League #1, the DC Universe will be rebooted once again with a total of 52 comics launching or relaunching with #1 issues, making this the biggest creative revamp since Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 back in 1986.

As one might expect, comics creators and readers are all over the place on this news, with a sampling of reactions on Twitter either excited and geeked out by this rather ballsy roll of the dice on DC's part or ready to jump off DC Comics entirely after being provided such a nice and tidy place to stop collecting:

"REALLY EXCITED about #dccomics #reboot!!! @jimlee00 @GeoffJohns0 Can't wait to see the work these two amazingly talented gents put together!"

"@jimlee00: It's official. (...) #dccomics http://t.co/bXomRzJ” Early, but looks like New Coke is back, and I'm gonna save lots of money :( "

"If I'm pissed off about #dccomics decision, imagine how my comic dealer is going to feel when I tell him the dreaded news!"

"Call me crazy, but DC's announcement sounds amazing. It's what the industry needs, and who doesn't want to see young Batman? #DCcomics"

I told my wife Lori the news this evening and she promptly gave me one of her patented eye-rolls followed with an exasperated "Oh, God..."  You see, Lori and I both went through this before back in 1986 with Crisis on Infinite Earths and what became known simply as the Post-Crisis DCU.  As things happened, she grew up a huge DC Comics fan as I did, especially concerning the original Helena Wayne version of the Huntress, who was the daughter of the Earth-2 Batman and Catwoman.  When the Huntress was erased and summarily replaced by the Post-Crisis Huntress named Helena Bertinelli, daughter of Gotham Mafia crime couple Guido and Carmela Bertinelli, Lori was very bothered by the change, to the point where various DC Universe continuity changes gradually caused her to lose interest in the DCU and comics in general.

On the other hand, I was encouraged by John Byrne's revamp of Superman and George Perez's take on Wonder Woman that I still consider to be definitive to this day.  I got to experience an adult Wally West taking over as the Flash for his deceased uncle and mentor Barry Allen, then later began reading Green Lantern for the first time in years when Kyle Rayner took over as the lead character.  And yes, I also noticed that several concepts ultimately returned to their Pre-Crisis roots because, quite frankly, they worked better than their attempts at turning them into something they weren't.

So now here we are again...one era of DC Comics ending, another about to begin.  With the decision to start or restart all titles at new #1 issues, even such long-running institutions as Action Comics and Detective Comics, it seems there's an obvious attempt to give potential DC Comics readers a clean, fresh slate and hope they enjoy what they read to want to stick around for the long haul.  There's no way of knowing if all this is going to work or not, but now that the reset button is being pressed once again for the Third Age of DC Comics, the Post-Flashpoint era, I certainly hope it does. 

I'd love to see a new generation of readers jump aboard instead of continuing to rely on the same 100,000 readers we've had for years.  I want DC Comics to be there in another 26 years from now when they push the reset button for the third time.  However, in order to make this work, there needs to be two very important things -- truly creative and innovative storytelling that challenges readers and makes them want to come back month after month, and most importantly, readers with open minds that don't cling so harshly to the past that they become unable to try something a little different from what they've known.

So I guess we'll see what happens next, won't we?  Time will tell...It always does.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Davison and Tennant to Time Crash DOCTOR WHO Series 6 Finale?


Okay, so if respeculating my speculation over Paul McGann returning as the Eighth Doctor wasn't bad enough, along comes this interesting little thing.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) currently has a cast listing for Episode 13 of Doctor Who Series 6 that includes two very familiar actors -- Peter Davison and David Tennant, also known as the Fifth and Tenth Doctors, respectively.  And yes, they're both listed as playing "The Doctor" in the episode.

Other returning names of note include Alex Kingston as River Song (No surprise there), Ian McNiece as Winston Churchill, and Richard Hope as Malohkeh.  The return of Churchill and Malohkeh was previously confirmed in Today show host Meredith Vieira's piece on her Doctor Who filming experience.

Now, I know that IMDb gets their information wrong from time to time, so I'm a tiny bit guarded about this, but you have to admit that bringing two previous Doctors back would be a hell of a finale...or perhaps a cliffhanger for the 2011 Christmas special?  I don't suppose Doctors Five, Ten and Eleven could team-up to rescue Eight from being marooned on whatever "rock-like planet" he's possibly stranded on?  "The Four Doctors"...Say, that's catchy...

Ah, well.  I guess we'll find out more later this year, won't we?  Two minutes to Belgium!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

DAMN Good Comic of the Week -- DETECTIVE COMICS #877

I understand that DC Comics' Flashpoint mini-series is supposed to be the catalyst for relaunching the DC Universe in September, but one title I really don't want messed with has to be Detective Comics.

