47 Ronin Gets Four Posters & A Trailer

I wrote about the first trailer and 4-pack of 47 Ronin posters over on Spinoff Online today, but figured it couldn’t hurt to show them off here too. Scope out the trailer for Carl Rinsch’s first feature above and the posters featuring stars Keanu Reeves, Rinko Kikuchi and Rick Genest (those tatts are real, you guys) below.

I didn’t know a whole lot about this movie going into this trailer, but I’ve got to say, this flick looks pretty amazing. It reminds me of how I felt when we started seeing Sucker Punch trailers. It looks like this gigantic, big budget action flick with tons of special effects money and skill involved. Hopefully the finished project will be less confusing and video game-y than Punch turned out to be, though.

47 Ronin comes out swinging on December 25th.

Black Canary Throws Down In Arrow Season 2 Trailer

Arrow season one castI don’t know about you guys, but The CW’s Arrow ranks pretty high on my list of TV shows with the best action sequences. Steven Amell’s The Hood (known to comic fans as Green Arrow) not only kicks bad guy butt on a regular basis, but also shoots arrows and has been known to do a good deal of parkour getting from one place to another.

The second season of the series kicks off on October 9 and, according to reports from their Comic-Con panel, will feature Summer Glau (Firefly) and Caity Lotz (The Pact) as Black Canary. Both women get a bit of the spotlight in the new trailer for the show’s second season along with regular cast members Katie Cassidy, David Ramsey, Willa Holland, Emily Bett Rickards and the rest. Be warned, the video contains major spoilers for the first season if you haven’t watched it (which you should do immediately).

Thanks to The Mary Sue for the hat tip.

Dueling Van Damme Remakes: Bloodsport & Kickboxer

bloodsport When it rains remakes, it pours. It looks two different studios have been watching Jean-Claude Van Damme’s filmography with an eye towards making some new cash.

Variety reported yesterday that Relativity’s looking to bring 1988’s Bloodsport back to the big screen, this time with V For Vendetta director James McTeigue at the helm. The new version, which was written by Robert Mark Kamen (Taken, The Transporter), is said to “explore the life of 21st century mercenaries as they collide with the underground world of Brazilian Vale Tudo fighting.”

With McTeigue on board, the remake — which previously had Salt‘s Philp Noyce in the director’s chair — he’s going to work closely with Craig Rosenberg (After The Sunset) on a rewrite more in line with his vision. No casting announcements have been announced yet.

kickboxerMeanwhile, Deadline posted a story that same day about Radar Pictures’ interest in revisiting the world of 1989’s Kickboxer. Hong Kong director Stephen Fung (Gen X Cops, Tai Chi Zero) has signed on to direct the project which is being written by Jim McGrath and Dimitri Logothetis.

Casting is currently underway. The original Kickboxer found Van Damme learning Muay Tai to avenge his brother. It’s currently unknown whether that same fighting style will be the focus of the remake or not, butere’s hoping Tony Jaa’s somewhere in the running!

The Challenge Rivals II Episode 3

Well, this was quite the episode of The Challenge: Rivals II. We had castmates leaving, more than two getting sent home, new hook-ups, a pretty intense challenge, two big fights and a Jungle with surprising results. The episode kicks off with a tryst between Marlon and Derek. If you remember from Marlon’s season, he told his housemates that he was bisexual, but since the season didn’t air before Rivals II started filming, the others had no idea what was going on. Jordan tells them the story we heard, so word of him being bi gets out.

Marlon doesn’t care about any of this until the whole group is playing a game where you pull a name out of a bowl and have to act like that person until the others guess correctly. Leroy gets Marlon’s name, but doesn’t really know him well enough to play the game. Wes says he’ll do it, but Knight gets word of whose name is on the paper, so he gets up and simulates oral sex on Wes before quickly saying, “It’s Marlon!” This is the equivalent of dragging a needle across a record and stops the party dead. Before you know it, Marlon and Knight are about to get into it, with both of their partners trying to hold them back for fear of getting sent home themselves. This puts Preston in a bad place because, as a gay man, he’s defending a guy who’s at the very least insensitive (and possibly a downright homophobe). But, hey, it’s for money, right? During all this, Jemmye made me laugh pretty hard when she said she’d pay money to see Marlon knock Knight out. You can put me down for a five spot too.

