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Trade Post: Tomboy By Liz Prince

September 2, 2014

tomboy by liz prince Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir (Zest Books)
Written & drawn by Liz Prince

Last month I got an email asking if I’d be interested in reviewing a copy of Liz Prince’s Tomboy (Zest Books) and I jumped at the chance. I admit that I haven’t read Prince’s other works like Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed? or Alone Forever, but I was immediately drawn to the concept of an autobiographic graphic novel focusing on a woman who grew up trying to avoid society’s imposed gender norms.

As it happens, I’m one of those guys that didn’t really think much about gender relations until I had a daughter. To be fair, I grew up with a single mother for a few years before she remarried, always had great respect for women and, because the girls in my grade school classes were so smart, assumed ladies were the more intelligent sex. So, it wasn’t like I was some he-man woman-hater going into father hood. I feel like I was a fairly open-minded dude, but there was just so much I never even thought about because of how I was born.

And that’s a great place to dive into Tomboy, because it’s about a young girl who, from an early age, realized that she didn’t fit into the rubric of what it meant to be “a girl.” So, she mentally eschewed everything that made her think of “girliness” and focused on being “more like a boy.” As she grew up, however, she realized that this made her something of an outcast from both groups. Eventually Prince made some similarly minded friends, met one of those key adults who “got her” and became this awesome person who makes autobiographical comics about her life.

Even though I might not have thought about these things much before the last few years, I did find myself relating to Prince on a variety of levels. I had a solid group of friends in grade and high school, but I was small, sorta smart and unathletic. I assumed from watching a lifetime of TV and movies that this could make me a target for bullying and did my best to just fly under the radar. As it turns out, Prince was a lot braver than I was as a kid.

But there were other personal connections I made to this work. As it turns out Prince and I are the same age, so the “boys’ toys” that she was into as a kid were the same ones I was into. I think that, had we grown up in the same neighborhood, we would have actually been pals, especially given our mutual love of all things Ghostbusters and, later, Green Day.

Back to the whole dad-thing, as I said in last week’s episode of The Pop Poppa Nap Cast, I’ve always been concerned about my daughter conforming to society’s ideas about what a girl can be. As such, I got worried when it became clear that she was a gigantic fan of princesses, ponies and all things pink. Soon enough, though, I realized that it doesn’t matter what she likes as long as she likes it because it’s something that appeals to her and not something she’s supposed to like. I do my best to offer her plenty of other entertainment options, which she also enjoys. Because of that, I have a daughter who’s been photographed in princess dresses holding a football and wielding lightsabers, so I feel like I’m doing alright in this whole thing.

One key element that I took away from Tomboy is that talking to your kids about societal norms and ideas is a pretty good idea. From the book, it seems like Prince’s parents supported her desire to not where dresses, but maybe they didn’t actually sit down with her and explain what was going on. It wasn’t until Prince met an adult who worked with her mom that was into making zines that she realized that it wasn’t her sex or gender she was mad at, but the ideas that people place on women and girls. Hopefully, that’s something I’ll be able to impart on my daughter so she can avoid some of the trials and tribulations. Then again, I have a feeling my awesomely headstrong daughter will be the kind of person who wants to make her own mistakes (something that will drive her movies-offer-enough-experience-for-me dad nuts).

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Toy Story Of Terror Spots

August 26, 2014

Over on PopPoppa.com I gave a glowing review of Toy Story Of Terror. It’s highly recommended if you or yours are big Toy Story fans. In addition to the Halloween special, there’s also a trio of shorts and three commercials based on the characters appearing in the title story. Above you can see the Combat Carl PSA which obviously isn’t a toy commercial, but does share the spirit of the G.I. Joe ones from days of yore. The Blu-ray also includes spots for Old Timer and Transitron that will make fogies like myself smile with nostalgic glee.