Like many fans, I was a bit concerned about this book after Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III's stellar Batwoman feature ended, but the current creative team of writer Scott Snyder and artist Jock have quietly crafted this series into one of DC's best books at the moment.  Starting with Jock's stunning front cover that looks like a frame from the opening credits of a James Bond film (try and ignore the annoying Green Lantern movie ad at the top), we open with the other Batman, Dick Grayson, thinking his way out of a car crusher deathtrap.

From there, we're treated to scenes like Other Batman crunching the cybernetically-enhanced legs of the new criminal Roadrunner, Batman confronting the daughter of the man who killed his parents, and Red Robin teasing Batman about being attracted to said daughter.  Snyder spreads these little gems across the entire issue, distinguishing Dick Grayson from a mere Bruce Wayne replacement and developing him as his own Batman even if he's now just another member of Bruce's growing army of Batmen in Batman, Incorporated.

Meanwhile, Jock complements Snyder's script nicely, providing iconic images of Batman rocketing out of the car crusher, swooping in from a moonlight sky to take out the Roadrunner's henchmen, and sailing across Gotham Harbor in a stylish Batboat.  I had a small issue with his decision to show Batman diving deep into the harbor water with his impractical long cape still attached, but you have to admit that it just plain looks cooler with it on.  This is as Batman as Batman gets, so let's just savor this goodness while we have it.

Oh, and did I mention that this is only Part 2 of the three-part "Hungry City" storyline?  The real Big Bad behind this mystery is apparently someone called Tiger Shark that Batfans may have met before way, way back in another age of comics.  That's right, there's actually an obscure Batman villain that Grant Morrison hasn't resurrected yet.  Who knew?  But hey, if Part 3 turns out as good as the first two, Snyder can bring back the Signalman for all I care...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why is Barbara Gordon Still in a Wheelchair?

An incredible twenty-three years ago now, writer Alan Moore had Barbara Gordon, the former Batgirl, lose the use of her legs after being shot by The Joker in the landmark one-shot Batman: The Killing JokeThis major game-changer for the Batman universe ultimately resulted in Barbara taking on the new identity of Oracle, becoming a major resource of intelligence and computer hacking for various DC Comics superheroes.

Appearing in such titles as Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey and various Batman books, Barbara has obviously grown as a character with considerable depth since her paralysis.  However, in a fictional universe populated with aliens, magicians and technological super-scientists, it seems increasingly awkward that she should be forced to remain that way.

It feels even more awkward when her fellow superheroes rarely address the subject of restoring Barbara's ability to walk, even if such a feat inexplicably continues to be beyond even their considerable powers.  I mean, these are people that risk their lives battling the nastiest, most impossible threats the entire DC Universe has to offer and you tell me that none of them can spare a single day or two to even attempt finding a paralysis cure for one of their own?  I'm turning the Peter Parker brand "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" Spotlight of Guilt on these heroes in particular...
  • Batman -- Of all people, you would think Batman would do something about this.  Apart from failing to prevent the Joker from shooting Barbara, he's actually had his own back broken but was healed by special powers from his former physiotherapist, Shondra Kinsolving.  Even if Shondra wouldn't be able to heal Barbara herself, doesn't it seem highly unlikely that she's the only person in the DCU with such abilities? 
  • Superman -- All those things he can do, all these powers, and he can't work in some time to travel out in space, another dimension or to the future to find a cure for paralysis?  Not just for Barbara, mind you, but for everyone else on DCU Earth?  What would Christopher Reeve do, Superman?
  • Wonder Woman -- Two words:  Purple Ray.
  • Steel -- Some time ago, Marvel's Iron Man was paralyzed from the waist down after being critically wounded by a bullet near his spine and built himself special "telepresence armor" that allowed him to walk.  Presuming John Henry Irons, DC's version of Iron Man, is even remotely in the ballpark as Tony Stark, you would think he'd at least build a prototype and let Barbara decide if she wanted to use it.
  • Zatanna -- Two magic words:  Riaper enips.
  • Nightwing -- Barbara's former boyfriend has had a number of run-ins with the megalomaniacal villain Ra's al Ghul over the years, so would it be too much to ask for him to track down one of Ra's restorative Lazarus Pits?
  • Cyborg -- Almost the same reasoning as Steel, only Victor Stone has experience with cybernetic prosthetics replacing his mutilated limbs.  Think of what these two could accomplish together if they actually tried.
  • Doctor Mid-Nite -- If anyone could pull this together, it's probably Dr. Pieter Cross.  As the main physician for the Justice Society and the Justice League, you have to imagine this is somewhere on his "To Do" list.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY Trailer Debuts

 
Captain Jack Harkness, Gwen Cooper and Rhys Williams are about to return in the STARZ series Torchwood: Miracle Day and Access Hollywood has provided the first trailer with the predictable amount of annoying voiceover.  The series is scheduled to begin on July 8th and as you might expect, is already receiving criticism for being "Americanized."  You can check out the footage here..



