Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Long and Winding Road of Writing Comics


Okay, as some of you may know from my neverending tweets on Twitter, my first comic book story arrived in stores in the pages of DC Comics' Cartoon Network Action Pack #61.  Today, at long last, I am officially a comic book writer.  In the immortal words of that master thespian Keanu Reeves...Whoa.

Since I was able to announce this back in March, I've been trying to wrap my head around the notion that one of my stories was finally -- finally -- going to be published in a comic book.  You see, this is something I've wanted to do since I was about eighteen and hey, it only took twenty-four years to actually happen.

Oh sure, there were a number of reasons why I haven't been published in comics before now.  My own inexperience as a writer was my initial and toughest roadblock, followed by my lack of previously published work, my inability to truly network with others (Thanks for taking that whole first decade to get yourself established, Internets!), the lack of editors attending comic conventions in a "flyover" state like Ohio, and my personal favorite, my colon going toxic and needing to be surgically rebuilt.

Yeah, I know, life is what happens when you're busy making other plans, right?  So years after watching people I knew somehow executing their own game plans to get published in comics, I began to come to grips with the dreaded notion that hey, It May Not Happen After All.  I focused on my job as a Project Administrator -- the job that is kind enough to pay me on a regular basis -- and let various social networks, message boards and other strange little corners of the internet become my creative outlet.  That's how things like DAMN Good Coffee...and HOT, which continues to amaze me as The Little Blog That Could, came into being.

So imagine my stunned surprise months ago when my longtime friend Michael McCalister, now an editor for DC, invited me to pitch a few Generator Rex stories for Cartoon Network Action Pack.  I first thought that okay, Michael's just being his usual nice self with the offer and don't get your hopes up too high here because Cartoon Network could still shoot down the story ideas.  However, in a strange twist of the cosmos that I have yet to truly fathom, Michael told me that Cartoon Network approved my pitches and asked me when I could get the first script to him. 

My reaction to said news can be summed up like this...



Michael's put up with my nonsense for two decades now, so I owe him HUGE for that alone, but that debt has swelled to United States national levels after all this.  The story released today, "Night of the Living Movie," is the first of four planned Generator Rex stories for Cartoon Network Action Pack and shares my love of simply going to the movies and hanging with friends.  Each of the other stories pairs Rex with a different supporting cast member and also pays tribute to something I've loved for years.  I'll pass along more information about them as soon as they appear on DC's schedule.  My biggest hope, of course, is that these stories will lead to addtional comics work somewhere down the road.

And even though today's release fulfills one particular dream of mine, there are still other dreams that have remained horribly neglected over the years.  If this whole strange experience has taught me anything, it's that you should never give up wanting to do the things you love, no matter how unlikely they are or what life sees fit to throw at you.  As the legendary Yogi Berra once said, it ain't over till it's over.

Let's see what the future brings.

Neil Gaiman Shares DOCTOR WHO Memories With Craig Ferguson


Appearing on CBS' The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson last night under the pretense of promoting the tenth anniversary edition of his novel American Gods, writer Neil Gaiman instead spent most his 14-minute segment talking about the world's longest-running science-fiction series, Doctor Who.

Gaiman, of course, wrote the recent Series Six episode "The Doctor's Wife," which featured the soul of the TARDIS being downloaded into the body of a woman called Idris.  Ferguson, who has proven to be quite the Doctor Who fan in recent months, admitted that he hadn't seen "The Doctor's Wife" yet but that the episode was on his DVR.

The two gushed over Matt Smith's performance as the Eleventh Doctor.  Gaiman remarked, "He's wonderful.  He actually plays this thing of being nine hundred years and eleven at the same time."  He also mentioned Smith's considerable chin and gave Ferguson the small spoiler that there was one chin joke included in his episode.  "It was a feeling of such peculiar power getting to write Doctor Who."

Gaiman then reminisced about watching classic Doctor Who as young as the age of four, recalling how other kids at his nursery school would bend straws in their bottles of free school milk and go around saying "I-will-kill-you.  I-am-a-Da-lek!"  "I don't know what this is..." said Gaiman, with Ferguson finishing his sentence, "...but I have to be a part of it."

"And three weeks later," Gaiman continued, "I'm watching it from behind the sofa, because there was a shared children's knowledge that they couldn't see you if you were behind the sofa.  We knew that the television was a window and monsters could look out of it, but if you were behind the sofa, they'd just think, 'There's nobody there -- It's just a sofa.'"

The writer also mentioned that the first mythology he ever loved was Doctor Who and that for him, he's always preferred the Daleks over the Cybermen.  After a brief discussion about his beekeeping hobby, he ended the segment by opting to go with the very British awkward pause but asked that the TARDIS model on Ferguson's desk be included in the shot.

If you're interested in checking out the full segment, you can view it below thanks to the kindness of TVsCraigFerguson...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Will Amy & Rory Wave Goodbye to Their "Hungry Earth" Selves?


Yeah, consider this nothing more than Doctor Who speculation time once again, but I was thinking recently about the probable exit of current companions Amy and Rory Pond at the end of Series Six later this fall.

With only Matt Smith confirmed as returning for Series Seven, it seems likely that the Ponds are being written out of Doctor Who...at least until a potential return for the show's 50th anniversary in 2013.  So while watching the Series Five episode "The Hungry Earth" again not too long ago, I wondered if we'll see the flip side of an encounter that takes place early on in the episode.  If you recall, the story was set in the year 2020, ten years later from the time that Amy and Rory both began travelling in the TARDIS.  The two see what is presumed to be their 2020 selves waving to them from a distance, seemingly revisiting the adventure their 2010 selves are now taking. 

Since the Doctor has been shown in recent years as being a sentimental old sort, and showrunner Steven Moffat absolutely adores to play around with timey-wimey storytelling, I've been wondering if these 2020 versions of Amy and Rory will actually turn out to be the Series Six Amy and Rory waving goodbye to their earlier "Hungry Earth" selves.  This, of course, means we'll see this same scene again, but this time from the other perspective of Series Six Amy and Rory.