Marlon walks away to cool off and eventually finds himself back outside talking to Aneesa who says she can relate to him coming out in front of a group like this that’s not always great at not being jerks. For some reason, Aneesa talking to Marlon off to a side bothers Trishelle who starts complaining about it. Jemmye comes over and tells Aneesa this and then a-whole-nother fight breaks out. There’s a lot of yelling and, at one point, it looked like Trishelle was going in to hit Aneesa, so she put her arm up and maybe-sorta close-lined Trishelle a bit. As Aneesa said, she didn’t hit her though, so she’s good to stay.

Trishelle wakes up the next morning and starts packing, telling Emily she’s leaving. Emily relays the information to Trishelle’s partner Sarah who looks bummed but not overly shocked. Trishelle seems to leave pretty quickly and later on TJ shows up at the house asking everyone to get together. Turns out, Cara Maria was the only woman on the bench they had and Sarah got sent home (just like she did when Vinny acted a damn fool during Battle Of The Exes). I’ve got to say, this move surprised me because you’d expect with a concept like Rivals that production would have a number of potential fill in people. How crazy would it have been to bring Laurel in this late in the game?

Anyway, that wasn’t happening. Instead we cut to the challenge which was called Mind Over Splatter. There’s this bonkers structure hanging over water (of course). They’ve got to climb up a rope ladder one at a time and then travel down two ropes while straddling them, but they’ve got to do this part in pretty close proximity. You’ve got 10 minutes to finish. If one person falls from the ropes, the other person has to stop and wait for the other to get back up on the structure, re-climb the rope and then go from there.

You  might remember from the last episode that Wes and Preston dropped out of a female challenge because they didn’t want to do stuff. TJ said they’d be penalized this time around and that turned out to be not only a 30 second penalty, but they also had to go first. And they gave the craziest show because Knight and Preston flipped over so they were dangling upside down. Knight wound up falling into the water and finally getting back on the ropes. They got a few feet away from the finish with very little time left and then Preston wound up falling making them the team to beat in order to avoid the Jungle automatically.

The rest were pretty standard. The teams, which alternated between sexes, all finished and all seemed pretty equal with one another. Highlights included Marlon and Jordan flipping over, but still killing the rest of the course and pretty speedy performances by Zach and Trey, Frank and Johnny and Marlon and Jordan, but Frank and Johnny walked away with the victory as did Emily and Paula.

This time around, Diem explains her group’s plan: continue voting for Robb and Derek in an effort to not make any other teams upset. At first this sounded dumb to me, but after thinking on it, it makes more sense. You’ve got to vote for someone, so why spread around the anger you’ll cause by voting people in? When it comes back around to you, a team like Robb and Derek will only have one vote and something like three or four teams to vote for, so the odds are in your favor. Well played Diem.

But, everyone’s not in on the plan. Diem and Aneesa, Emily and Paula and Camila and Jemmye vote for Robb and Derek. Meanwhile, Marlon and Trey get votes from Nany and Jonna and Cooke and Cara Maria while Leroy and Ty get a vote from Jasmine and Theresa. Now, this seemed goofy and odd, but I think it might actually be a good plan these two teams have worked out. In the last voting session, Ty and Leroy voted for these ladies which seemed like a complete throwaway, this time the women “got them back,” but it’s possible this is all just a nice game of misdirection, especially because they did their votes in the middle or towards the end. Well played you sneaky folks.

We then move on to what might be one of the best Jungles/finals of all time called Snapper. When I saw the big red circle on the ground I groaned, thinking this would be another one of those finals where dudes try to smash each other out of a box. But, oh no, that’s not the case. Instead, each person is blindfolded, wearing bells around the ankles, given movement clues by their partner and handed a colorful stick. The goal? Break that stick over your opponent. It looked like the goofies Star Wars cosplay in the world and there’s nothing wrong with that.

First, Robb went up against Preston. This one went by pretty quickly once they got close to each other with Robb just wailing on Preston like a snake. They got the first point. Then Preston and Knight developed code words and a pretty solid idea: stay low. Derek got close to Knight, but he was doing all these crazy motions and wound up getting Derek in the leg. Finally, it was done to a battle between Robb and Knight. Robb had some trouble squaring off in the correct direction, but Knight was doing all those crazy moves and wound up sending Robb and Derek home.

