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Spider-Man Trade Post: Big Time & Matters Of Life And Death

February 5, 2015

amazing spider-man big time The Amazing Spider-Man: Big Time (Marvel)
Written by Dan Slott, drawn by Humberto Ramos with Neil Edwards & Stefano Caselli
Collects Amazing Spider-Man #648-651

Want to know something? I’ve never really read Spider-Man comics. I’ve loved just about every incarnation I’ve seen on TV, some of the movies and really dig the idea of the characters, but every time I asked someone to recommend a definitive Spider-Man run from the modern era, there wasn’t much of a general consensus. That all changed in the past few years when Dan Slott took over the book. He was part of the rotation when the line was slimmed down to just Amazing Spider-Man after One More Day, but eventually took the reigns himself. I actually tried getting into the run with New Ways To Die, but it didn’t stick. Still, I wanted to give it a shot and Big Time seemed like the place to go.

And boy, was it! I think I’m in love with this run and have already requested the next six or seven volumes from the library. Much like with Jonathan Hickman’s Fantastic Four run that I love so much, Slott takes what the general public knows about the character while also incorporating new elements and (I assume) offering plenty of tasty bits for longtime fans. No, I didn’t know that Aunt May was married to J. Jonah Jameson’s dad or that JJJ had been elected mayor, but those details didn’t derail me at any point from enjoying the story. Even when characters with highly complicated back stories like Hobgoblin and Mac Gargan come into play, Slott conveys the exact right amount of information without coming across as a mega info dump.

But, you don’t stay on a book for so long just because you write stories that are easy for me to read. You stay on a book because you create great stories with characters readers can’t get enough of. I’m reminded of the love I had for Peter Parker when I watched the 90s cartoon. Sure he has the problems he’s always had (or new versions), but he’s also not a total sad sack about them as he was in Spider-Man 2. In fact, as these two books move along, things start going really well for Pete as he scores a killer new job. But these are comics and we’re talking about Spider-Man, so it can’t really last, can it?

amazing spider-man matters of life and deathThe Amazing Spider-Man: Matters of Life and Death (Marvel)
Written by Dan Slott with Fred Van Lente, drawn by Stefano Caselli, Humberto Ramos, Marcos Martin, et al
Collects Amazing Spider-Man #652-657, 654.1

The fun times start to decline for Spider-Man and Peter in this volume as Smythe attacks J. Jonah Jameson’s family and loved ones with an army of insect-enhanced people who share his distaste for the former Daily Bugle Editor-In-Chief. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Smythe makes good on his threat and offs someone Jonah loves and, even though I’ve only read these few issues with this character, I’d grown quite fond of them and felt pretty darn bad myself.

Though nowhere near as bad as Peter who shuts down a bit before deciding that he’s not going to let anyone else die. Leading up to that, though, we get Amazing Spider-Man #655, an issue that deals with death and loss in such a raw, real way that it’s easily one of the best, most honest comic books I’ve ever read.

There’s a lot more going on in these books as well including the first appearance of Flash Thompson as Venom (which spun out into its own series), Parker’s new workmates and what they think they know about Spider-Man and not one, but TWO different costumes for our hero. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff.

Most of all, I love how fully Slott embraces Peter Parker’s intelligence. Before I worked at Wizard and was exposed to a lot more comics, I never really thought about how Parker fits up there with Banner, Stark and Richards, but he does and Slott goes right in for that idea. Smart is sexy and nerds are cool. We need more of that pretty much everywhere.

I’m also a big fan of the artwork in these books. Ramos is an artist I generally associate with horror comics like Crimson, but drawing Spider-Man is in his blood! He mixes the flexibility of the character with the ability to capture facial expressions perfectly AND kill it when it comes to the villains. I also quite enjoy Caselli’s style and have since I first saw him draw Secret Warriors. And, boy, I hope Martin won all the awards for Amazing #655. The script for that was top notch, but the art came up to the same level.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: She-Ra’s Crystal Castle

February 3, 2015
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My three year old daughter has discovered and fallen in love with She-Ra in the past few months. So, it seemed like a good time to go back and scope out some of the commercials Mattel made back in the 80s to appeal the young girls they wanted to sell these toys to. Growing up I was pretty hardcore into He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, but I honestly don’t remember much about his sister She-Ra. I not only didn’t watch the show, but possibly blocked out the whole franchise, which is odd because I have memories of other “girl-centric” franchises of the day like My Little Pony, Cabbage Patch and the like.