Just a thought of mine that may not pay off, I know, but if Moffat deliberately set up Amy and Rory's eventual exit in advance, it would certainly be consistent with his handling of River Song and the mysterious Big Bad manipulating events from behind the scenes over the course of multiple seasons.  In any case, I heartily recommend stocking up on tissues for the Series Six finale...

GENERATOR REX: Night Is Coming...


Wednesday, June 29th

Your friendly neighborhood comic shop

Cartoon Network Action Pack #61

Ten pages of Generator Rex goodness written by some guy named Charles

BE THERE



Saturday, June 25, 2011

DAMN Good Comics -- SUPERMAN #712

You know, for a Krypto tale originally shelved in 2007 during writer Kurt Busiek's Superman run and then abruptly used as a controversial replacement to another chapter of the interminable "Grounded" storyline started back in June of 2010, it's pretty impressive that this story managed to beat out everything else I read this week.

Busiek's "Lost Boy" is set back in the days when Superman's young clone Superboy (a.k.a. Conner Kent) was killed off for a few years during the events of Geoff Johns and Phil Jimenez' Infinite Crisis mini-series.  In a character spotlight that Busiek does so brilliantly in books such as his Astro City series, we see Krypto waiting sadly and loyally for Superboy to return home, even though for all we knew at the time, he wasn't.  Seemingly determined to find out what happened to Superboy, Krypto flies off to follow a scent trail that takes him to Titans Tower and other various locations.

At each stop, Krypto grasps an idea of the events that took place, finally arriving at the exact place where Superboy dies in the hands of his girlfriend, Wonder Girl.  The scent of death is all too telling to the Superdog and in a heartbreaking sequence depicted well by artist RIck Leonardi, Krypto lets out a powerfully mournful howl for his younger master that carries throughout the land and even shatters windows in the process. 

Leonardi's art looks a bit rushed in a couple of places, but he still does a solid job of conveying this mostly-wordless story.  You really have to wonder what the nonsensical reasoning was that went into the editorial decision to pull such a touching story years ago, but at least Superman fans finally to got to read it, albeit because another editorial decision was made to replace "Grounded" writer Chris Roberson's story.  Ah, well...Maybe in four years, we'll get to read that story as well.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

FRINGE Showrunners Tease Season 4


In a piece for The LA TV Insider Examiner, Fringe writers/executive producers Josh Wyman and Jeff Pinkner dropped some hints about what we might see when the show returns for Season 4 this fall on September 23rd.

At the end of Season 3, Joshua Jackson's character Peter Bishop created a dimensional "bridge" between Earth and the alternate Earth from where he originated.  However, doing so caused him to vanish from reality after things changed so that he never existed.  "Josh’s character, Peter, made a heroic choice," said Pinkner, "and Walter recognizes he might have to sacrifice to save his son, and now we’re fighting the consequences of that."

With Joshua Jackson still listed as remaining with the show as a series regular, it probably won't be long before we see Peter return...somehow.  According to Pinkner, though, he isn't going to be the only one returning.  "Without revealing anything, we have some really -- we have some things we’re very excited about.  We’re bringing back some characters who were among our favorites."

So who does that mean?  Charlie FrancisThomas Newton?  Personally, I'm hoping for David Robert Jones.

And if you happen to be foolish enough to not watch one of the best science-fiction series currently on television, Wyman says that the Season 4 opener is a good place to jump on.  "We’ve had a lot of people say ‘We love the promos; we want to figure out time to watch’, but not everyone has time to sit down and watch (three full) seasons, so we tried to make this season like a new pilot.  We did that a little bit last season, too, but it will just be an entry point for people to come in who haven’t seen everything."

He also added, "We always look at it as a new chapter every season.  It’s like you get the book and so you can expect something you did not expect.  We like to say that.  It’s not as easy as ‘Oh, it’s a jump forward.’  We always try to go a little deeper than that."

Wyman and Pinkner originally started with a six-year plan, so as long as the ratings continue to hold up well enough, it's going to be interesting to see if we're at the halfway point or if the overall timetable has been pushed up so that we're now at the homestretch and heading for home.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to Prevent the Superhero Moviepocalypse

 
And here we go again.  Thanks to Green Lantern's mediocre $53.2 million initial weekend haul at the box office and excessively harsh reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, the comics and movie blogospheres are once again starting their doomsayer predictions of The End of Superhero Movies.  Yes, the same doomsayers who proclaimed that superhero movies were worm food after Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer in 2007, The Incredible Hulk in 2008 and Watchmen in 2009.

So I guess that means there's no point in seeing upcoming movies like Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises or The Man of Steel because all of them are destined to fail, right?  Well, even if the Superhero Moviepocalypse is upon us, I've been doing some thinking about all this (Uh-oh...) and have a few suggestions for any Warner Brothers, 20th Century Fox or other studio executives who are starting to go into Panic Mode about the future for superhero film projects...
  1. Don't Panic -- As shown above, even when a superhero film doesn't perform big at the box office, it's not the end of the world despite what you read online.  I know this sounds crazy, but audiences will generally show up for superhero films that look to be a quality production from the start with trailers that look genuinely compelling and interesting, not cheesy and desperate.  Don't believe me?  Look at the trailers for The Dark Knight versus the trailers for Batman and Robin.  Which one would you see first?
  2. Don't be afraid to use lesser-known superheroes -- Okay, Green Lantern was a lesser-known character that didn't perform great, but is that actually the character's fault or the way the character was handled?  The character of Green Lantern is essentially a guy who becomes a cop in outer space and you're telling me that cop movie good, space movie good, but space cop movie bad?  Sorry, nobody's buying that one.  Meanwhile, look at Blade...Only old-school Marvel fans remembered the character and he still ended up with three movies.  Or Iron Man, who wasn't nearly as well-known as Spider-Man or The Hulk and still made solid box office on a weak sequel.
  3. Every first movie for a character doesn't have to be an origin story -- There seems to be this preconception that every superhero's first movie has to tell his origin in the first half to two-thirds of the movie before finally diving in and getting down to full-on superhero business in the final act.  As a result, superhero movies are locked into a storytelling formula that feels repetitive at times and audiences are responding accordingly.  Go ahead and change things up once in a while and try starting the first film off with the superhero already in action, like Tim Burton did in Batman (1989) when you only learned Batman's origin later on through a flashback scene.
  4. Make sure the supervillain is at least as interesting as the superhero -- Now, that doesn't mean make the hero less interesting, just that audiences seem to respond better to superhero movies where the villain practically overshadows the hero.  Heath Ledger's Joker, Alfred Molina's Doctor Octopus and Jeff Bridges' Iron Monger are great examples of how a strong villain elevates the material and makes for a more entertaining movie.  As a moviegoer, you want to see the hero defeating a truly menacing Bad Guy, not some lightweight villain of no substance.  Just because they came from two-dimensional comic book pages doesn't mean they have to stay that way.
  5. Stop phoning in the orchestral music scores -- Remember John Williams' iconic Superman theme or Danny Elfman's Batman theme?  Of course you do, because they were arranged such in a fashion that you can hum them to yourself while waiting inside an elevator.  With the exception of Hans Zimmer's "Molossus" Batman Begins theme, music score composers have ironically forgotten how to make superhero themes that are actually memorable.  Go ahead and try to hum the theme to Thor or Green Lantern while you attempt to prove me wrong on this one.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