The Chronological Carpenter: Someone’s Watching Me (1978)

August 25, 2014

someone's watching me shotHey, wait a minute. The last film I wrote about for The Chronological Carpenter was Assault On Precinct 13 and now I’m doing Someone’s Watching Me. What about Carpenter’s finest effort Halloween? Well, I put the film on again last week and had a revelation: I know that movie so well that I have trouble tapping in if I don’t really want to watch it. Basically, I need to be in the mood and it just so happened that I wasn’t. I figured it was okay to skip over because I’ve written about the film not once, but twice, so we’re pretty well covered in that department.

I had also gotten the Someone’s Watching Me DVD from Netflix in the mail and didn’t want to sit on it for too long, so in it went. The film is an interesting one because John Carpenter wrote it as a feature script that was eventually turned into a TV movie that he wound up directing in about 10 days. The film follows a New York woman named Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton) moving into an LA high rise where she soon discovers she has a peeping tom stalker living in the building across the way from her.

someone's watching me dvdLeigh can’t rely on the police to help her because, technically, this guy hasn’t broken the law, but she does rely on her friend and co-worker Sophie (Adrienne Barbeau) as well as her boyfriend Paul (David Birney) to figure out who it is.

The film certainly has some limitations. You can see that it was a TV movie, but I will say I was surprised when I found out it was filmed in so few days. It might look like a TV movie, but there’s lots of great lighting and camera tricks going on to the point where it seems like they had a lot more time. When it comes to the light, I was actually surprised with how much of the film takes place during the day. That probably took away some of the film’s potential suspense, but it makes sense when you find out how little time they had to make the film.

Overall, though, Someone’s Watching Me hit several of my personal fear buttons. Even though the basic plot feels a little archaic these days (or maybe just overly-trod) there’s still something primally scary about a predator constantly watching you from a distance, especially one as portrayed in this film who has so much power and control over not only what he can see and hear, but also the building in which she lives. She has very little agency until she really puts her mind to figuring out what’s going on, which is super empowering.

someones-watching-me-movie-posterThe other big fear on display in this film is having a big, life threatening problem that the authorities can’t or won’t help with. This is a huge part of the horror genre in general and probably one of the reasons I like it, because I can embrace that fear to an extent without it actually mattering in the real world. Leigh gets to the point where the cops are involved, but not actually doing anything, so she has to take the law into her own hands and figure out exactly what’s going on. I also kind of hate the sound of old phones ringing, especially at night. So there was a lot going on to give me the creeps

All of that leads to the final scene with her in her place with the watcher which is just a damn great few minutes of creepy filmmaking. In a way, it’s very reminiscent of Laurie’s final battle with Michael Myers in Halloween where the potential victim is trapped in a fairly small space with her attacker and just barely makes it out alive. Watching gives Leigh a lot more agency, though, by having her save her own self. Also, it sure looked to me like the killer was wearing blue coveralls. Remind you of anyone?

While this movie isn’t nearly as perfect as Halloween, it does have a lot of greatness, much of which comes from Hutton who carries the film. She goes from tough New Yorker to justifiably terrified victim to enraged investigator and lots of places in-between. I also really enjoyed Barabeau who played the lighthearted best friend instead of the more serious siren or bombshell that I’m used to. Both her and Hutton feel like fun people to hang out with because they’re actually funny and clever when joking around with each other which is not always the case in horror. It was also fun seeing Len Lesser, better known as Uncle Leo from Seinfeld!

All in all I really enjoyed Someone’s Watching Me. I won’t say that it’s this amazing find from Carpenter’s TV movie past like Spielberg’s ridiculously amazing Duel. However, I did really enjoy the film as well as the six or seven minute featurette of Carpenter talking about how he did this film the same year as Halloween AND Elvis. A few weeks after this film was done, he started work on Halloween, so fans of the latter owe a lot to this one for giving Carpenter more experience in the horror realm, which helped him figure out how to bring Michael Myers to life.