Looks pretty promising as far as I'm concerned.  And you just have to be at least mildly intrigued in a series that features Lone Starr from Spaceballs, Jubal Early from Firefly, Kira Nerys from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Winston Zeddemore from Ghostbusters.  Okay, maybe not as those specific characters, but still...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Building a New VERTIGO 2.0 Imprint for DC Comics



Once upon a time, back in the dark, gimmick-covered era of the 1990s, one of the few bright spots of quality was DC Comics' Vertigo imprint.  Founded in 1993, Vertigo assembled several of DC's edgier, mature-reader titles, including Animal Man, Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, Garth Ennis' Hellblazer, Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, and Peter Milligan's Shade the Changing Man, into a line of DC Comics characters kept separate from the traditional DC Universe.

And for a good, long while, it was absolutely terrific.  Vertigo produced some of the Best Comics Ever, adding titles such as Fables, The Invisibles, Preacher, Sandman Mystery Theatre, Transmetropolitan, Y: The Last Man, and others that remain highly-regarded to this day.  Over time, though, Vertigo drifted (or evolved, take your pick) from its adult DC Universe roots, to the point where the decision was made in 2010 that Vertigo would become a strictly creator-owned imprint.  All titles except for the flagship series Hellblazer would return to the regular DC Universe, effectively tearing down the wall and allowing the characters to appear in DCU titles alongside Superman, Batman and others if so desired.

All well and good, sure, but where are those edgy DC Universe books today?  We recently saw titles such as Doom Patrol and The Last Days of Animal Man, but they weren't Vertigo-style takes on the characters with considerable depth.  And while it's great to see characters such as Death or John Constantine appearing in the all-ages DC Universe again, shouldn't there still be a place where you can see some DCU characters say the word fuck from time to time?

So with this in mind, I think we need a new version of Vertigo Classic, a "Vertigo 2.0" if you will, only with a much better name like "Verge" or "Brink" or perhaps "Fred."  A separate line of comics that returns to the core idea of reviving stale and forgotten DCU characters with bold, fresh takes that aren't inhibited by DC Universe continuity.  Doesn't that sound just lovely?  In fact, I'll even throw in a few quick ideas off the top of my head for potential titles...
  • Doctor Occult -- A Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster creation that actually predates Superman, Doctor Occult regained a bit of life after Neil Gaiman included him in the classic Vertigo mini-series The Books of Magic.  My take involves simply getting Doctor Occult and his companion/assistant Rose Psychic back to investigating magical mysteries every month, essentially making the series a supernatural version of Doctor Who.  The Doctor and Rose...Yeah, that might just work.
  • Amethyst -- Created with young female readers in mind, Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld debuted in 1983 and told the story of a 13-year-old girl who discovers she is actually from a fantasy realm called Gemworld, and has magical powers in an adult form whenever she travels there.  However, the series' somewhat dark tone and intrigue among its twelve kingdoms make this perfect for an audience addicted to World of Warcraft or HBO's Game of Thrones series.
  • Checkmate -- Although the concept has been around since 1988, the recent Checkmate series by Greg Rucka showed the best glimpse of potential for an espionage series involving DCU characters.  Here in the "Verge" or "Fred" imprint, though, you can do a truly uninhibited espionage series that makes the recent Casino Royale film look like A View to a Kill.
  • Nemesis -- Debuting in 1980 as a backup series for The Brave and the Bold, Nemesis appeared in a serial about a "master of disguise" government operative whose brother was an undercover agent that infiltrated a criminal syndicate and was killed.  Seeking revenge, he takes out a different member of the syndicate each issue, until his brother is avenged and balance of the scales of justice is restored.  Anyone who was a fan of HBO's The Sopranos or the CBS series Wiseguy might see the appeal here for a quality, unrelenting update of the character.
And of course, there are countless other characters that could be given the same treatment, but I think this illustrates the potential that's being missed right now.  While they don't have to be "Verge/Fred" titles, it would certainly be nice to have a place available where they could be...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

More Eighth Doctor TV Return Speculation Respeculating


These Eighth Doctor rumors just won't die, will they?