I was stunned. I’ve made my opinions about Knight pretty clear. I think he’s an emotional terrorist who knows how to hit buttons. In other words he’s a bully who relies on his words because he usually doesn’t have the physical presence to actually be good at these games. It’s time for that jerkstore to be done with these things.

Anyway, I’ve noticed a few things about this season that seem noteworthy. First off, the rivalries all seem pretty dead, right? All the fights we’ve seen are between non-teammates and it looks like the supposed enemies are getting along well. That’s kind of boring and defeats the point of this season, right? There’s also a weird let down that comes immediately after a team wins the challenge because right after that, they’re no longer important. In other Challenges, the winners would be safe but also have a hand in figuring out who would go in. Now, the focus shifts immediately away from the winner to the folks of the opposite sex trying to figure out who they’re going to toss in. It’s a bit anticlimactic and also shifts the focus of the challenges from “Who will win?!” to “Who will lose?” which feels strange to me. Ah well, like I said, I enjoyed this episode for the most part and am always curious to see what happens next.

Mage Trade Post: The Hero Discovered & The Hero Defined

MAGE VOL 1 THE HERO DISCOVERED Mage: The Hero Discovered (Comico/Image)
Written and drawn by Matt Wagner
Collects Mage: The Hero Discovered #1-15

I’ve talked a lot about how influential  my time at Wizard was on my comic reading experience. That’s where I was finally able to read some of my all-time favorite comics like Preacher, Starman and Sandman along with plenty of others, too numerous to mention. Having access to what must have been one of the biggest, best and most varied comic book libraries around had plenty of advantages. As an intern I dug through books to read, but was also tasked with organizing the place. The problem? Too many comics and not enough space. The idea was that, every day, one of the interns would be up in the stuffy, hot windowless room, trying to make sense of poorly organized sections that sometimes had five copies of the same book. Keep two, get rid of the rest, that was our job. Whatever was deemed overflow, we got look through and keep.

Through that I got a box full of comics that included a big chunk of Abnett and Lanning’s original Resurrection Man series, a lot of Lobo comics that I still haven’t read and the majority of Matt Wagner’s Mage: The Hero Discovered. At that point I was mostly into superhero comics, though was checking out a few different things like 100 Bullets and other Vertigo titles along with some Cliffhanger books like Crimson, but I’d never quite read anything like Mage, which combined Arthurian legend with supernatural adventure in a way that was new to me (at least in the world of comics).

I’m not sure how or when I discovered that Defined was actually the sequel to an older series, but I eventually read that while working at Wizard, which kind of brings the whole thing full circle. In the past few years, I came across the hardcover collection of The Hero Discovered on Sequential Swap and did everything I could to get it (it’s one of the two worst Swaps I’ve ever done). I also found a copy of the Defined softcover at my local Barnes & Noble and after eyeing it for a while (and hoping no one else snatched it up between visits) bought my own copy. With both in hand it was only a matter of time until I read both books in relative proximity to one another (about two months, I believe).

The Hero Discovered — which Matt Wagner originally wrote and drew in the mid 80s at Comico — is the tale of how Kevin Matchstick started down the road of supernatural heroics. After stopping a strange creature from beating a guy up in an alley, he discovers that he’s actually the living embodiment of King Arthur complete with his own Excalibur (a glowing bat), Merlin (a wizard named Mirth) and squire (a young woman named Edsel). As anyone would, Kevin has trouble accepting this new world of monsters and magic, but eventually gives in to his in-born heroic nature and agrees to take on the looming threat of the Umbra Sprite along with his crew of supernaturally gifted pals. All of this leads up to a huge battle that not everyone survives. Truths are learned and at least some of the bad guys are beaten leaving Kevin to travel the world doing his hero thing.