Moving forward with The Chronological Carpenter, I SHOULD watch Elvis, but that movie’s 170 minutes and there’s no way I’ll be able to get through that in more than a dozen sittings, so I’m going to pass for now. That will most likely be the last part of Carpenter’s filmography that I skip over. Up next I’ve got The Fog, a film I haven’t liked in the past, but hopefully I’ll be able to get my hands on the recent Scream Factory release which I hear is much better. Maybe I’ll watch both versions and see how they’re different. We shall see how that shapes up.

Blasting Off With Europa Report (2013)

August 22, 2014

europa report

Several years back I realized that a lot of strange little movies that I really enjoyed were all distributed by Magnet Releasing. They’re behind Murder Party, Timecrimes, Not Quite Hollywood, Return To Sleepaway Camp, Ong-Bak 2 and 3, District B-13: Ultimatum, the amazing Universal Solider: Day Of Reckoning and many more. In a lot of ways it felt like stumbling across a really cool indie record label that just kept putting out entertainment you wanted to shove in your brain. So, I started following them on Twitter and  got pretty excited when they started hyping a sci-fi film called Europa Report. I didn’t know much about it aside from the fact that it featured a small cast in a spaceship traveling somewhere where something bad happened. I also heard it was mostly found footage.

It was that latter piece of information that put me off of the film for a while even after it appeared on Netflix Instant. I’m glad I finally did watch it because this film by director Sebastián Cordero and writer Philip Gelatt really is great. The title refers to Europa One, a ship heading to Jupiter’s moon of the same name to explore its icy surface. The crew consists of William Xu (Daniel Wu), James Corrigan (Sharlto Copley), Daniel Luxembourg (Christian Camargo), Katya Petrova (Karolina Wydra), Andrei Blok (Michael Nyqvist) and Rosa Dasque (Anamaria Marinca). All of the footage is from a cameras either mounted or on board the ship (or on their persons in the event of leaving the ship) and is presented as a kind of documentary about what happened with the ship. So, with that set-up, we know something bad is going to happen and it’s just a matter of finding out exactly what it is. 

But, there are several tricks played on the audience that actually worked really well. I didn’t even mind the fact that this is in the vein of my least favorite kind of film — found footage/mockumentary — because it actually makes sense why there are so many cameras around and also why someone would be watching this footage (something that I can’t say for something like The Zombie Diaries).

If you are interested in checking out this film, I recommend just jumping right in. Like I said above, I didn’t know anything about it, so I just went in with very basic information and a lot of assumptions, like that, being a space film, there would probably be some scary aliens. Without knowing if that was actually going to happen or not, I found myself fully absorbed as the crew dwindled towards the end of the film and we got a look at exactly what was going to happen. With that in mind, go out and watch Europa Report!

Marvel Mini Trade Post: Thor Blood Oath, Beyond! & Union Jack London Falling

August 21, 2014

thor blood oath Thor: Blood Oath (Marvel)
Written by Michael Avon Oeming, drawn by Scott Kolins
Collects Thor: Blood Oath #1-6

As you might have noticed, posting’s been a little sporadic around here these days. That’s because our youngest has been a little on the angry side, but also because we’re in the middle of buying a house. I’m super excited to get into a bigger space and have my own office, but to get to that place, we need to do a lot of packing. I started almost immediately, but haven’t tackled the trades on my bookshelf just yet. The other day I pulled out about 10 books I wanted to go through and see if they will make the move. Most of them were collections of minis that I haven’t read in a while.

While on the subject, I’ve got to say that the mid 2000s were a great time for Marvel miniseries’. I was at Wizard at that time and just absorbing as much as I could, including these three books. A common thread through all three of these books — as well as something like the original Agents Of Atlas, Dr. Strange: The Oath and Ares that also came out in that time frame — is that these stories feel timeless. Sure, there’s some continuity in there, but, for the most part, you could hand these books to newbies and they’d have a pretty good idea of what’s happening.

