I’m On The Fence About Toy Hunter

I think I finally know what it’s like for my inlaws when they watch Antique Roadshow. They’ve been dealing with, buying and selling antiques for years now and any time I’ve seen them watch that show, they talk to the TV like their favorite football team keeps calling all the wrong plays. What spawned this feeling of TV-based camaraderie? The Travel Channel’s new show Toy Hunter. The show follows Jordan Hembrough as he runs around the country checking out toy fans’ collections, buying things and flipping them, basically a more geeky and focused American Pickers, a show I love.

On one hand, I love the show. This is one of my two geek loves showcased on television, how could I not? Hell, I was one of a handful of guys who can claim to have been editors of ToyFare, the premiere magazine for collectors. My love of toys goes back further and deeper than my love of comics, so seeing him dig through someone’s collection and come out with Darkseid’s spaceship or a super-rare Luke Skywalker figure is pretty amazing.

My problem with the show is that I know too much and it feels a little insulting. Let me explain. Hembrough spends a good deal of the show explaining why a certain toy or collectible is awesome to the person who purchased it, ostensibly because it’s valuable. It feels a little condescending to me, but I’m 90% sure that’s because I already know why most of the things are awesome. It’s not Hembrough’s fault, though there’s something about his character that I can’t quite get in synch with so far. However, I’ve seen about four episodes and there’s been a piece or two that I knew nothing about, so hearing him explain it was actually helpful.

Will I keep watching Toy Hunter? Maybe. We still haven’t figured out how our fall TV schedule is going to shake out, so I’m not sure how our Wednesdays are looking. I like it enough to check out a marathon or something on a lazy Sunday, but a problem with Travel Channel for us is that it doesn’t actually show up on our TV guide channel. But, for as long as I can remember and as long as nothing else conflicts with it, I’ll keep checking the show out.

Quick Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes A Game Of Shadows (2011)

Longtime readers will remember that I quite liked the first Guy Ritchie/Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law Sherlock Holmes flick. It was a good mix of period piece fun, action and the larger aspects of the Sherlock mythology that I’m familiar with as someone who has only read one of the Doyle stories. I had just as much fun when my wife and I watched the sequel from last year which featured Downey Jr., Law, Rachel McAdams, Noomi Rapace and Mad Men‘s Jared Harris. As with the previous installment, I thought the casting was spot on, everyone showed up to play and the result is a really fun, somewhat cerebral action flick.

Of course, it’s difficult to think of any Sherlock Holmes story without comparing it to the wonderful BBC series Sherlock, which my wife and I also really enjoyed the first series of and are smack in the middle of the second (review coming soon). That series has done such a masterful job of capturing a modern day Holmes, that it’s nearly impossible to watch or read anything else without picturing Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s also important to remember that Sherlock Holmes predated Sherlock and the two can easily co-exist even if you prefer one over the other.

And you know what? I kind of like that there’s two different takes on a character like this. It’s kind of like how Warner Bros. had the Christopher Nolan Batman movies going at the same time as Batman: Brave and the Bold. It shows that these characters are not only somewhat timeless, but also incredibly versatile. Plus, I think it looks neato when we see how Sherlock’s thought process works when he’s about to attack someone or defend himself. I’d be in favor of one of these movies coming out every few years and living forever on Netflix Instant and weekend afternoon movies.

Trade Post: Batman Knightfall Volume 1

Batman Knightfall Volume 1 (DC)
Collects Batman #491-500, Detective #659-666, Showcase 93 #7-8, Shadow of the Bat #16-18 & Vengeance of Bane
Written by Doug Moench, Chuck Dixon & Alan Grant, drawn by Jim Aparo, Norm Breyfogle, Graham Nolan, Jim Balent, Bret Blevins, Klaus Janson & Mike Manley