In the post I wrote about Trinity and the Demon mini he did, I noted how you can really see Wagner’s evolution as an artist in those books. That is abundantly clear when you read these two Mage books. In Discovered he certainly has the beginnings of his style, but it’s not as detailed or refined. The characters all look a little more rounded-off than they do in the follow-up and his other work. I also noticed that the colors in the first book are often in the pastel family which adds a kind of cloudiness to the whole thing while Defined has a much more crisp, sharp color pallet. That sharpness caries over into the figures as well which have a lot more weight to them in this book. He also gets into more of the shadowy stuff seen in Trinity. Oh and every now and then he gives the characters Little Orphan Annie eyes which might sound odd, but they look perfect and evocative in his style.

MAGE VOL 2 HERO DEFINED Mage: The Hero Defined (Image)
Written and drawn by Matt Wagner
Collects Mage: The Hero Defined #1-15

A decade after creating the character, Wagner returned to the world of Mage in The Hero Defined, this time through Image. As I mentioned, this was my first exposure to this character. I like how Wagner doesn’t spend this entire book recapping where Kevin has been the last 10 years or so. It’s like he lived his life, took out some nasties, met some people, lost some friends and is now meeting new people and coming up against new challenges, you know, like a real person would. I liked how Wagner didn’t dwell on the past or use this story to hit the same exact notes as the first (though there are some similarities and call backs).

Kevin befriends a pair of other heroes who, like him, channel the energies and powers of classic figures of legend. Joe Phat’s a healer and a speedster a la Coyote while Kirby Hero has a Hercules thing going on, complete with required works from dear ol’ dad. This book really opens up the world of Mage as it features more heroes, more monsters and a potentially more dangerous threat.

As it turns out, something big’s going on in Canada, a confluence acting like a magnet for heroes and monsters. My only complaint about this book is that, there’s a lot of time spent building up the idea that all these other heroes are in town and not much is done with it. Kevin knows something bigger is happening and tries rallying the troops so to speak, but they’re not really into it. A few join his squad, but none go with him to the final battle aside from the pals who were on his side the whole time. I get that this is basically Kevin’s fight and the last issue really zeroes in on him, his destiny and his relationship to magic, but there was a part of my brain that kept wondering what the others were doing in that time.

When returning to a character like Kevin Matchstick and especially a book like The Hero Defined which happened to hit me at just the right time, I always wonder if the stories will hold up or if I’m looking back with nostalgia tinted glasses. I’ve got to say that, while there was definitely nostalgia involved in reading the latter book, these are still two very well constructed books that offer a lot for fans of superhero action/adventure/fantasy stories who might be looking for something a little more personal (Wagner has said that Kevin is based on himself in many ways).

One aspect that really struck me about both Mage books is how “realistic” they seem. Sure there’s ghosts and monsters and demons and whatnot, but there’s also a lot of humanity, heart and honesty in these pages. Kevin does not like his new life, but he deals with it as best he can. He and Mirth spend full pages talking about what he’s going through, sometimes with Mirth reading Kevin the riot act of the situation. While some of these text-and-balloon-filled pages might look intimidating, they feature the kinds of talks that people have with each other, even when the world is falling down around them. These talks offer our characters a few moments to slow down, take stock of what’s happening and often discover that they’ve been operating under huge misconceptions, an element you don’t find a lot in comics.

All of this points towards an idea I’ve been thinking about a lot lately which is that creator owned books have a lot more to offer than the Big Two superhero books (for me at least). I’m far from abandoning those concepts and comics entirely, but let’s face it, if a person is creating a comic from scratch and putting it on paper, there’s a creative intent there that’s admirable. That certainly happens with Big Two Superhero Comics, but there’s also a lot of filler material, books that are just there to sell, not necessarily tell the best story they can, though I’m sure the creators tried in most cases. It’s the difference between making something for creative reasons and making something to fill a space (let’s not be so naive as to say one is to make money and the other isn’t, everything that’s sold is intended to make money). Creator owned books also just have more room to flex and explore as they see fit, something that can get lost when working on someone else’s characters.

Ever since I first found out that Discovered and Defined were supposed to be part of a trilogy, I’ve wondered when Wagner was going to actually announce the third series. As far as I know, there haven’t been any updates in that field, but I hope he does get to it eventually. The second book does have a very satisfying conclusion as far as I’m concerned, but I’d like to pick back up with Kevin another 10-20 years down the line and see what he’s up to.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: The Ninja Turtles Sewer Playset

I don’t know a lot of 30 year old guys who weren’t Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans back in the day. That’s either because the property was all but ubiquitous in the late 80s/early 90s or because I mostly hang out with people who still read comics, collect toys and play video games.