So for those of you not keeping up with this growing series of interesting tidbits that could mean the possible return of Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor to the Doctor Who television series, let me lay out the trail of potential clues up until now...
  • In October 2010, Paul McGann debuts new BBC-approved Eighth Doctor costume and Sonic Screwdriver at a New Zealand convention, saying they're for "promotional purposes" for Big Finish audio adventures but these mysterious items have yet to be seen again anywhere since.
  • In March 2011, DAMN Good Coffee...and HOT!, Doctor Who fansite Kasterborous and others speculate over this picture showing Rory and Amy Pond inside the "Coral"-themed TARDIS Console Room and argue that this Console Room could be the Eighth Doctor's at some point after the TV Movie and before the first Ninth Doctor episode, "Rose."  (Okay, as we now know from "The Doctor's Wife," that one was complete rubbish.  It was just the previous TARDIS Console Room that had been archived by the TARDIS.  Never mind.)
  • In this same month, more speculation as the latest season of Eighth Doctor audio adventures ended with the story "To the Death," in which the Doctor is left companionless and on his own once again.  He mentions about going "to the edge...and maybe beyond" and ends the audio by saying the words "One day, I shall go back...Yes, one day..."
Curious stuff, now made even curiouser after yesterday's episode, "The Doctor's Wife" by Neil Gaiman.  In a scene where the Eleventh Doctor attempts to repair an Ood's translation sphere, this strange audio distress recording suddenly appears, voiced by someone uncredited who sounds quite a bit like Paul McGann...

"If you are receiving this message, please help me...Send a signal to the High Council of Time Lords on Gallifrey.  I am still alive!  I don't know where I am!  I'm on some rock-like planet!"

And then the message garbles in with several others and abruptly ends.  Rory poses the questions "What was that?  Was that him (The Ood)?"  The Doctor, looking visibly shaken, replies "No, no, it's picking up...something else."

Here's the the full clip if you're interested in checking it out for yourselves.  Sounds to me, though, like there's a Doctor in distress out there somewhere in time and space...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

DAMN Good Comic of the Week -- MORIARTY #1

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective Sherlock Holmes is enjoying quite the revival in recent years.  First, there was the 2009 big-budget film starring Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law that proved popular enough to justify a sequel arriving in theaters later this year.  Then, we were treated to the rather brilliant 2010 BBC series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman that successfully updated the setting to 21st-century London.

So it's no real surprise to see someone try to bring Holmes to comic books, but it is something of a surprise to see Holmes' nemesis, Professor James Moriarty, featured as the lead character with Holmes presumed dead for the past twenty years.  Working with the premise that Holmes remained dead after the showdown at Reichenbach Falls in "The Adventure of the Final Problem," thereby ignoring Holmes' return in "The Adventure of the Empty House," writer Daniel Corey reveals what's become of Moriarty during the past twenty years in a world without Holmes.

In this impressive first 32-page story for only $2.99 (a nice bargain there, especially these days), we learn that Moriarty has become "a sort of investigator for the criminal element," setting up an import/export waterfront business under the alias "Mr. Trumbold."  Following the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria that triggers World War I, Moriarty is confronted by an "Agent Smith," who supposedly belongs to the Directorate of Military Intelligence Section 5 and asks Moriarty to find Holmes' missing brother, Mycroft.  The tale begins to weave into a full mystery, leading Moriarty to discover strange blueprints for the construction of something called a Cella Animi Obscura, a "Dark Chamber of the Mind."  Facing the most danger he's felt in twenty years, which may even be supernatural in nature, Moriarty finds himself reborn at long last.

The artwork by Anthony Diecidue is equally intriguing as well.  At first glance, it comes as blocky and ugly, but captures the mood and the tone of the story quite effectively.  There's a sinister edge to some of the panels, which obviously enhances a character like Moriarty, and some imaginative layouts considering how much text Corey piles into every page.  This isn't a book you burn quickly through in just a few minutes, it's something to be savored slowly in order to appreciate all the details.

All in all, a solid first issue for this very promising series.  The game's afoot and for now at least, I'm very interested in seeing where it leads...

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Saying Goodbye to 10 Years of SMALLVILLE


This Friday night, it'll be 10 years and done ...just like that.  Inconceivable.

On October 16, 2001, a country that had spent just over a month reliving the tragic events of the September 11th attacks tuned in for the pilot episode of the WB network's Smallville, based on the Superman and Superboy stories from DC Comics.  8.4 million viewers tuned in, the highest-rated debut for the WB, to see the adventures of the teenager who would one day become Superman.  The country was desperate for heroes to inspire feelings of hope and safety and nobody personfied that better than Clark Kent.