You guys, I can’t tell you how excited I was when I saw that DC was re-collecting the Batman Knightfall story. If you’re unfamiliar with early 90s Batman comics, a weakened Batman went up against a new bad guy on the street named Bane who released all the villains in Arkham. After trying to stop and recapture all the bad guys, Batman finally goes up against Bane and — as you can see on the cover to the left here — Bane breaks Batman’s back. After this, a guy who has been hanging around for a little bit named Jean-Paul Valley, also known as Azrael, gets named the new Batman. JPV’s a little nutty to be nice about things and Robin realizes this is a problem, but Bruce is worried about finding Tim’s kidnapped dad and their shared doctor who Bruce wants to tell he’s Bats. There’s a lot going on, but what else can you expect from a 630 page book?

The reason I was so excited about this book — and the two that come after it — is because these were really my first Batman comics. I’d read one or two before and knew the character from the Adam West TV show, but these were the first ones I collected. The death of Superman got me into that book and the breaking of Batman got me into this one, I guess I was a little morbid as a kid. Anyway, while I have most of the issues collected therein, this is the very first time I’ve read them in order. I got many of the issues piecemeal, read them and then promptly placed them in bags and boards.

I was surprised by a lot of things reading through this book. First off, I was shocked that Kelly Jones didn’t do any interiors, only covers. This surprised me because what I remember about these stories is mainly his covers (as well as the gatefold foil Joe Quesada one for #500). I was also surprised at how quickly they got to breaking Bats. I assumed it would be towards the end of the book, but it actually takes place around the half way point.

My other surprises were more story based, so they deserve their own paragraph(s). I should note that, even if this book was a complete artistic embarrassment, I would love it because it’s so near and dear to me. While I didn’t think it was embarrassing at all, I was surprised at how flimsy Bane’s reasoning is presented in the book. We see his origins in the Bane one-shot, but his reasoning doesn’t make much sense. Why does he care about Gotham or Batman? Because some guy told him how great it was? I assume the intent is for Bane to compare himself to the highest physical specimen and win, but that falls apart when you release an army of madmen to bend him so you can come in and break him. Along similar lines, I have no idea why Bane hangs out with the trio of goofballs he does, Bird, Trogg and Zombie as they don’t do a whole lot for him.

Another problem I had which might have come from seeing how well this source material was handled in The Dark Knight Rises was that I didn’t get the impending sense of worry and doom with this story that I got in the film. Bane not only releases every crazy into Gotham and breaks Batman’s back IN FRONT OF PEOPLE, but also starts taking over all of the crime in the city, but the normal people we see don’t seem super upset or worried about it. The story lacks a sense of larger urgency that the film absolutely nailed. This is not helped by the inclusion of the Shadow of the Bat issues included in this collection which come right after JPV went out as Batman for the first time and give you three issues of Scarecrow trying to become a fear god, JPV being crazy Batman and Anarky trying to kill both of them. These don’t really help the series along and slow things WAY down, but I’m glad they’re in there. Maybe it would have been better to put them later in the book? But then they’d come after JPV made the AzBat armor…hmm

Okay, that was a good deal of complaining and critiquing, but I still really enjoyed reading this book and not just because of the wonderful trip down memory lane. Watching Batman getting so worn down facing also-rans like Firefly was actually pretty amazing. And, man, that scene where he fights Bane and gets broken? Still gives me chills. So intense. I also liked how JPV goes over the edge bit by bit. I mean, he’s clearly a terrible choice for Batman, but Bruce is not in his right mind, his brain’s as broken as his body, so it kind of makes sense. Plus, JPV was apparently hanging around before all this and was being trained by Batman and Robin. I’m pretty excited to break into the next book and see how his books hold up.