DAMN Good Movies -- GREEN LANTERN


Here we go, time once again for another of my infamous movie takes, this time focusing my willpower on the film Green Lantern, based on the classic DC Comics character.  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then for crying out loud, 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...Beware my power...

As anyone who's been paying attention knows, Marvel Comics has been owning their main competitor DC Comics when it comes to superhero film adaptations in recent years.  Hell, all you have to do is look at Marvel's three films this summer compared to DC's one to realize that.  Oh sure, DC and parent company Warner Brothers have been great about putting out Batman films and every so often you'll get a Superman film or once in a blue moon, even something like Watchmen.  But by and large, DC hasn't been able to launch film franchises for their main non-Batman and non-Superman characters the way Marvel has.  So apparently borrowing Marvel's format of building upon the success of one character's film, such as Iron Man, DC and Warner Bros. are presumably hoping to use Green Lantern to finally get film projects going for Wonder Woman, The Flash or potentially even the Justice League of America.

Producers tapped Martin Campbell, a talented action director noted for such films as The Mask of Zorro and two great James Bond movies, GoldenEye and Casino Royale (2006).  Even comics writer Geoff Johns, now DC's Chief Creative Officer, became a Co-Producer of the film, bringing his well-received reinvention of the Green Lantern mythos over the past six years to the table.  Some pretty good moves there, certainly reason to give hardcore Green Lantern fans hope that all will be well.  And despite some early missteps on building box office buzz, such as a somewhat disappointing Entertainment Weekly cover and the first trailer that emphasized humorous aspects of the film, the Green Lantern hype machine went into overdrive to convince everyone that everything's fine, situation normal, we're all fine here now, thank you...How are you?

For Green Lantern to truly succeed, though, it falls upon screenwriters Greg Bertlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim and Michael Goldenberg to streamline decades of Green Lantern storylines and continuity into a narrative newcomers can easily follow.  The film starts off with Xudarian Green Lantern Tomar-Re giving a healthy amount of narrated backstory to open the film, hoping that geekish fans who enjoyed Galadriel rattling off something similar at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring will find this stuff just as interesting.  As a result, the audience doesn't get to first experience the wonder of the Green Lantern mythos through Hal Jordan's eyes and any such storytelling impact is abruptly lost.

When John Broome and Gil Kane created Hal Jordan in the Silver Age of 1959, they started his origin off with a dying Abin Sur sending a beam of emerald energy from his Power Battery to find his successor.  The two meet, the power ring and battery are passed on, Abin Sur dies, and Hal Jordan flies off to do all sorts of Green Lanterny things.  It's very straightforward, very simple to grasp, nicely emotional if handled well, and ultimately lost on this film's screenwriters.  To be fair, they do try to make you care about Hal, playing up his dead dad issues and showing that under his cocky test pilot bravado, he's just as insecure about himself as you are.

All the excessive CGI effects don't help, either.  Thor had a heavy amount as well, but balanced them with some nicely elaborate set pieces that made the film feel far more real and believable than Green Lantern does.  Because everything set in space or on the planet Oa is CGI, including the other aliens in the Green Lantern Corps with the exception of Sinestro, you feel like Hal steps into an animated world every time he leaves Earth.  Some of the shots of Oa are impressive, don't get me wrong, but you have to wonder how much more impressive they would have been if some of the structures didn't look like something straight out of the Green Lantern video game.

Another considerable problem is the lack of a solid menace for Hal to fight.  Yeah, he has Parallax and Hector Hammond to deal with, but do you really care about what they do or what happens to them?  Parallax is little more than a glorified take on Galactus from Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer that was shrugged off by fans as the far less imposing "Cloudactus."  Hector Hammond, meanwhile, looks more like Ned Flanders meets The Elephant Man and you half-expect him to go "I am not an animal...I am a super-villain!"  No, the real menace to Hal is obviously Sinestro, but as shown in the post-credits sequence where he gets his spiffy yellow Sinestro Corps uniform, he's being saved for a sequel that may never come if the box office doesn't justify it.

Ultimately, however, Martin Campbell tells the story he's given as well as he probably can.  The film moves along at a decent pace, doesn't drag considering the one hour, forty-five-minute running time, has a nice albeit unremarkable score by James Newton Howard, and introduces everything it's supposed to introduce.  There's nothing here as painful as dancing Peter Parker in Spider-Man 3 to make you wince or make you think you're watching a Joel Schumacher Batman movie by mistake.  You're just a bit frustrated with this movie, because you know that with some fine-tuning here and there, it could've been something really special.