With a somewhat ridiculous "no tights, no flights" rule put into effect by writer/producers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, Smallville started out with Clark and his friends Lana Lang, Chloe Sullivan and Pete Ross facing typical "Freak of the Week" villains that would receive distinct superpowers from some form of exposure to Kryptonite radiation.  Some of the storylines were surprisingly impressive, some of them less so, and let's face it, a few were just downright painful to watch at times.

Fortunately, in addition to Clark's heroic journey, we also were able to see the beginnings of the person who would someday become his arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor.  In a nod back to classic Superboy comics, Clark and Lex started off as friends, until each gradually went their separate ways into superheroism and supervillainy.  As Clark discovered more about his Kryptonian heritage and became romantically involved with Lana, Lex dealt with numerous issues surrounding his father, Lionel Luthor, and various suppressed memories. 

In 2004, Pete was written out at the end of Season 3 and the series introduced Clark's future wife Lois Lane at the start of Season 4.  Although initially just a recurring character, Lois became a series regular the following year and eventually replaced Lana as Clark's main love interest.  Jonathan Kent, Clark's father, was killed off in Smallville's 100th episode, "Reckoning."  Henry James "Jimmy" Olsen and Oliver Queen, alias Green Arrow, were added to the show's cast in 2006 as the series began to broaden more into the Superman and DC Universe mythos.  Clark's mother, Martha Kent, was written out at the end of Season 6, but appeared occasionally.  The show continued to undergo a number of changes, adding Clark's cousin Kara, the future Supergirl, for Season 7, writing out Lana and Lex by the season's end in 2008, killing off Lionel at Lex's own hands, and changing showrunners after Gough and Millar left the series with the actors.

With Season 8, Smallville shifted the central focus of the series to Metropolis and the Daily Planet newspaper.  The show began fully embracing its DC Universe origins, adding Tess Mercer as a version of the comics character Mercy Graves to replace Lex's role and Davis Bloome, who becomes the season's Big Bad nemesis, Doomsday.  Numerous DC characters began to populate episodes and these fresher storylines, including a younger cloned version of General Zod that was established as the Big Bad for Season 9.

So it's been a long and winding road to see that definitive scene when Clark dons his Superman uniform and finally, finally flies.  The show has been such an entertaining and often frustrating ride, but you can't deny its ability to endure.  Even when consigned to the Friday Death Slot in 2009, Smallville somehow found a way to persevere and earned itself a final tenth season.  It's become the longest live-action Superman series ever and even lasted long enough to become the longest-running science-fiction series in America.  (The world?  That title belongs to another show entirely...)

Smallville has been such a weekly ritual in my life for these past ten years.  It was there as my family and the nation coped with the tragedies of September 11th.  It gave my wife and I hour after hour of time together enjoying one another's company.  It cheered me up on evenings I was recovering from minor surgeries or simply wasn't feeling well.  It provided solid entertainment my parents could enjoy at their home and then share with me during our Saturday breakfasts together.  And recently, it even allowed me to have a writing opportunity I might never have had otherwise.

So thanks for ten years of wonderful memories, Smallville.  Some of your episodes may have been like Kryptonite, but you'll always be super in my book.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

DAMN Good Movies -- THOR


Yes, I'm back with another of my infamous movie takes, this time focusing my keyboard strokes on the film Thor, based on the classic Marvel Comics character.  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then in the name of Smilin' Stan Lee, please stop reading now.  If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...you are worthy to hold the hammer of Thor...

Although I read a lot of Marvel Comics growing up, I was never much of a Thor guy until the classic run by writer/artist Walt Simonson that debuted in Thor (vol.1) #337.  With his stylish, distinct visuals and full-on embracing of Norse mythology, Simonson crafted the character's defining stories that have yet to be equalled, at least as far as I'm concerned.  The one to come closest is probably Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, who along with artist Olivier Coipel, came up with the concept of bringing the Asgardians to Earth and centering the series around the small town of Broxton, Oklahoma.

Between this film, X-Men: First Class, Green Lantern and Captain America: The First Avenger, this is going to be a busy summer for superhero films and based on their respective trailers, all four seem to have something going for them.  Also, as the latest installment of the build-up to the upcoming 2012 film The Avengers, I was curious to see how this key component of the shared Marvel film universe would complement the others.  Thankfully, though, Marvel seems to have another winner on their hands.