So, I’ve been looking at a lot of this stuff with fresh eyes and think there’s a lot of solid, interesting ideas here. In fact, I’m pretty sure She-Ra would make a better movie than He-Man, but that’s neither here nor there, really. I love this spot for all the usual reasons. I dig seeing kids play with toys and am a longtime playset fan. It is interesting to me how restrained the girls are in this commercial though. Were this a commercial for a “boy toy” the little guys would be going crazy for the new piece of play equipment, but these girls look at the Crystal Castle almost reverentially. They should have been able to show their excitement for such a cool toy!

Halloween Scene: My Halloween Watch List

January 29, 2015

Goodness gracious! I was looking through my unpublished drafts and found this post about the rest of the horror movies I watched during October. There’s some good stuff in here, so let’s jump back in time a few months and think scary thoughts!

dawn of the dead originalAfter a super busy September and October, I’m still catching up on all of the movies I watched for work and fun. After focusing on new films early on in the season, I decided to go through my movie collection and Netflix to make a list of films I wanted to watch leading up to Halloween. The list had a total of 26 films, though I wound up removing five. All told, I watched 13 plus the seven films making up the original Halloween franchise. I’m saving a few of them for another post, but I did want to throw out a few thoughts about what turned out to be a major rewatch experience.

As it turned out, zombies were a huge part of this year’s list. Dawn and Day Of The Dead easily made the list along with Dance Of The Dead, the Dawn remake and World War Z. I didn’t get to those last two, but I keep seeing more and more things in those two Romero movies that I love. I’ve been seeing a lot of people dump on the zombie genre lately. To them I say, watch those two movies. They are amazing films, not just horror flicks. Meanwhile, I still have a great time with Dance which is just super impressive when you take into account it’s a low budget film that doesn’t look it. This is easily one of my favorite zombie movies from the past few decades. Read more…

Books Of Oa: War Of The Green Lanterns & Aftermath

January 28, 2015

green lantern war of the green lanternsGreen Lantern: War of the Green Lanterns (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, Tony Bedard & Peter J. Tomasi, drawn by Doug Mahnke, Tyler Kirkham, Fernando Passarin, Ed Benes & Ardian Syaf
Collects Green Lantern #63-67, Green Lantern Corps #58-60 & Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #8-10

After the events of Blackest Night, the Green Lantern books had a little time to do their own thing before coming back together for the next big event, War Of The Green Lanterns. As it turned out, this also marked the end of this run in the old DC continuity as Flashpoint soon followed and everything was replaced with the New 52, though the GL books seemed to come through mostly unchanged (at least as I’ve seen in the first few volumes of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps). For reference, the volumes that lead up to War Of The Green Lanterns include GL: Brightest Day, GLC: Revolt Of The Alpha Lanterns and The Weaoponer and Emerald Warriors.

Alright, so the basics of this big event are that Krona, the being who looked back on the origins of the universe and accidentally unleashed evil is still around as a shrunken, crazy Guardian. He’s collected all of the emotional entities, trapped most of the main Lanterns in the Book of the Black, possessed the Guardians with the entities and put Parallax back in the main power battery to infect and control all existing GLs. Since they already had experience with Parallax, Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, John Stewart and Guy Gardner are able to resist long enough to ditch their rings and eventually put on new ones. Hal goes with Yellow, Kyle Blue, John Indigo and Guy Red.

From there it’s a matter of them figuring out how to master these new rings while also saving the galaxy from an army of mind-controlled Green Lanterns, including the biggest one of all, Mogo. Incredibly hard decisions have to be made, but in the end the heroes come through with a very hard-fought victory that results in one of them getting ousted from the Corps.