So what about the performances from the cast?  Well, as you might expect, I have a few thoughts here and there, so this is what I noticed...

GREEN LANTERN/HAL JORDAN -- Ryan Reynolds has to carry most of the film on his entire CGI-suited back and for the most part, he does a solid job of it.  He could've easily turned Hal into an arrogant douche, but makes him charmingly cocky without overselling things.  I have to wonder how other actors like Star Trek's Chris Pine or Super 8's Kyle Chandler would've done in the role, but Reynolds certainly looks and acts the part and has the build to bring in his admirers.  If the film does poorly, it definitely won't be because of him.

CAROL FERRIS -- On the other hand, Blake Lively is a bad actress miscast as an equally bad character.  I've never been a fan of Carol in the comics and Lively does nothing here to change my opinion.  If you notice, the best of the Green Lantern trailers are the ones that show little to no footage of Carol, so that should give you an idea of what to expect when she's on screen.  I did, however, like that they let Carol easily recognize Hal as Green Lantern, so we didn't have to sit there and wonder at her inability to see the obvious.

HECTOR HAMMOND -- Peter Sarsgaard turns in a very odd performance here, making Hector disturbing and skeevy even before he gets his ginormous dome.  I appreciate that he's crafting something different with the role, but at times the tone of his character seemed more appropriate for a David Lynch film than a mainstream superhero movie.

SINESTRO -- Every time Mark Strong was on screen, I could only sit and think of the Green Lantern Film That Might've Been or Could Possibly Become in a Sequel.  Strong is perfectly cast as Sinestro, giving the presence the character deserves and making fans anticipate his heel turn to the Fear Side of the Force...errrr, Emotional Spectrum all the more.  Hell, just go out and see this movie so I can get my sequel with Sinestro, okay?

ABIN SUR -- As another purple-skinned Green Lantern, Temuera Morrison turns in a nice albeit understandably brief job as Abin Sur.  Morrison has a cool, distinctive voice well-suited to the character and gives such a small but important role the gravitas it needs.

TOMAR-RE-- Geoffrey Rush gets to provide vocals for the CGI Tomar-Re and provide the opening narration because he has the poshest speaking voice.  The character is used for little more than exposition, but Rush is a nice fit for Tomar-Re and a welcome addition to overall feel of the film.

KILOWOG -- As Hal's training drill sargeant, Michael Clarke Duncan is another good fit for his character even though his character is severely underwritten.  Towards the end, Kilowog takes credit for Hal's training, even though said "training" lasts all of five minutes on screen...if that.  I understand that Campbell wanted to keep things moving, but smacking Hal around for a few more minutes later on after another scene or two would've made the training more substantive.

PARALLAX -- Clancy Brown voiced Parallax but you would never know it until you looked on IMDb.  Instead of a shining golden creature, Parallax is depicted here as a dirty-looking Smog Monster cloud that occasionally gains a face with a gaping maw.  As a result, you almost have to wonder if Hal Jordan is supposed to be a space cop or an environmentalist.

AMANDA WALLER -- Angela Bassett, who many feel should've been cast as Storm in the X-Men movies instead of Halle Berry, is a completely reworked version of the Suicide Squad's head honcho, Amanda "The Wall" Waller.  In this film, Waller is now a generic government scientist who assists Hector Hammond in studying Abir Sur's corpse.  It's essentially a thankless role and probably would've been better served if Waller had been closer to her comic book roots.

SENATOR HAMMOND -- In a curious bit of casting, Tim Robbins was picked for the role of Hector's disapproving father.  I'm guessing the addition of this character was for the purpose of making Hector more sympathetic villain with depth, but when you have Hector acting so repulsively, why would you try to make him sympathetic to the audience at the same time?

THOMAS KALMAKU -- Taika Waitiki lands the typical sidekick gig as Tom "Don't call me Pieface" Kalmaku.  It's his job to give Hal somebody to bounce his reactions off of and provide the necessary amount of computer skills that at least one character needs to have in superhero films these days.  And thankfully, he's not annoying as some sidekick characters can be, so well done there.

I know I've probably been a little rough on this film here, but Green Lantern is an entertaining superhero film.  It just happens to be bogged down in far too much setup with the promise of a much better film down the road.  That's not exactly what you need if you're hoping to launch other characters the way Marvel has, so unless audiences ignore film critics the way they did for the first two Transformers films, we'll just have to hope that Warner Brothers doesn't give up and remain fixated on just Batman and Superman movies.

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. X-Men: First Class (2011)
9. X2: X-Men United (2003)
10. X-Men (2000)
11. Thor (2011)
12. Green Lantern (2011)
13. Batman (1989)
14. Superman II (1981)
15. Iron Man 2 (2010)
16. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
17. Hellboy (2004)
18. Superman Returns (2006)
19. Sin City (2005)
20. 300 (2007)

Your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer,

Charles

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything


  1. June 16, 1969
  2. Cartoons
  3. Comic books
  4. School
  5. Glasses
  6. Medina, Ohio
  7. Restaurant
  8. Star Wars
  9. Superman
  10. Crush
  11. Braces
  12. Loss
  13. Separation
  14. Reunion
  15. Doctor Who
  16. Survival
  17. Contacts
  18. Graduation
  19. Kent State
  20. Love
  21. Central Florida
  22. TitanTalk
  23. Columbus, Ohio
  24. Adulthood
  25. Lori
  26. Heartbreak
  27. Sadness
  28. Surgeries
  29. Regeneration
  30. Hilliard, Ohio
  31. Marriage
  32. Adjustment
  33. Internet
  34. Strange New Worlds
  35. September 11, 2001
  36. Friendship
  37. Doctor Who
  38. Consolation
  39. Travel
  40. Blogging
  41. Generator Rex
  42. The Future

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Is Omega the DOCTOR WHO Big Bad Behind the Scenes?


Now that Americans have finally had a decent chance to watch the Doctor Who Series Six mid-season finale, "A Good Man Goes to War," I think it's time to start posing this question:  Has Omega been the Big Bad orchestrating things behind the scenes since Series Five?