The film opens with the exiled and powerless Thor arriving on Earth/Midgard (New Mexico, to be precise) in a burst of special effects, where he is found by astrophysicist Jane Foster and her two companions, Erik Selvig and Darcy Lewis.  After a brief flashback to 10th century Norway, we then race across the nine worlds to Asgard for the backstory of events leading up to said exile and then pick up Thor's exile from there.

Now, you would typically expect the film to focus more on New Mexico because of the cost-effectiveness, but surprisingly, the center of the story is around Asgard.  A good thing, too, because the Golden Realm never looked better.  One of the great things about this movie is that you can see every ounce of the film's budget up on the screen -- elaborate sets and costumes right out of Flash Gordon, mixed in with some impressive CGI background design make for some truly spectacular visuals.  Out of all the Marvel Comics drawn by the late, legendary Jack Kirby, Thor is the first film to truly honor his artistic style with an incredible (or should that be mighty?) sense of the cosmic.  It's going to look absolutely killer on Blu-Ray.

Director Kenneth Branagh keeps things moving as well, hopping back and forth between New Mexico, Asgard and the Frost Giants' realm, Jotunheim.  I was a little concerned when I first learned of Branagh's involvement, having been singularly disappointed by his 1994 version of Frankenstein starring Robert De Niro.  Thankfully, Branagh handles Thor more like his Shakespearean films, playing up the father issues and encouraging the actors to boom their voices theatrically.  Combined with the elaborate visuals, he gives the film its needed epic scale, balanced nicely against the smaller, less-godly setting of Earth.  He's not much of an action director, however, as he tends to focus too closely on the chaos instead of pulling back a bit to showcase what's taking place.

Of course, it helps that Branagh had a very solid cast to work with, some using their considerable screen presence to overcome something that could easily turn campy and silly.  This film could've been the next Flash Gordon in terms of campiness in addition to set design and costumes, but Thor fans can be reassured that everything is played straight and any fears you might've had are quickly tossed aside.  Of course, there were specific things that stood out about each of the characters and here's some of what I noticed...

THOR ODINSON -- Obviously, the entire film rides on Chris Hemsworth, probably best known as Captain Kirk's father George from the 2009 Star Trek.  With the amount of strutting, fighting and flirting he gets to do in the role of a thunder god, you can easily see this being a breakout film for him.  I know he's tied up with The Avengers and Thor sequels provided the first one does well enough at the box office, but I won't be surprised to see him in other major films down the road.

JANE FOSTER -- Natalie Portman somehow overcame being Natalie Portman in this one.  I've found her to be a very wooden actress at times, but her chemistry with Hemsworth works well and snarky sidekick Darcy seems to encourage Portman to finally breathe some life into her line delivery.  You tend to buy Portman as an astrophysicist about as much as you did Denise Richards as nuclear physicist Christmas Jones, but mercifully, she doesn't get much in the way of technobabble to mangle.

LOKI LAUFEYSON -- As the official Big Bad, Tom Hiddleston comes off a bit too sympathetic for the devious trickster god Loki.  He's not so much menacing as he is in desperate need of some family counseling or perhaps an appearance on Dr. Phil.  By the end of the film, however, you start to see that his journey to the Dark Side of the Fjord is complete and especially in the post-credits Avengers teaser.

ODIN BORSON -- Sir Anthony Hopkins does his best Sir Anthony Hopkins here, turning in his most memorable role since Don Diego de la Vega in 1998's The Mask of Zorro.  His voice is appropriately booming and shouty when needed and his acting cred certainly gives the role of the All-Father enough weight.  Odin ends up being marginalized, however, sending him conveniently into the Odinsleep, a process to restore his energy, only to wake up just in the nick of time to rescue Thor.

ERIK SELVIG -- Sweden-born Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd is probably the only actor in the cast who could legitimately be considered a Norse god, so of course he plays a mortal astrophysics professor.  He's mostly a surrogate father to Jane, but the post-credits Avengers teaser gives him more to do than the actual film did.

DARCY LEWIS -- Kat Dennings gets the role of snarky comic relief for several scenes as Jane's assistant, Darcy.  She's the one who gets to state the audience's response to the strangeness going on and as a result, she can keep the film from taking itself too seriously or be a bit annoying or both.  Most of the time, though, she's both.

AGENT COULSON -- Clark Gregg reprises his S.H.I.E.L.D. agent role from the Iron Man films to illustrate the shared Marvel films universe, although here S.H.I.E.L.D. is depicted as your stereotypical government goons whose sole function seems to be just to screw with someone because they can.  They take Jane's research and equipment for some unexplained "We're the government" reason and then end giving it right back to her at the end because a god of thunder tells them to do it.  I guess they had to do something to pass the time.