While the idea of yet another big GL crossover might not seem like the most interesting thing in the world, I will say that this one offered a lot that the others didn’t. For one thing, the rainbow of Lanterns is not around aside from our four main heroes. I also enjoyed how it focused mainly on the four Earth GLs working together, something that didn’t happen in the other events until the last few chapters. Also, while the universe might seem crowded with so many different and new Lanterns, this story really focuses on the GLs which is kind of nice.

war of the green lanterns aftermath War of the Green Lanterns: Aftermath (DC)
Written by Tony Bedard, Peter J. Tomasi & Scott Kolins, drawn by lots and lots of folks
Collects War Of The Green Lanterns Aftermath #1-2, Green Lantern Corps #61-63 & Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #11-13

As you can imagine, the stories included in War Of The Green Lanterns: Aftermath deal with everything that happened in the wake of that story. There’s a plot to kill Sinestro who has a Green Lantern ring now, everyone hates John Stewart for taking out a major player in the Corps and the other Corps members seem to generally dislike Earthmen because they cause so much trouble. Of course, they also seem to forget that, without Earthmen like Hal and Kyle there wouldn’t be a Corps at all, but I guess small details like that are easily forgotten in the post-battle, post traumatic stress-filled Oa.

Overall, the tone of these stories is pretty down, but that makes sense from a story perspective. On the other hand, Guy gets to have a bit of fun as he goes on three one-off adventures in the final issues of Emerald Warriors, one of which teams him up with Batman. But, the sad tone actually makes sense on another level when you realize this is the very last Green Lantern Corps collection set in the old universe. As I mentioned above, the GL books made it through the change pretty unscathed, but there’s something to be said about closing out on something of a down note.

Everyone’s Right, Guardians Of The Galaxy Is Awesome

January 28, 2015

guardians of the galaxyI was a huge fan of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s Guardians Of The Galaxy series which came out of the Annihilation events, though apparently I never wrote about it here on UM (though I did review a trade collecting the first issues of the original series). The mix of comedy, action and cosmic threats made for a thoroughly entertaining series that seemed perfect for the big screen, even if characters like Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Drax, Gamora, Mantis and Cosmo were completely unknown to a larger audience.

When the actual film version was announced, I was shocked, but excited. I got even more jazzed when Slither director James Gunn was revealed as the captain of this ship. Throw in a stellar cast including Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, John C. Reilly, Benicio del Toro, Glenn Close, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, Karen Gillan, Josh Brolin and Michael Rooker. Of course, I rarely see movies in the theaters anymore, so it took until last weekend for me to see the film which everyone loved. I almost never say this — just look at my initial review of Cabin in the Woods — but this is a movie that lived up to the hype.

I won’t bother going into the film’s plot, because I assume you’ve all seen it, are waiting to see it or have no plans to see it. I will say that I was shocked at how little of the film was spoiled for me going in. I realized as we put the film on — yes, I watched this with my wife and 3-year-old daughter who also both loved it — that I knew very little about the actual story. Sure, I knew about the dancing, the team-up element, the adorable mid-credit sequence and the cheer-worthy post-credits sequence (from my daughter and I, at least), but as far as the actual story went? I was in the dark and that was delightful.

 A lot of people credit this film for being funny as well as action packed and that’s a dead-on assessment. Even after watching the flick three times in four days (like I said, the kid fell in love), I still found myself laughing at Groot, Drax and Rocket. But this isn’t just a fun adventure. There’s also a lot of heart. That opening scene is ROUGH, especially if you’ve lost someone close to you. And if Rocket’s drunken monolog doesn’t hit you hard, there’s something wrong with you. On top of all that, the film is packed with clever ideas. Introducing the adult version of your hero with a dance number on an alien planet? Awesome. Rocket’s plan for getting out of the prison? Genius. The way these wildly unique characters fight on their own and together? Fantastic.

I do have three complaints about the film, though, but only two of them are valid. First, I really disliked that moment in the beginning where Quill says he forgot about the alien woman. I also don’t like how Drax called Gamora a whore towards the end, which makes very little sense. I was primed to see both of these flaws because of the people I follow on Twitter, but I agree that they didn’t need to be there and could have easily been changed. The third complaint is that it took me a while to get used to the different versions of these characters, specifically Gamora. In the comics I’ve read Gamora is a ruthless warrior with little compassion. In this version she’s a lot more human which works perfectly for this story, but took me some time to get used to.

We had such a fun time watching this film that I feel compelled to buy it and add it to my collection. That hasn’t happened with a new film since…Man Of Steel I think. Going even further, this movie got me excited for what’s going on in the Marvel Studios films leading into both Avengers: Infinity War. The Guardians have to be involved right? They’ve just gotta be!