Ah, I’ve got one more complaint or more positively, a suggestion. It would be nice if there was a trade collecting some of the stuff that leads into this book. Bane appeared in a few other comics that are referenced several times that I’d like to read, but it’d also be cool to get a little bit more of JPV’s back story. Sure, I’ve got the Sword of Azreal trade on my shelf (and plan to read it again soon), but that’s a pretty old and, I assume, out of print book that I’m sure other people would like to read. Similarly, I noticed from looking at the second Knightfall volume I have and the information out there for the third, there’s a lot of stuff that’s still not collected like the Justice League Task Force stuff and a few other tales of Bruce Wayne running around trying to save Tim’s dad and their doctor. It’s entirely possible that these trades will get made in the future, especially if the planned Knightfall ones do really well, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Maybe I’ll just make my own!

Ad It Up: Aerosmith’s Get A Grip

Valiant might not have made a lot of great, accessible comics in my personal experience, but they sure had some wild ads. Gotta love this one for Aerosmith’s album Get A Grip (which I own). I snapped this pic a while back and only now realized that there’s Aerosmith comic art in the background, which is pretty rad. This one’s scanned from Archer & Armstrong #17 from 1993.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Batman The Dark Knight Collection

He-Man, Transformers and G.I. Joe might have been the toy lines that really got me into action figures as a young kid, but lines based on Batman, X-Men and Spider-Man kept me in it for as long as they existed. Starting around 1989’s Batman film, a line of Bat-toys started rolling out and hasn’t really stopped since. Back then, they were made by Kenner long before they were bought out by Hasbro.

Anyway, even though I’m not the biggest fan of that first Tim Burton Batman film (the sequel is another story, however), I still remember and might have owned some of these toys, dubbed The Dark Knight Collection for some reason. I know that I didn’t have that color-change Joker (rad idea, by the way) but I think I might have owned the Batman figure or at least a latter day revision/repaint/whathaveyou. I know for a fact I have a toy with that crazy arm cannon batarang launcher, but like I said, those got reused a ton after that. While I might not have been a huge fan of these figures at the time, I actually had a pretty big blast from the past watching this commercial because I do remember seeing it and thinking those toys looked pretty darn cool.

New 52 Team Trade Post: Stormwatch & Suicide Squad Volume 1

Stormwatch Volume 1: The Dark Side (DC)
Written by Paul Cornell, drawn by Miguel Sepulveda & Al Barrionuevo
Collects Stormwatch #1-6

I read through about half of DC’s New 52 #1 issues a while back, but it’s hard to judge an entire series based on just one issue, so I was pretty jazzed when I got my hands on some of the trades. One of the books I was most curious about was Paul Cornell’s Stormwatch, which I had read none of. On one hand, I’ve liked Cornell’s work in the past and on the other, I’m a big Wildstorm fan and was curious to see how some of those characters and concepts were integrated into this new DCU. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised with the results.

The tricky thing about doing anything with the Stormwatch and Authority characters is that Warren Ellis put such a stamp on them. He added a seriousness and a weirdness to the proceedings of these characters (and created half of them) that you really can’t separate them from him. Heck, most writers who tackled the team after Ellis left did their best, but it was difficult to pull off. I think Cornell did a pretty great job of playing in that same kind of sandbox, but making it more of a solid superhero story that, as far as I know, works well within the framework of a bigger superhero universe.

The basic idea with this team is that they deal with the dirtier and darker problems that the JLA can’t or won’t deal with. The series picks up with the team — which very smartly includes Martian Manhunter — trying to recruit Apollo and Midnighter and deal with a world-threatening bad guy. It’s a cool, fun and weird superhero story that throws out some rad ideas (I like how Jack Hawksmoor talks to the personifications of cities) and includes some rad action that sets up a larger story, something that works very well for an episodic adventure like this. I also dug Miguel Sepulveda’s artwork which suits the darkness and the superheroics both quite well.

I’m curious about the rest of this series, but right after this collection, the writer changes twice. Paul Jenkins, a writer I’m not wild about, comes on and is soon followed up by Peter Milligan. Did anyone read those issues? Does it flow well? Does it continue to pay off the promise of the sixth issue? Let me know in the comments.