Okay, let me walk you through my reasoning here.  Considering we have several unanswered questions going back to Series Five, it seems pretty obvious that showrunner Steven Moffat is steadily crafting an overall story arc to the entire Eleventh Doctor era.  As we know from "The Big Bang," Moffat has a penchant for setting strange little tidbits up earlier in a series for payoffs down the road.  So with that in mind, if he can do that across a single season, he's perfectly capable of doing that across three seasons in a ginormous superarc.  Don't believe me?  Well, consider these seemingly unrelated items...

In "The Pandorica Opens," River Song attempted to pilot the TARDIS to Stonehenge, but a mysterious external force took control and sent it to 26/6/2010 instead.  A sinister voice abruptly spoke out, saying "Silence will fall" and trapped River inside the TARDIS, which then exploded throughout the time/space continuum, erasing the universe.  We still don't know who or what was responsible for this, but it would have to be someone (or something) especially powerful to get inside the TARDIS, take control and be willing to erase the universe.  I have to think it's something outside the universe, say in an anti-matter universe like the one Omega ended up trapped in as revealed in the Third Doctor story "The Three Doctors"...?


In "A Good Man Goes to War," we learn that Amy and Rory Pond's daughter Melody has what appears to be Time Lord DNA as a result of being conceived inside the TARDIS during Amy and Rory's wedding night.  Presumably, this unusual DNA is why Madame Kovarian is so interested in Melody and went to such great lengths to flee with the baby at the end of the episode.  The last time Time Lord DNA was so important was in the Fifth Doctor story "Arc of Infinity," in which the Doctor's biodata was used in an attempt to allow -- you guessed it -- Omega to cross over from the anti-matter universe.  And with Gallifrey now destroyed and all other Time Lords dead or missing, Melody's DNA may hold the key to Omega's restoration into the matter universe.

And finally, going back to "The Time of Angels," we are introduced to a group of soldier clerics who are charged with guarding River Song as they track down an escaped Weeping Angel.  The same order of clerics also appear in "A Good Man Goes to War," now working for Madame Kovarian and specifically trained to fight the Doctor.  In both stories, the cleric uniforms are adorned with a curious symbol resembling yes, an Omega.  As shown here, River wears one of their uniforms in "The Time of Angels," so it's possible (although unlikely) that she's working for Omega or perhaps this is Moffat's cheeky way of foreshadowing how interwoven all of this really is.

So at least as far as I'm concerned, it seems increasingly likely that Omega is indeed the one responsible for the Doctor, Amy and Rory's troubles.  We have an excrutiatingly long wait until the end of summer to find out what happens next, but don't be surprised if we don't see actual confirmation of Omega's involvement until the Series Six finale or possibly until Series Seven.  In the meantime, though, Steven Moffat is obviously trying to create something truly epic here, so let's enjoy the mysteries while we can...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Relaunching My DC Comics Shopping List

In the words of the late Doctor Who actor Nicholas Courtney, "Well...Here we go again..."

DC Comics finally released information on the last four of their 52 Post-Flashpoint reboot/relaunch/reloaded titles yesterday, revealing the new Superman, Superboy, Supergirl and Action Comics books.  It's been an interesting couple of weeks, watching news trickle out each day and seeing the instant assessment from fans about whether these new titles are going to be worthy of their $2.99 for the immediate future.  As fans, you tend to make a call on some titles based on their creative team alone, or others on the how the characters you've loved for years have been altered in whatever way.  We all do it, and I'm no different, obviously.

With information on all 52 titles now available for prospective readers to dissect and analyze to their hearts' content, this means I now have a decent idea of which titles I'm going to add, which I'm going to keep and which I'm losing.  So for the two or three of you who might actually be interested in such things, here's a rundown of how my monthly DC Comics shopping list is regenerating into its new incarnation.  (Sorry, couldn't help myself there...)

For the sake of comparison, here's how my original list of 22 DC Comics titles looked...

     Action Comics                                               Hellblazer
     Adventure Comics                                          Justice League of America
     Batman                                                         Justice Society of America
     Batman and Robin                                         Legion of Super-Heroes
     Batman, Incorporated                                     Power Girl
     Birds of Prey                                                 Secret Six
     Booster Gold                                                 Superboy
     Detective Comics                                           Superman
     The Flash                                                      Teen Titans
     Gotham City Sirens                                        Wonder Woman
     Green Lantern                                                Zatanna

And now, here's my new Post-Flashpoint list, with new titles in bold...

     Action Comics                                               Green Lantern
     Animal Man                                                 Hellblazer (Presumably)
     Aquaman                                                     Justice League
     Batgirl                                                          Justice League Dark
     Batman                                                         Legion Lost
     Batman and Robin                                          Legion of Super-Heroes
     Batwoman                                                    Nightwing
     Birds of Prey                                                 Stormwatch
     DC Universe Presents                                  Superman
     The Flash                                                      Teen Titans
     The Fury of Firestorm

So overall, that's only one less title every month after losing ten as a result of cancellation or simply not going forward with the relaunched version.  Not too bad, certainly better than I expected a couple of weeks ago, and I'll be trying out a few others for a short time to see if they can convince me to add them to this regular buying list.  I will miss Batman, Incorporated, Justice Society of America, Power Girl and especially Secret Six, though, but at least there's word that Batman, Incorporated is going to return in 2012 for twelve issues.

It should be interesting to see this list a year and a half from now.  All 52 are unlikely to make it past issue #18, especially with this economy, so I imagine those titles of genuine quality and talent have the best chance for long-term survival.  Hopefully, some entertaining "mid-season replacements" (to use a television programming term) are already in the works.

Now, if my own list changes are generally typical of DC's existing audience, then I'm guessing they should be okay for the foreseeable future.  I'm sure there will be creative team changes and adjustments along the way as they figure out this relaunched DC Universe, so for those upset about things like missing characters and certain costume designs, try and be patient if you can.  I've been though this sort of thing before back in 1986, so it's not nearly the end of the world that you might think it is.  It's just change.