HEIMDALL -- As something of a comic book purist, I was initially a bit thrown by the diversified casting of traditional Norse gods, but Idris Elba certainly justified the move.  Heimdall is essentially depicted as the stoic Badassgardian, the one you don't mess with and makes other characters seem cooler simply because he's standing right next to them.  If Heimdall was given this kind of attention in the Thor comics, he'd probably end up with his own series.

VOLSTAGG THE VOLUMINOUS -- I'm a big fan of the HBO series Rome, so I'm always glad to see Ray Stevenson, the former Titus Pullo, especially as an Asgardian warrior.  That said, he's probably the most miscast in this film.  Volstagg should be loud and literally larger than life, like a fat, jolly Klingon, so casting the guy who recently played the Punisher was probably not the way to go.  If only Brian Blessed was at least thirty years younger...

HOGUN THE GRIM -- Tadanobu Asano was another PC diversity replacement, although one that doesn't work nearly as well as Idris Elba did as Heimdall.  No, this Hogun is more bland than grim and doesn't complement his fellow Warriors Three comrades Fandral and Volstagg the way he truly should.

FANDRAL THE DASHING -- Josh Dallas, meanwhile, pretty much nails the role of Fandral.  Capturing the best of Errol Flynn's Robin Hood, Dallas' Fandral gives a playful wink while swordfighting with Frost Giants and makes you wish he had a lot more screen time.

SIF -- If Thor accomplishes nothing else as a film, it manages to finally find the perfect actress to star in a Wonder Woman movie with Jaimie Alexander.  Alexander's Sif is everything you'd want to see in a live-action Wonder Woman, so if Warner Bros. and DC Comics are smart, they're already calling up her agent.  Watch the scene where Sif saves Volstagg from the Destroyer if you don't believe me.

FRIGGA -- Renee Russo doesn't have much to do apart from watch over Odin as he catches forty winks, but she does get to take out one Frost Giant before getting smacked around by another.

THE DESTROYER -- Absolutely perfect.  Although it's a CGI character, the Destroyer manages to carve a nice path of destruction through the small New Mexico town where the story is partially based.  It's like an update of the Phantom Zone criminals from Superman II laying waste to the rural town of East Houston.  Although, to be fair, the Destroyer doesn't get to arm-wrestle one of the local hicks.

OBLIGATORY STAN LEE CAMEO -- Stan "The Man" turns up as a truck driver who tries to haul Thor's hammer Mjolnir out of its impact crater, only to lose the rear end of his truck.  Not one of his best cameos, but still fun.

WALT SIMONSON CAMEO -- One of my favorite things about this movie was seeing Walt Simonson seated alongside the Asgardians during their victory feast at the end of the movie.  A wonderful nod and richly deserved.  Kudos to Branagh.

J. MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI CAMEO -- Yes, even Straczynski gets a cameo here as the first person to find Mjolnir after it crashlands in the New Mexico desert.  Very appropriate, considering he wrote the comics that featured this actual event.

OBLIGATORY NICK FURY CAMEO -- Samuel L. Jackson shows up and makes his required appearance in the post-ending credits Avengers teaser.  He doesn't get to meet Thor (yet), but he does show off none other than the Cosmic Cube to Erik Selvig, just so Loki can lurk in a reflection and go "Excellent" in his best Mr. Burns impression.

CLINT BARTON/HAWKEYE -- Interestingly, Jeremy Renner's debut as Hawkeye has him showing up in the middle of the movie, but not so interestingly, all he does is stand in a crane basket with his bow drawn and ask if he can shoot Thor...which he doesn't.  Sounds like a scene that probably should've been cut?  To quote Lana Kane from the FX animated series Archer...Yuuuuup.

Overall, Thor is a great film to open the summer movie season and is definitely worth your valuable time and money.  If you're the type to waste spend some extra bones on 3-D, then go for it by all means, but the film looks sharp in the traditional and less expensive format.  And with the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie not out for a couple of weeks, Thor should do nicely at the box office and have at least one sequel after The Avengers.  How about bringing in the neglected Balder the Brave and Beta Ray Bill to fight Surtur, guys? 


And for those who might be wondering, here's the updated and revised list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
3. Watchmen (2009)
4. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
5. Spider-Man (2002)
6. Batman Begins (2005)
7. Iron Man (2008)
8. X2: X-Men United (2003)
9. X-Men (2000)
10. Thor (2011)
11. Batman (1989)
12. Superman II (1981)
13. Iron Man 2 (2010)
14. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
15. Hellboy (2004)
16. Superman Returns (2006)
17. Sin City (2005)
18. 300 (2007)
19. The Crow (1994)
20. V For Vendetta (2006)

Your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer,

Charles

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Dalek Invasion of SOUTH PARK


All right, maybe it wasn't the Daleks, per se, but it was pretty damn close.