Suicide Squad Volume 1: Kicked In The Teeth (DC)
Written by Adam Glass, drawn by Federico Dallocchio & Clayton Henry
Collects Suicide Squad #1-7

Suicide Squad is a concept I dig in general, criminals being used on missions instead of rotting or dying in prison. I liked it the first time I saw it in The Dirty Dozen (such a great movie) and every time I encountered them in comics. So, this was another book I was primed to like. I think this one caught some flack, didn’t it? I can’t remember, but it’s definitely a darker and dirtier book, something I dug because you don’t need every comic to be on the same wavelength. In fact, I give DC a lot of credit for casting as wide a net as possible when it came to tone and themes with the New 52 books.

Anyway, the New 52 version of the Suicide Squad includes Harley Quinn, Deadshot, King Shark, El Diablo, Voltaic and Black Spider. They’re sent by Amanda Waller to take care of the smaller, dirtier missions that even Stormwatch isn’t paying attention to. The thing I liked most about this book is how fast it moves. They literally go from one mission to another as quickly as possible. Writer Adam Glass also doesn’t drag things out to six issues when he can do shorter ones, which I really appreciate.

This book covers all kinds of bases, from zombies to heroes-on-the-run and lots in between, plus the fun of seeing some of the weirder, smaller characters pop up (Mad Dog!). Because it’s a new team and a new universe, you really don’t know who’s going to make it out alive from issue to issue or who’s going to try and turn on the others, so it makes for an exciting ride. My one gripe with this series is the inconsistency of the artwork. It changes by page sometimes which is a real bummer, especially because some of the guys don’t hold up as well as others. Worse yet, some art styles look cartoony while others look darker, so it kind of throws you out of the story a bit.

One more thing I want to say about these trades in general is that I like how consistent the trade dress is. I know that might sound goofy, but it’s something I pay attention to, especially as I look at my trades on the shelf. I like consistency. So far, all the trades I’ve seen have that bar across the bottom front cover displaying the creative team, but then the spines all have the same font and are separated by color bands at the top that I believe denote which sub-section of the new DCU they belong to. Kudos on that.

The Challenge Battle Of The Seasons Trailer Revealed

I’ll be taking a bit of a break from blogging this week, but I just saw this trailer for the upcoming season of The Challenge called Battle of the Seasons and just had to talk about it. It’s funny that this news broke today because literally an hour ago I was looking around for rumors about what the next Challenge would be. I’d post the video that’s over on US Weekly, but WordPress is weird about embedding videos, so you’ll have to head over there to actually check it out. Anyway, here’s the cast broken down by season with a few notes from yours truly.

Austin (2005): Wes, Melinda, Danny & Lacey (Danny and Melinda used to be MARRIED)

Brooklyn (2009): Chet, JD, Sarah & Devyn

Cancun (2009): Jasmine, Jonna, Derek & CJ (Jasmine & Jonna were partners on Rivals)

New Orleans (2010): Jemmye, Knight, McKenzie & Preston (Knight was a joke on his first  Challenge)

Las Vegas (2002-3)/(2011): Trishelle & Alton, Nany & Dustin (Dustin’s first Challenge, should be interesting)

San Diego (2011): Ashley, Zach, Sam & Frank (Ash & Zach didn’t like Sam & Frank and vice versa)

St, Thomas (2012): Trey, Laura, Marie & Robb (lots of existing drama plus rookies and lots of booze? not looking good for this team)

As far as I’m concerned, the most interesting team here will be the Austin kids. That Wes/Danny/Melinda dynamic will be pretty insane to watch. I wander why there’s so many seasons between Austin and Brooklyn. Between those two you’ve got Key West, Denver, Sydney and Hollywood which are not represented at all. Maybe they couldn’t get those folks on this one or maybe they skipped them because those are some pretty Challenge-heavy seasons.

I really like that they went with so many rookies this time around. Aside from Wes, most of these kids have never done a Challenge, have only done one or two OR haven’t done one in a long time. That will make the game itself pretty interesting, especially without the usual dynamic of Johnny/Kenny/Evan etc. I guarantee Wes is going to try to run the show, but there’s enough other people around to throw plenty of monkey wrenches into his plans (which never work out anyway).