To rattle off a bit more from Doctor Who, it's a bit dodgy, this process, you never know what you're gonna end up with.  But it could be fantastic so pass me the fish fingers and custard...

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bryan Singer Has Ideas for X-MEN: FIRST CLASS Sequel


Moving forward with a sequel to X-Men: First Class isn't a done deal yet, but producer Bryan Singer, who directed the first two X-Men films, is at least thinking about what another '60s X-Men movie might involve.

In a Los Angeles Times piece, Singer seems to think the characters could continue weaving through the decade's history.  "I don't know if every movie has to be a history lesson, but there's a lot of history to cover.  If we sequelized this, it could inhabit a whole world of the 20th century," Singer remarked.  "When ['First Class'] happened, Kennedy had not been assassinated and the Vietnam War hadn't happened yet."

Singer also sees the obvious parallels of Professor Charles Xavier and Magneto's ideological differences on how to attain mutant rights compared against the differences of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X on how to attain racial equality.  "What's really interesting about the '60s setting is the civil rights movement," he said.  "What's fascinating about these two characters is that they're really the Malcolm X and Martin Luther King of comic mythology."

So that might mean the introduction of mutants into the mainstream public and the public's presumably general bigoted, resistant reaction to the idea of Homo Superior beings.  Magneto would be likely to show up to smash anti-mutant hate rallies or stage pro-mutant acts of violence that the character was originally known for since his first appearance in X-Men (vol.1) #1.  Perhaps in this fictional Earth where mutants exist, Magneto is responsible for the "magic bullet" that helps assassinate President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.  If the public sees or at least perceives Magneto's involvement, this would certainly set off a wave of anti-mutant hysteria that sets the tone for the original trilogy of X-Men films.

And then there's the X-Men themselves to consider, with only Beast, Havok and Banshee choosing to remain with Professor X by the end of X-Men: First Class.  Ideally, there would need to be at least 2 to 3 more team members added.  Polaris, who becomes Havok's love interest in the comics and has powers similar to Magneto, would be a logical choice for one new X-Man.  Sunfire and Thunderbird, two other characters that joined the comics team at the same time as Banshee, might be other possibilities for replacements.

Of course, all of this is moot if X-Men: First Class doesn't earn enough at the box office to justify making another movie.  Despite glowing reviews, the film had a production budget of $160 million and made only $55 million domestically during its opening weekend.  However, if you factor in the foreign markets, the film has made over $144 million worldwide as of June 8, 2011.  As long as the movie doesn't fall too badly as a result of Super 8's debut this weekend and home video sales are as strong as expected, I would imagine that 20th Century Fox will greenlight the sequel.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

DOCTOR WHO Returning for Series 7 With Matt Smith!


Okay, Doctor Who fans...BREATHE.  The show and Matt Smith are both returning next year.

The Doctor Who News Page reports that Sam Hodges, Head of Communications for BBC1, Fiction, Daytime and HD at the BBC, has confirmed via Twitter that Doctor Who has been commissioned for another 14 episodes (meaning another Christmas special and 13-episode season).  Even better, the Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith, will be returning as well.  This news follows recent speculation that Smith was not going to return, particularly following a recent Daily Mirror interview where he discussed his plans to take his career to Hollywood.

Current showrunner Steven Moffat also chimed in on the renewal announcement by way of Twitter, posting the following comment:

14 eps + Matt DEFINITELY. I've got a plan and I'm NOT TELLING YOU WHAT IT IS. Now hush or River shoots you with her Spoiler Gun.#formaqueue

However, if you notice, nothing has been said about Karen Gillan or Arthur Darvill returning as Amy and Rory Pond.  Recent reports have claimed that the Doctor's married companions will be written out at the end of Series Six and unlike today's remarks concerning Smith's future, there has been no announcement from anyone in authority to the contrary.

I don't suppose Moffat could bring in the Silurian Madama Vastra and human lover Jenny as their replacements...?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

DAMN Good Movies -- X-MEN: FIRST CLASS


Yep, it's time once again for another of my infamous movie takes, this time concentrating my efforts on the film X-Men: First Class, based on the classic Marvel Comics characters.  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...To me, my X-Men...

Like most comics fans my age (God help you all), I've been an X-Men fan since way back in the day with the definitive creative team, writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne.  (Technically though, my first exposure to the team was buying a copy of X-Men (vol.1) #95, which featured the death of Thunderbird, but I didn't start buying the book regularly until years later with Uncanny X-Men #139, when Kitty Pryde first joined the team as Sprite.)  I've read an insane amount of X-Men stories since then, most of them disappointingly mediocre, but a solid number crafted by the finest talents in comics.

In 2000, director Bryan Singer gave the X-Men a welcome breath of fresh air with the first X-Men movie, the cleverly titled X-MenStripping away decades of comics continuity baggage like characters from the future and numerous resurrections/variations of Jean Grey, Singer's film gave us a streamlined, accessible X-Men team that proved popular enough that resulted in two sequels and a spinoff origin film for Hugh Jackman's Wolverine.  However, the poor handling of the second sequel, X-Men: The Last Stand, by director Brett Ratner and screenwriters Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn left the series with little room to move forward.  In stereotypical Hollywood thinking, that automatically means one thing...Time for a reboot.

Enter Matthew Vaughn, director of the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess' Stardust and the adaptation of Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.'s Kick-AssTogether with screenwriters Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz and Jane Goldman, Vaughn opted to take the X-Men back to the very beginning in prequel form, similar to Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins and yes, George Lucas' Star Wars prequelsUnlike Lucas, however, Vaughn wasn't content to simply make a movie that ticks off a checklist of items that explains how characters and events came into being.  No, Vaughn actually focused on their characters themselves and wrapped them in a stylish Mad Men era setting of the 1962 Cuban Missle Crisis.