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Big Blastin’ Rocket Raccoon

January 27, 2015

I know the whole world fell in love with Guardians Of The Galaxy last year, but we only got around to seeing it this past weekend. Even with the delayed viewing, I think it’s safe to say that this movie become an instant favorite at least amongst my daughter and I (we watched it three times in four days). After giving it a look, I was reminded of a few GOTG collectibles I got sent from Hasbro back when the movie came out including this Big Blastin’ Rocket Raccoon! At first my daughter was terrified of this thing, but after watching the movie, she loves playing with it and already knows all the lines!

E-Book Triple Feature: The Devil In The Kitchen, Red Rain & Off My Rocker

January 23, 2015

the devil in the kitchen I don’t read nearly as much as I used to. Part of the reason is that I’m a slow reader, part is that I love reading comics and part is that, thanks to having a pair of kiddos, I don’t have the time or attention span to devote to the hobby as I once did. However, I have discovered that my three-year-old daughter’s bedtime is a good time to get some reading done. After I read her books, I lay next to her bed in the dark until she doses off. So, as long as I have a solid book on my phone, I’m pretty good to go.

The first of the bunch in recent memory was Marco Pierre White’s The Devil in the Kitchen. I knew absolutely nothing about White going into this book, but it looked like a British version of Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential, so I bit for a couple bucks (like most of my e-books, I got it on the cheap) and really enjoyed the experience.

White’s story begins as a child (as most do) and ventures on up through his development as a chef, to the leader of his own kitchen and ultimately a world-renowned figure in the world of food. He gave jobs to people like Gordon Ramsey and Curtis Stone  while creating award-winning, lavish restaurants in the 80s and beyond. While their stories are different in many ways, if you like Bourdain’s books, you’ll like this one.

Book Review Red RainRed Rain by R.L. Stine is one of the few fiction novels I’ve read all the way through on my phone. This was another discounted book that I grabbed. From the title and the cover, I assumed this was a vampire story, but was way off base. This one follows a woman who goes to a small island for her travel blog but after a devastating hurricane, seems changed to the point where she adopts a pair of creepy twin boys and brings them to live with her husband, daughter and son in New York.

This was an interesting story that never quite grabbed me. For some reason I was never able to zero in on what these kids look like which was a major barrier given plot points I don’t want to spoil. I also had a really hard time sympathizing with the mother character. The father becomes the punching bag, but while he’s getting dumped on, it felt like I was supposed to wonder more about the wife, but instead, I found her far too easy to write off and ignore. Because of that, I also found her to be a wildly annoying character to the point where I almost stopped reading.

But, I did wind up enjoying the end of the book which finally revealed what the kids were up to. I liked how all that played out, so while I didn’t necessarily enjoy all of this book, it ended in a way that I appreciated which is nice because I used to read Fear Street and Goosebumps books constantly as a kid. I don’t say this often, but after I was done, I felt like Red Rain would have made a better movie than a book.

off my rockerOff My Rocker: One Man’s Tasty, Twisted, Star-Studded Quest for Everlasting Music by Kenny Weissberg was another random purchase for a few bucks (the equivalent of the going through the Barnes & Noble discount table). I knew nothing about Weissberg or his deal, but when I read that he was a DJ, music writer and concert promoter, I was easily sold.

Right off the bat, this book reminded me of three others I’ve read since starting this blog. It’s got a little of The Real Animal House mixed with Sonic Boom and some of George Hamilton’s autobiography Don’t Mind If I Do in that it’s one man’s (mostly) fond remembrance of an important time in music, told from the inside. Like Hamilton, he used his confidence and skills to move from one part of life to another, often taking chances and risks that paid off.

To get into a bit more detail, Weissberg grew up a huge music fan on the East Coast and eventually wound up becoming one of the biggest freeform DJs in Colorado. Talking about music lead to interviewing musicians on the air and a career in concert and record reviews in print. When that work dried up, he fronted a band before moving to California to promote concerts, a gig that lasted him 20-something years. Along the way he met a variety of music professionals who he doesn’t mind writing about. Weissberg tells his stories with a good nature that brings you into the tales instead of feeling like you’re on the outside and also lets you in on previously unknown details without ever getting mean.

In addition to enjoying stories about people who make their own way in life, no matter how improbably, I also appreciated how Weissberg took this thing he loved and turned it into a series of careers that lasted several decades. That’s something I hope I can say down the line, though I just realized I’ve been doing what I do for about 10, so I guess I’m doing alright.

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