It will also be interesting to see how the game is actually set up. The trailer makes it sound like your team is the kids from your season, but it also seems like you’re competing against the people on your team (isn’t that Wes hitting Danny with a fish or vice versa?). How will people get sent into the Gulag/Jungle/Inferno/whathaveyou? Will it be one person from each team? There are tons of open ended questions and I can’t wait til September 19th (I’ve already marked my calendar). Oh, by the way, I noted this on Twitter, but I expect at least three people will get sent home for fighting.

Casting Internets

I got to talk to Brian K. Vaughn about Saga for CBR again, this time after having actually read a bunch of the issues. It was a good one.

I’ve rekindled my love affair with writing lists for Topless Robot. I’ve got three in and am currently working on a fourth, but the first of the batch went up: Ed Asner’s Geekiest Voice Over Roles!

My pal Justin posted a great piece on his Aclin Corp blog about editing and revising and how his relationship with it has changed over the years. There’s a Jabba’s Palace Lego set?! (via Entertainment Earth)

I am very excited to hear about the return of Joe Schmo on Spike TV, that was a big favorite in college. (via EW)

A Jason Statham-less Transporter doesn’t sound great to me on paper, but since this is a TV series and it stars Chris Vance who was in my beloved Prison Break and I’m psyched…for when the Cinemax series finally makes it to DVD or Netflix. (via Collider)Dan Hipp did an Adventure Time cover!!

Michael Ruhlman had Tracie McMillan do a guest post about making it as easy for Americans to get fresh produce as it is to get fresh water. It’s a fascinating argument, something I’d never thought about that makes perfect sense. After The Final Curtain is selling prints of some of their amazing balcony shots. The site chronicles decaying, but still mostly intact theaters all over the country. I like them all.

Well, I didn’t finish watching Deadly Blessing for the Final Girl Film Club in time, but you can check out her review here. The Ashcan All-Stars decided to make my week by doing an 80s theme. I’m particularly partial to the John Candy piece by Brent Schoonover.

I’m not sure how I feel about The Monkees reuniting and touring with Davy Jones having passed away, but I thought this Rolling Stone article with Mike Nesmith was pretty interesting.

007 Legends keeps sounding cooler and cooler. I’m getting more excited for this game than any one in a long, long time. ShortList got the dirt on the two recently announced levels: Die Another Day and Licence to Kill!!!

Ad It Up: X-Men Inferno

I know zilch about the 1989 X-Men crossover Inferno. I think I might have attempted to read the trade when I was at Wizard, but don’t have any distinct memories of it. Anyway, when I saw this ad in the 1989 issue of Punisher #15 I had two main thoughts. The first is one my pal Sean T. Collins examines over at his Tumblr Superheroes Lose. Sean posts covers of the age old comic book trope of superheroes lying defeated on the cover to show readers just how serious of a threat the bad guys are. This ad made me wonder if that gag actually works. Maybe on inexperienced readers? Who knows.

The other thing I thought was interesting about this ad is that the bad guy is basically explaining Marvel’s publishing plan to you which I thought was really odd. Those dialog balloons are pretty awkward and clunky, aren’t they? The trouble with presenting things this way is that it makes me think that S’ym — the character I assume is supposed to be the big bad of the event — comes off as a goofball. Was he portrayed that way in the series? Where’s Brett White, can you explain this to me?

Red Hulk Trade Post: Scorched Earth & Planet Red Hulk

Red Hulk: Scorched Earth (Marvel)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Gabriel Hardman, Ed McGuinness, Mark Robinson & Ben Oliver
Collects Red Hulk #25-30

My unexpected love affair with the Hulk continues on through these two volumes of Red Hulk written by Jeff Parker. Like with most of my reading of this series since a few years ago when Jeph Loeb took over, I’ve been getting these trades here and there when I can find them either on Sequential Swap  or cheap on Amazon. So, while I haven’t actually read War or Fall of the Hulks, I am reading these two books that take place after those other stories.