I was huge into the line of TMNT figures and loved the cartoon and movies as much as anyone else, but my true love when it came to this franchise was the Ninja Turtles Sewer Playset. I didn’t actually have it myself, but a few different friends did and I always pushed to play with it whenever possible. As far as playsets go, it’s not the flashiest one in the world, but I liked how it gave you street-level and sewer-level options along with lots of little things to have fun with while playing. My personal favorite aspect of the set is the phone lines that your Turtles can hold onto, swing down and knock out the bad guys. This comes as little surprise looking back on a childhood obsessed with things that could do other things you wouldn’t expect.

Digging Double Oh Seven: Casino Royale (2006) & Quantum Of Solace (2008)

After watching Skyfall, I wanted to look back and see what I had to say about Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace. As it turns out, I wrote my reviews back in March of 2011 and never posted them for some reason. I gave the posts a read-through and made a few changes, but I kept it “of its time,” which means I foolishly thought I’d be watching Skyfall in the theaters instead of on Blu-ray a year after it came out. Silly Past TJ!

As I mentioned when I kicked off these Digging Double Oh Seven posts with a review of the novel version of Casino Royale, I didn’t have very fond memories of the 2006 film version because it never seemed to end with scene after scene in the 144 minute movie’s last act that kept seeming like it should be the final one. Bond is saved by a mysterious killer? Good stopping point. Bond’s in love? Good stopping point. Of course, I didn’t know when I first saw the movie that SPOILER the girl he fell for would turn out to be a bad guy and that was as important to the story as the game of Texas Hold Em or the testicular trauma he endures.

All that is a pretty long way around of saying that I really liked Casino Royale the second time around and, in fact, there was only one bit that bugged me, but I’ll get to that. There’s that awesome black and white scene in the beginning where Bond earns his Double Oh status, which I understood a lot more having read the book. Then there’s the sick animated opening credits followed by a bonkers parkour chase scene between Bond and a bomber through an old construction site. Unlike most of the other Bond movies, this one is a lot more physical with Bond being exactly as much of a badass as I’ve always wanted him to be and that counts for a lot. Plus, the action itself feels real. It reminded me of a Thai martial arts flick where everything looks painful and real. A lot of people compare these two new Bond movies to the Bourne flicks which I’m sure is fair. I’m not as familiar with those movies, but one thing I do remember is that the fight scenes are very jump cutty whereas it seems like the camera doesn’t move from Bond very much when he’s throwing down. I love, love, LOVE the part where he’s chasing the bomber and just bursts through a wall.

Story-wise the movie follows along with the book pretty well, adding plenty of new stuff. One of the newer aspects to the franchise is that this film acts as a bit of a reboot. I’m torn on this. On one hand, I’m sad to know that the Bond series I’ve come to know and love is no more. That version of Bond ended with Pierce Brosnon. On the other hand, it makes sense to reboot things and set Bond in a more modern world because dude would be pretty damn old by this point. So, I guess I’m okay with it. Speaking of changes, I also really dug Daniel Craig as Bond. I’m not one to get bent out of shape because he’s blonde. Who cares? He embodies the intensity and physicality of the character to a T. The only problem I have with this new version (no fault of Craig’s) is that he isn’t the suave, lover of fine things that our hero is when he’s first introduced in the book. We can see him grow into that a bit (as well as the theme song and some of the catchphrases, which were nice touches) but I really appreciate that aspect of the character from the books and the pre-Dalton flicks.

This time around, I knew what to expect with the story, so it wasn’t so jarring for me. Even though it’s the longest Bond movie in the series, it didn’t feel like that this time and I’m happy to say that this is one of the few movies my opinion has been switched on. I feel so mature!

Everything I had read or heard about Quantum Of Solace said that it was important to watch Casino Royale right before. Man, were they right. The missus and I watched the movies back-to-back the other night and it was super helpful. Quantum isn’t just the next adventure of James Bond like all of the other flicks in the franchise, it’s a direct continuation of the story. Casino ends with Bond trying to figure out who was pulling his lady’s strings which leads to a manhunt this time around. I’ll just get this out of the way right now: I really liked this movie too.