On last night's South Park episode, "Funnybot," the "handi-capable" stand-up comedian wannabe character of Jimmy Valmer creates South Park Elementary's first annual Comedy Awards and gives an award to the nation of Germany, declaring them to be "the least funny people in the world."  Germany is highly insulted, of course, and creates a joke-telling robot named Funnybot to prove that Germany has a sense of humor.

Designed as a deliberate homage/parody of the classic Doctor Who enemies the Daleks, Funnybot uses similar vocal patterns and body movements and even has a Dalek toilet plunger...errrrr, manipulator armAlthough it may not have been an intentional linking to Germany, it's widely known that Dalek creator Terry Nation grew up during World War II and consciously based the Daleks on the Nazis.

And yes, the Daleks' most famous catchphrase even gets some love with the lines "I am taking comedy to the next level, the extermination of all biological life on Earth!" and "Attention, humans!  I am Funnybot!  The extermination of all life on Earth shall now commence!"  The big payoff, though, comes with the lines "It is the ultimate joke.  Humans make comedy, humans build robot, robot ends all life on Earth, robot feels awkward...Exterminate!"

The depiction of Funnybot also gives some heavy nods to Nomad from the classic Star Trek episode "The Changeling," the IT-O interrogation droid from Star Wars, and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.  If you're interested in checking out the full episode, you can view it here.

Fingers crossed that the Cybermen turn up next.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Digital Comics for the iPad: Great Idea, BUT...

So I finally caved and got myself an iPad 2.  It took a month of futile searches at various Best Buy, Target and even the dreaded Wal-Mart hoping to find one and then another three weeks to order one direct from Apple, but eventually I got one and one week in, I'm digging this newest bit of mainstream ubertech.

One of my personal justifications (or is that rationalizations?) for getting the iPad 2 was the desire to get into the digital comics reading format.  With storage space inside my condo rapidly dwindling to nothing, the idea of buying less tangible books has considerably more appeal than it used to have.  And with technology finally getting to the point where a digital comics collection is now more feasible than over, it seemed like a good time to move beyond my geezer collecting ways and start embracing The Future.

After getting the basics of iPad tech down, something made pretty simple thanks to owning an Android phone, I went ahead and downloaded the free store apps for ComiXology, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, IDW Publishing and Dark Horse Comics.  The main problem I noticed with these apps is that any comics you download onto your iPad aren't able to be downloaded your regular PC computer as a backup storage device the way music, TV shows and movies purchased through the iTunes store are.  Granted, I've only been at this for just under a week, so there may be a way to do it but it's not obvious and it's certainly not easily done.

And on some of these companies' apps, there's an allotted amount of storage space, which means if you download enough of the comics, eventually you'll have to delete some of the older ones to make room for newer ones.  Not a problem if the comics were free, but with most of these comics at $1.99 (more on that later), you don't want to buy a comic only to end up having to buy it again at some point if you want to reread it or you eventually upgrade to the iPad 3, 4 or 5 down the road.  Now, there may be a record of your purchase on the company's site so you won't have to pay for the comics again, but you have to trust the company to not lose that record instead of simply downloading copies of them into your personal computer.

Then there's the issue of the availablity of certain comics.  Since digital comics is still a market in its infancy, I don't expect everything to be available for purchase right away.  I do, however, expect to see comics published within the past six months, so it's a bit disappointing to find only certain titles available from the major publishers.  And even on the titles you do find, the $1.99 price tends to turn you off when you realize that just for a buck more, you can get the same comic in tangible paper that you actually own.  While I (sadly) understand the price of comics has increased significantly since 1985, there's something a bit wrong for being asked to pay $1.99 for an electronic copy of an issue of Crisis On Infinite Earths originally bought for just three whole quarters back in the day.

It's not all bad, though.  There are some great free comics available that are designed as gateway titles to draw in new comics readers and some may bring back some great memories of reading them the first time.  Oh, and I'm sure there are people out there that don't mind paying $1.99 just to read a particular comic for a short time only to have to delete it later on.  More power to them, because anything that generates comics sales is a good thing as far as I'm concerned.  But if you're a longtime fan hoping to make the jump to digital, keep in mind that the system and marketplace isn't quite where it needs to be yet.  It can be, provided companies stop dipping their toes into the water and fully dive in to The Future, but here's hoping things change for the better during the next year...