That’s exactly the case with Thor: Blood Oath, one of my all-time favorite Thor stories. In addition to being a timeless tale that takes place sometime after Thor first appeared on Earth, but before he stopped being Don Blake, it also doesn’t revolve around Loki! Guys, I kind of hate Loki. He’s fine in the movies, but I feel like a lot of writers depend on his trickery way too much when penning Thor stories. I realized this while reading a huge stack of 70s and 80s Thor comics a while back and it turned me off of both characters for a while.

So, without Loki, who does our hero face off against? All kinds of mythological characters, actually. Thor’s pals the Warriors Three accidentally kill a shapeshifting giant. To appease the deceased’s father, Thor and the Three agree to acquire a number of items from various realms including Olympus. It’s a really fun, cool trip through Marvel’s various mythological places that also showcases why Thor is so cool. He’s impetuous and heroic and loves his friends, but he also takes his tasks seriously. Basically, Blood Oath is one of those great shared universe comics that takes many of the character’s classic elements, weaves them around a new story through more modern comic storytelling sensibilities and results in a wonderful, self-contained tale that showcases that character really well.

Oeming has long been considered one of the best when it comes to mythology-based superhero comics and he really shows that off well in this book. And then you have Kolins who is just fantastic on this project.He drafts these godlike characters who look as huge and majestic as they should. Both creators work really well together to mix not only the huge action scenes, but also the smaller moments between Thor and his friends. I love when friends love each other in my entertainment.

beyond

Beyond! (Marvel)
Written by Dwayne McDuffie, drawn by Scott Kolins
Collects Beyond! #1-6

Of this batch of minis, Beyond! is probably the least accessible to new readers, but I’m still a huge fan. The book acts as a kind of sequel to Marvel’s Secret Wars, an event that found a bunch of heroes and villains plucked from their homes to fight it out on a new planet. Whoever winds gets whatever they want. For what it’s worth, I’ve never read the original, but will remedy that soon.

The same thing happens here, but with a more eclectic group of characters that includes Hank Pym, The Wasp, Kraven Jr., Medusa, Firebird, The Hood, Gravity and Scorpion-Venom. Deathlok (a personal favorite), Dragon Man and other familiar faces also show up. The line-up itself might be considered a barrier for many because some of them aren’t around anymore or were fairly of-the-moment. Heck, I still don’t really know anything about Firebird, but if you don’t let yourself get too hung up on all that, you should be okay. Personally I like being introduced to some of these characters I don’t know much about and not feeling like that lack of knowledge is inhibiting.

For me personally, the breakout performances here are from Gravity, Hank Pym and Deathlok. Gravity was a new character created by Sean McKeever in another miniseries from that era of the same name. He was a cool, fun new hero who flipped many of the superhero conventions and got to really shine in this crazy scenario. This book also gets into some of the history between Hank and Janet, but not in an overly involved way. Pym probably has the most complicated relationships in comics, but I thought McDuffie did a stellar job of showing this one with Wasp from both sides. And, finally, Deathlok is just so darn cool all around.

The big reveal of who’s behind all this might not be the most shocking one in the world, but it does play with expectations a bit. There’s also a few questions about when and how all this stuff takes place. According to the story, Deathlok has been on this planet for a really long time and he’s seen other heroes and villains who have appeared show up, fight, escape or die. Still, I like that McDuffie took such an odd mix of characters, put them in this alien setting and allowed them to bounce off of each other so well. And, once again, Kolins came in and did his thing so well that I smiled at just about every page.

union jack london falling Union Jack : London Falling (Marvel)
Written by Christos Gage, drawn by Mike Perkins
Collects Union Jack #1-4

Union Jack: London Falling is actually a nice combination of what I like about Blood Oath and Beyond. It’s not only a timeless tale of a cool hero like the former, but also a collection of strange characters I didn’t know much about like the latter. In this case, Union Jack is asked to do some government work (he’d been hunting vampires for a while) as R.A.I.D., an offshoot of A.I.M. plans a huge terrorist attack on London that utilizes a small army of supervillains. Since the timeframe is so short (a few hours) and other heroes aren’t available, Jack teams with former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent La Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine, Arabian Knight and Sabra to save the day. Together they run across the city trying to save as many people as possible while Jack does his best to keep the common man as safe as the rich.