The basic idea is that, after running around causing all kinds of trouble throughout Loeb’s run, Red Hulk (who was finally revealed to be General Thunderbolt Ross, something I’d known from working at Wizard a year before the book even launched) got captured and started working with Steve Rogers and some of the other Avengers to show he’s not such a bad guy. What this series winds up doing, in addition to explaining away or building upon some of Loeb’s wilder ideas (punching the Watcher), is making the Red Hulk more of a character instead of the trademark force of nature status Hulks tend to wind up with.

The Scorched Earth of the title refers to a contingency plan by MODOK and the Intelligentsia (the bad guys of Fall of the Hulks) to destroy the world in various ways. Red Hulk gets recruited by Steve and Iron Man to help put a stop to them because, basically, he’s responsible. These adventures bring him into conflict with giant monsters and techno zombies, but also into battles with Iron Man, Thor and Namor. The beauty of a Jeff Parker comic like this comes from the balance between awesome battle scenes (which it has in spades) and more personal moments. There’s something sad about watching the strangely honorable Ross hanging out in a base inhabited by only Life Model Decoys so he can’t hurt anyone. There’s also a few back-up stories, one involving Rick Jones (aka A-Bomb) on Monster Island that eventually leads into the main story and Uatu the Watcher going bug nutty and telling another Watcher about how this thing called Omegex is going to kill all life on Earth, but that’s a matter for the next book.

The collection also contains Red Hulk #30 which is about as bonkers as it gets with Red and Green Hulk teaming up both together and in the same body going up against the Impossible Man, Xemnu The Titan, Woodgod, Kluh and a bunch of monsters that look like Jack Kirby creations. It’s a fun romp and it’s all drawn by Ed McGuinness doing what he absolutely does best.

Red Hulk: Planet Red Hulk (Marvel)
Written by Jeff Parker, drawn by Gabriel Hardman, Carlo Pagulayan & Pat Zircher
Collects Red Hulk #30.1-36

While Scorched Earth set up a status quo and did a little clean up with previous stories, this collection of shorter stories did a little of that, revisited even older stories and blazed even newer trails. This is the kind of thing that can be tricky/bad for me as a reader, but Parker’s a very skilled writer and walks that balance between familiar and new very well.

With the looming threat of Omegex, Red Hulk takes on a few other threats. First up, a soldier who used to work with Ross and idolized him is after Red Hulk because he thinks the Crimson Crusher killed Ross and wants revenge. He’s got a new team of Hulkbusters and planted micro mines in Rulk’s brain that will go off when he transforms back into Ross. That’s just such a great superhero comic dichotomy going on there paired up with a flip of the norm established in the previous arc that I can’t help but love the development.

There’s also a growing group of baddies lead by someone called Zero/One that would take quite a while to explain, as would her team. Needless to say, they’re from earlier issues and wind up being both scary and threatening. Seeing how their mission winds up mirroring the new Hulkbusters is another interesting balance.

From there, Rulk gets his own Planet Hulk experience and it’s cool seeing Carlo Pagulayan returning to some of the ideas he and Greg Pak tackled the first time around. Just when I was getting a little bored with this, it’s revealed why Ross has this experience and I was back on board. The book ends with Rulk taking on Zzzax and also taking on the new MODOK who appeared in the previous book in a pretty fantastically gross and awesome way.

What I enjoy about Parker’s characterization of Rulk is that he’s both deviously conniving, but also has a moral code. There’s a dual nature there and it’s interesting to see how this character reacts to certain experiences and how they differ from Banner/Hulk’s responses. I wonder if the stories would be as interesting for someone who has not read those other stories, but I would guess they still would be because Parker’s a solid, creative writer who always keeps me interested in what’s happening next and why.