It was a bold move, taking the X-Men out of the early 21st Century and dropping them in the 1960s, but doing so helped to distinguish his film from Singer's as well as giving Young Professor X and Young Magneto a more interesting playground.  The Sixties also provide a more sensible setting for concepts like the Hellfire Club, dropping them into the Rat Pack's Las Vegas, although the comics fan part of me would've liked to have seen the Hellfire Club in their traditional Manhattan setting wearing their 18th Century period costumes.  And, of course, you can't do a big budget Sixties adventure without working in some James Bond espionage themes, right down to secret submarines that emerge from hidden compartments aboard expensive yachts and dining booths that swivel around 180 degrees to reveal a secret lair on the other side.

Lifting the origin of Magneto straight from the opening moments of X-Men, Vaughn is intent on adhering closely to Singer's variation of X-Men continuity.  This, of course, means that the original X-Men from the comics -- Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Angel and Iceman -- are unable to be in play because they aren't old enough to be members in 1962.  So what happens is that a new group of original X-Men has to be cobbled mostly together from previously unfilmed characters, comprising Mystique (revealed as Professor Xavier's childhood friend and assistant), a pre-blue and furry Beast, Havok, Banshee, Darwin and Angel Salvadore.  And yes, adherence to the comics timeline is obviously minimal, seeing that Havok is now unable to be Cyclops' younger brother, barring some wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey explanation.  I admit to being initally thrown after learning of the characters involved, but Vaughn pulls these disparate characters together in a way I would never have thought possible.

At times, it almost feels as though there are two films mashed together -- an X-Men film set in the 1960s and a Quentin Tarantino revenge film starring Magneto.  That's not a bad thing, mind you, because it gives Magneto considerable depth to his character arc and enhances his interaction with Charles Xavier.  It does, however, clash with some scenes, such as the one with the young, almost X-Men sitting around in their swinging CIA headquarters pad goofing around and saying "Hey, let's give ourselves codenames!"  Ultimately though, the film settles on being the X-Men movie it was destined to be and launches into a strong final act.  Final allegiances are made, affecting the relationships among key characters that will eventually pay off in the original trilogy of films.

The stellar performances are what really sells this film, however, and they highlight the real reason why this prequel works and Lucas' prequels didn't for the most part.  Vaughn tells his story through the characters, letting them dictate how the story should proceed and not trying to force them into specific plot points.  And as you might expect, there were specific things that stood out and here's some of what I observed...

PROFESSOR X/CHARLES XAVIER -- Arguably the strongest actor, James McAvoy nails the role of Professor X, confidently allowing you to forget about Patrick Stewart's performances while giving you glimpses of how similar the two actors can be.  The younger Xavier gets to cut loose and have more fun than his older self does, and it's almost a crime to see him become paralyzed at the end even though it has to be done.

MAGNETO/ERIK LENSHERR -- Michael Fassbender is certainly right up there as well.  He brings considerable intensity to Magneto, taking him on his quest for revenge and showing him succumb to the Dark Side of the X-Force.  Interestingly, Fassbender is less of a mimic than McAvoy, but you can still see his Magneto one day becomng the Ian McKellen version.  And if nothing else, he can certainly rock the classic red and purple Magneto helmet.

SEBASTIAN SHAW -- I don't know why this is, but you always seem to forget that Kevin Bacon can really act until you're watching one of this movies.  He throws himself nicely into the role of Shaw here, chewing the scenery without hamming it up and giving the film the right amount of menace.  And yes, the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game just became even easier with this movie.

MYSTIQUE/RAVEN DARKHOLME -- Jennifer Lawrence brings a considerable amount of sympathy to the role of Mystique.  With her Girl Next Door looks, Lawrence runs the whole range of pining best friend to lonely teenager to independent mutant crusader.  Her character arc is as central to film as Professor X and Magneto's and makes you look at the earlier films in an entirely different light.

BEAST/HANK MCCOY -- As the younger version of Kelsey Grammer's Beast, Nicholas Hoult is the brilliant but self-hating misfit who just wants to be normal.  This gives Beast a sweet but all-too-brief romance with Mystique but Hoult is lost underneath his unflattering Beast makeup and costume.

BANSHEE/SEAN CASSIDY -- I was initially concerned that Caleb Landry Jones' take on Banshee would end up being relegated comic relief, but thankfully that wasn't the case.  Banshee isn't a key character, but he does get some fun action scenes and his aerial dogfight with Angel Salvadore is a particular highlight on the big screen.

HAVOK/ALEX SUMMERS -- Lucas Till comes off a bit like the jock from The Breakfast Club, but has a few notable scenes as he attempts to control his energy blasts.  If he appears in a second prequel, I hope they bring in Polaris as his romantic interest.

MOIRA MACTAGGERT -- I had no problem whatsoever with Rose Byrne as Moira, but I had a big problem with the way Moira was written in this film.  The character's Scottish ethnicity and genetic scientist background is completely rewritten as a generic CIA field agent given the task of overseeing Xavier's group of gifted youngsters.  Moira's traditional romance with Charles Xavier is mostly lost as well, only hinted at the end with a Christopher Reeve Superman-style hypnotic kiss.  And I won't even get into how creepy her comics romance with Banshee could be in this continuity.

EMMA FROST -- Probably the most miscast of the roles, January Jones obviously looks the part as Emma Frost, but unfortunately comes off as bland and empty as her Betty Draper character on Mad Men.  Emma should ooze sexual and intellectual confidence and Jones, despite her alliterative comic book name, showed little of that.

AZAZEL -- As Nightcrawler's biological father, Jason Flemyng gets little in the way of dialogue, but shows how truly dangerous an assassin with teleportation can be.  I imagine the inclusion of this character was an attempt to play up the hellfire in Hellfire Club and he definitely works here, even though you get no indication (yet) of a connection to Nightcrawler beyond the powers and appearance. 

DARWIN/ARMANDO MUNOZ -- Edi Gathegi gets a rather thankless role as Darwin, as the character's half-Latino background is dumped in favor of an African-American cab driver.  You would think that in the 1960s, someone would make an inappropriate comment on the character's race, but this is X-Men, after all, so perhaps race isn't as important in a world with blue and red mutants.