Tone and look-wise, Union Jack feels very much a part of what Ed Brubaker was doing with Captain America. Bru’s book launched the year before this mini came out and both feature darker corners of the Marvel U, espionage and patriotic heroes doing their damndest to save the day. Mike Perkins’ art also looks like it belongs right along with Steve Epting’s thanks to their shared interest in dynamic, bold figures and the darker-yet-shiny color pallet in both books (and Bru’s Uncanny X-Men for what it’s worth). So, if you dig the now-classic run on Cap, give Union Jack a read. Oh, and don’t worry about not knowing who Sabra is, finding out is all part of the fun.

Another common element I found in all three of these books is that they feel like they came from an artistic place. Sometimes, when it comes to a miniseries, especially one that ties into an event, they feel like they were just banged out to make some dough. But, all three of these feel like they were pitches from passionate creators who had a great Thor, Union Jack and Gravity-Deathlok-etc. story to tell. You can feel that passion coming through from the writers and artists as it comes across the page so well. So, while this reading experience might not have lightened my packing load, it did remind me of some great self-contained comics that easily earned their places on my soon-to-be-much-larger bookshelf.

Wonder Woman Trade Post: Guts & Iron

August 13, 2014

wonder woman vol 2 gutsWonder Woman Volume 2: Guts (DC)
Written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang with Tony Akins
Collects Wonder Woman #7-12

While ordering the first batch of Greg Rucka Wonder Woman comics from the library, I realized I’d read the first volume of Brian Azzarello’s New 52 Wonder Woman series, but hadn’t gone on beyond that. So, I looked around, requested the second and third volumes and started reading. But before that, I went back and gave the first volume a re-read because my memory is deteriorating at an alarming rate.

The major information points from the first book involved Diana discovering that she’s not made of clay, but instead Zeus’ daughter, meeting a young woman named Zola who’s carrying another child of Zeus and some of the family drama and politics that come from being a member of the Greek god clan. But all of that was really set up for these two volumes. The great thing about all three of these books is that Azzarello finds fun and interesting ways of giving the heroes what they want and then almost instantly taking it away in a way that shuffles a lot of characters around.

In the case of Guts, Wonder Woman teams up with Lennox, Hermes, Eros and Hephaestus figure out a way to get Zola back from Hades who wants her as his bride. Basically, these are the good members of the gods who feel sorry for this poor girl who happened to fall for the wrong guy. Without giving too much away, Diana ensures Zola’s safety, gets herself out of Hell and essentially saves the day, but things don’t go well for Zola’s baby by the end when it turns out that one of the people in their camp is a traitor.

wonder woman vol 3 iron Wonder Woman Volume 3: Iron (DC)
Written by Brian Azzarello, drawn by Cliff Chiang with Tony Akins, Dan Green, Goran Sudzuka, Amilcar Pinna & Rick Burchett
Collects Wonder Woman #0, 13-18

As you might expect given what I said above, Wonder Woman’s new goal in the third book is getting Zola’s baby back to her. She’s still got most of her crew with her as well as Hera who adds a great deal of comic relief, but also a new comrade in the form of Orion of the New Gods. Along the way we also get to meet more of Diana and Lennox’s half brothers and sisters as they are all modern illegitimate children of Zeus. As with the previous volumes, there’s plenty of trickery going around on all sides, but at the end of the book we get something of a happy ending, but with another looming danger, which is exactly what comics should have.