Craig’s equally as awesome as Bond, even getting a little sophisticated, but still retaining some of his “blunt weaponess” as M called him in the previous movie. The flick has great action set pieces from a sick chase to a run through a burning building. All great, all around. I was also impressed with how very traditional the main villain’s plan was as far as Bond movies go. This guy redirected all the water in Bolivia so that he could then sell it back to the new regime. That’s vintage Bond.

Another aspect of the movie that I appreciate is that it actually does one better than the novel series in my opinion. With the books, Casino Royale ends very much like the movie does (with Bond betrayed and trying to figure out who is after him) which leads him into Live And Let Die. The promise at the end of the book version of Casino states that Bond is driven to find the members of that organization, but by Live he’s hunting down thieves in America and beautiful islands. Quantum takes the premise and really runs with it. I’m not 100% clear on how everything played out (we were working on baby stuff while watching the flick) but I appreciate that the filmmakers actually went after it and got Bond his revenge. Now he can move on. Actually, now that I think about it, it actually makes more sense for a young inexperienced Bond to fall for a woman as opposed to the more experienced version in the book. Well played. I hope Sam Mendes gets his cast together soon because now I’m itching to see a Bond on the big screen again for the first time since Die Another Day (I missed the most recent pair, shamefully).

We Want Action Double Feature: Rambo (1985) & Predator (1987)

rambo first blood part 2 poster

For the past seven or eight years — pretty much since I got out of college — I’ve been focusing on absorbing as much new entertainment as possible, not necessarily brand new, but new to me. In that time, and going back to my days in high school and college, I’ve also been building up a collection of books, trades, movies and albums that I’ve deemed good enough to keep (or cheap enough to check out). In the past few weeks, though, I’ve been more in the mood to revisit the films and trades I love and own instead of looking for new things to devour. I’m not sure if this is a function of getting older or maybe the result of having my fill of goofy, bad movies seen on Netflix (for the time being).

Whatever the case, when Lu went down for her nap yesterday, I didn’t have the desire to flip through my ridiculously long Netflix Instant queue. Instead, I wanted to watch Rambo: First Blood II. I got a great deal on the Rambo Blu-ray set a while ago which reintroduced me to the fantastic original film, but also the whole franchise which I realized I have a lot of fond memories of.

As I noted after watching First Blood, the Rambo I really remember from my childhood — the shirtless guy with black pants, a headband and a bazooka — actually came from this sequel.  The film finds Rambo’s one time commanding officer Col. Samuel Trautman (Richard Crenna) approaching the imprisoned one man army corps (Sylvester Stallone, of course) with a special offer: help us with a mission in the jungles of Vietnam and get a Get Out Of Jail Free Card. Rambo takes the deal and nearly completes the mission before getting burned by the guy who’s really in charge, Marshall Murdock (Charlies Napier). With that, Rambo gets captured and tortured, but thankfully has a friend on the outside in Co (Julia Nickson) who helps him escape, a move that unleashes Rambo’s mighty vengeance on his captors and, eventually, his  betrayers.

The film includes all the bigtime action you’d expect with explosions, arrows through bad guys and even the perfect synergy of both: exploding arrows. But, what struck me once again about a Rambo movie is the fact that Stallone portrays this character with a depth and sadness that my younger self couldn’t understand. This is a guy who was trained to kill and he’s great at it. Now he’s in the real world and he can’t catch a break. A sheriff thinks he doesn’t look right and tries kicking him out of town. A shady military guy dangles freedom in front of him and leaves him high and dry. For him, the war is never over and he’ll probably never get to win, this time or any other. Sure, you can watch this movie and enjoy the aforementioned explosions, but there’s more going on which I can appreciate these days.

predator poster One layer of Rambo I noticed that was completely unintended, though, is its similarity to Predator. Rather, since the latter came out two years after the former, Predator‘s similarity to Rambo. Both movies feature an incredibly well-trained person going into a jungle to do a job, getting betrayed or lied to and going up against an unforeseen challenge that takes all their skills to defeat. For Rambo it’s an army of Vietnamese baddies, for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch, it’s an alien hunter with crazy weapons. Both movies also include a strong female character who plays an important part in the proceedings, a general lack of shirts in the end, super cool “preparing for battle” montages (a favorite genre trope of mine) and even similar dudes-holding-guns posters.