ANGEL SALVADORE -- Drawn from the recent Grant Morrison New X-Men era, Zoe Kravitz gets to play Angel with a stripper background, which means she's the likely one to flip right back to Team Hellfire Club.  She's there to give the X-Men someone else to fight, nothing more.

RIPTIDE/JANOS QUESTED -- Alex Gonzalez has an even more thankless role as Riptide, another one-note character without dialogue designed as X-Men villain fodder.  He does, however, look far more stylish in a three-piece suit than his comics version does in a costume, and his powers are visually impressive enough to make you wonder why Marvel doesn't use him more.

VARIOUS CAMEOS -- Several fun cameos for comics fans and TV geeks abound, ranging from Rebecca Romijn appearing as an older, adult form of Mystique, Twin Peaks' Ray Wise as the Secretary of State, Michael Ironside as a U.S. Naval captain, and Doctor Who's own Vincent Van Gogh, Tony Curran, as a CIA agent taken out by Azazel.  However, there's one other really special cameo...

WOLVERINE/JAMES "LOGAN" HOWLETT CAMEO -- In a brief, hilarious scene, Hugh Jackman returns as Wolverine long enough to tell Professor X and Magneto to go fuck themselves during their recruitment drive.  Brilliant.

OBLIGATORY STAN LEE CAMEO -- Not so obligatory, apparently.  No sign of "The Man" anywhere, I'm sad to report.

All in all, X-Men: The Last Stand definitely holds its own with the first two X-Men films and successfully relaunches the characters for at least another two films should the box office in a crowded summer season prove justifiable enough.  Bringing in some replacement team members like Polaris or perhaps Thunderbird and Sunfire is a must, though, and they might want to use an additional villain.  Hmmm...Since Moira MacTaggert has been introduced, how about Proteus



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. X-Men: First Class (2011)
9. X2: X-Men United (2003)
10. X-Men (2000)
11. Thor (2011)
12. Batman (1989)
13. Superman II (1981)
14. Iron Man 2 (2010)
15. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
16. Hellboy (2004)
17. Superman Returns (2006)
18. Sin City (2005)
19. 300 (2007)
20. The Crow (1994)

Your friendly neighborhood movie reviewer,

Charles

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Doctor Who Anime Project is Complete!


I've been following the piecemeal postings of Paul "OtaKing" Johnson on YouTube for some time now and I'm glad to report that he's finally finished his Japanese anime style Doctor Who trailer that has taken him over two years to complete.

Johnson's love for Doctor Who shines through this whole 12-minute animated video, which cut and pastes various audio and sound effect clips from the series' history into a new story starring Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor.  Throughout the trailer, you can see the Daleks, the Cybermen, both the Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley Masters, Davros, Brigadier Alastair Gordon-Lethbridge Stewart, and even Sutekh!

You can check out the video below and think about how much work Johnson must have put into this incredible project.  Oh, and be sure to stay past the closing credits...

The Future of Comics is Futury Futuristic


It's been a pretty eventful week for comics, with publisher DC Comics announcing their reboot/relaunch/reset/rewind/restart/reload of the DC Universe and making these titles available digitally the same day they arrive in comic shops.  This, of course, has sent readers and retailers into an understandable tizzy, as everyone struggles to figure out what's changed and whether they can live with it or not.

So being the dutiful Doctor Who obsessed fan that I am, I left a timey-wimey note for my future self to let me know how things are going to turn out and if the future of my beloved hobby is indeed assured.  Thanks to a handy-dandy crack in the fabric of time and space, I just received a response from my 2021 self and here's what he (or is that I?) had to say...

Hello, Charles!  Greetings and salutations from Future Me in the year 2021!

Having remembered you sending me your note, I was more than glad to know that you hadn't somehow forgotten to write it and somehow affected the course of my history/your future/whatever.  So I take it that you're quite concerned about the future of comics.  Perfectly understandable, considering everything that happens in 2011, but I'll try to give you some idea of what you have to look forward to in the years ahead...

First of all, DC and Marvel still print some comics on paper, if you can believe it.  Oh, it's nothing like it was in your day, but they're still around here and there.  They've become something of a niche market for certain collectors, kind of like those people who preferred vinyl records over CDs in your time.  They like to think they're offbeat and hip, while most of us realize they just want to be different for the sake of being different.

Of course, this means that some comic shops are still around as well.  In an economic form of natural selection, the really good ones survive to become quaint shops for those "too cool for the room" paper comics collectors.  The rest, especially those dingy hole-in-the-wall stores staffed by fat thirty-year-olds with no grasp of underarm deodorant technology, gradually blink out of existence.  Losing them was a bit sad, in a way, almost like seeing old drive-in movie theaters slowly fade into history.

Comic book conventions also take a considerable hit.  With digital comics becoming the norm, there's little need to go to convention centers or hotel ballrooms to buy something you can just download.  As a result, conventions have shifted their focus to creator appearances and Cosplay, along with DC and Marvel giving presentations about upcoming movie and TV projects.  You sometimes find the occasional dealer that actually sells paper comics, though, and yes, Adam West, Burt Ward and Lou Ferrigno are still signing autographs.  Seriously.

Oh, and watch out for ComiXology.  As demand for digital comics increases, their servers have a hard time keeping up and...well...what ultimately happens isn't pretty.  This triggers a huge debate about digital comics storage, but the good news is that it eventually results in comics you can store in your own collection instead of accessing them from a company's website.  Some prefer cloud storage, some prefer portable storage devices, but at least there's a sense of collecting comics once again and that's definitely a good thing.

See?  Not the end of the world, after all.  This whole digital comics thing is still pretty new to you, so there'll be some bumps along the way as adjustments are made and technology advances.  You're going to love your iPad 4 and especially the--Ah, but that would be telling.  Just enjoy the ride, okay?

Oh, and because I know you're already wondering about this, yes, Doctor Who is still on and still the greatest show in the galaxy.  The Fourteenth Doctor is brilliant!

Be seeing you...eventually,

Charles