One of the really interesting things Azzarello does in this book is doing something new and different with the Greek gods. These are characters who have been around forever and been interpreted in a myriad of ways, especially if you read Wonder Woman comics. I’ve seen them as the robe-wearing gods of myth, human-like business people and just about everything in between. Azzarello mixes some of that old mythology with his own new ideas and makes a family that’s often as interesting as the title character herself. Plus, there’s the addition of Diana’s fellow Zeus progeny and the connection to the New Gods that I assume gets fleshed out in later volumes.

As much as I liked these volumes there were a few odd sticking points for me, though I will admit right away that I might have just missed these points in Azzarello’s rapid fire dialog. I didn’t think the fact that Zeus had gone missing was very well conveyed. There was also the matter of Diana removing her gauntlets and being super powerful. Why didn’t she do this earlier when she was in danger? It was a cool move, but it kinda felt like something added in just to be a cool move. I also personally miss the majesty that used to come along with the character that’s basically gone in these pages, but were all over the place in Rucka’s run. Basically, these are two different takes on the character and each writer is doing or did their own thing which is great.

One thing that did surprise me is how completely separate this feels from the rest of the New 52 DCU. There’s next to no mention of any other heroes or villains, which is an interesting choice. Orion and Highfather of the New Gods show up, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t appearing anywhere else at the time. This is good and bad for various reasons. On one hand, this is a great story that should just do its thing. On the other, what’s the point of being part of a shared comic book universe if there’s no sharing? It’s a similar concern I have with Scott Snyder’s Batman, which is the other New 52 book I really love. As with Batman, I’m pretty much onboard for everything Azzarello wants to do with this character and I’ll keep checking in to see what’s going on in that particular book.

Remembering Robin Williams

August 12, 2014

Like a lot of people, I heard about Robin Williams’ passing last night. As it happened my dad, who just moved out here to New York on Sunday, was sitting here as there was a special report breaking in on a Jeopardy rerun with the sad story. Thinking about it, this seems strangely appropriate because one of my fondest memories of the comedian involved driving around with my dad.

robin williams live at the met

When I was younger, as I’ve said many times, my dad introduced me to the world of 70s and 80s comedies like Caddyshack, Blues Brothers, Fletch and the like. But the comedy education carried over into the world of stand-up records, specifically Robin Williams’ A Night At The Met record. The experience was so surreal. Not only was it hilarious and opened my eyes to even more of this man’s talents, but was also a cool grown-up moment where he shared this thing from the adult world with me.

But my love of Williams and his films goes much deeper than that. I had a vague understanding of Mork & Mindy from childhood when that era of TV was a lot more accessible in reruns, but by the time I could really understand entertainment he was everywhere. I don’t remember seeing Good Morning Vietnam, but my folks had it on tape and parts of it just live in my brain. Between that and Dead Poets Society, he solidified himself as an actor who could handle mile-a-second comedy in addition to intense dramatic emotions.

As a child of the 80s and 90s he was everywhere thanks to Aladdin, Hook, Toys (so weird), Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, The Birdcage, Jack and Flubber and on and on and on. Even if you didn’t see some of those movies, they were so ubiquitous that you couldn’t help but for what seemed like a solid picture of this man, but clearly there was a lot more going on, a darkness that seems unfortunately common when it comes to incredibly funny people.

That darkness came to light with the underrated dark comedy Death To Smoochy and thrillers like Insomnia, One Hour Photo and The Final CutGood Will Hunting and What Dreams May Come also took some of those similar turns and came out during my most intense theater-going period. Some people weren’t down for this change in tone for the comedian, but I thought he pulled off these parts incredibly well. Many of these movies really stuck with me, even though I’ve only seen most of them once.

I’m not nearly as familiar with his more recent work, but I still feel a very strong connection to this Williams and the entertainment he created during my formative years. He was always there and he was always funny, even if the content might not have been what I was looking for personally. I’m sad to hear he’s gone and even sadder that he might have taken his own life, especially after making so many people happy for so many years.

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