But, I’m far less interested in talking about the similarities between these two flicks than I am about how much I love them both(though someone should definitely do a mash-up). In the case of Predator — a favorite of mine going back to the Family Video rental days on into my Wizard internship when I scored the ass-kicking nickname Dutch after watching the first two Predator movies in a weekend — the film greatly benefits from its extended cast. We’re not just seeing Schwarzenegger in the jungle, but his whole crew, a gang consisting of Dillon (Carl Weathers), Mac (Bill Duke), Blain (Jesse Ventura, before we knew how crazy he is), Billy (Sonny Landham), Poncho (Richard Chaves) and Hawkins (screenwriter and Iron Man 3 director Shane Black). It’s important to have such a beefy group of dudes because they offer the Predator something to fight.

And fight they do! From the scene where everyone just desperately blasts into the jungle hoping to hit what took their friend to Billy making a last ditch effort to try and stop their pursuer, this movie is jam packed with iconic action set pieces all of which lead up to the king-daddy of them all as a mud-covered Dutch does his damndest to kill this thing with a series of cunning booby traps. I have no idea if it was intended or not, but there’s a real “natural versus technological” theme in that last fight in which the one with fewer pieces of tech winds up winning the day over the more “advanced” species.

Anyway, Predator doesn’t have the depth that Rambo does and that’s fine by me. If I felt for every single action hero the way I do for John Rambo, these things would be a lot less fun, but every now and then it’s good to actually feel something in addition to explosion-fueled excitement.

I mentioned many of the similarities between these two movies above but there’s one more that I think it worth noting: both have had fantastic sequels in the past five years. After mounting a comeback in 2006 with Rocky Balboa, Stallone decided to revisit one of his other famous characters in the wildly intense Rambo from 2008. Meanwhile, the Predator franchise, which has been Dutch-less since the initial outing, came back swinging with Predators in 2010, a film I really enjoyed and want to revisit soon. Heck Stallone even said at one point that he’d like to see Rambo face off against a Predator, but I think he was half joking. In fact, after doing a little research, it turns out Stallone was interested in adapting a book called Hunter which would, essentially, do just that. I fully support this decision!

Trade Post: Superman Vs. Shazam, Fables Volume 2 & Legion Lost

superman vs shazam Superman Vs. Shazam (DC)
Written by Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Paul Kupperberg, Julius Schwartz, Gil Kane & Joey Cavalieri; drawn by Rich Buckler & Gil Kane
Collects All-New Collector’s Edition #C-58, DC Comics Presents #33, 34, 49 & DC Comics Presents Annual #3

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m always a little leery going into these Silver Age, pre-Crisis DC collections. These are the kinds of comics I mostly snickered at as a kid. I came up in the 90s when comics were dangerous and intense, what do I need with silly stories that were probably written for children a few decades ago? I’ve since learned that that’s a pretty poor way to approach art, but, let’s be honest, comics from this era can be very hit-or-miss, especially when you consider the fact that they’re leaning pretty heavily on the hero-fighting-hero gimmick.

So, with all that in mind, I went into Superman Vs. Shazam cautiously. I love Superman, but this isn’t my Supes, so this was more of a curious read. And, honestly, it didn’t do a lot for me. The first story is a whopping 72 pages featuring a villain using other villains (Black Adam and Sand Superman from the incredibly good Kryptonite No More) to pit Superman and Captain Marvel against each other in an effort to destroy both worlds (Earths 1 and S). All of that spreads out over dozens of pages and certainly drags at times. The most interesting part of this book for me is that, while the two guys are smashing the crap out of each other across two Earths, their female counterparts — Supergirl and Mary Marvel — figure out what’s really going on. The guys wind up officially saving the day and we end with double smooches, but I still thought that was a cool way to go.

The other issues have a lot of the same, following the villain-tricking-heroes-into-fighting formula that doesn’t do a lot for me anymore. If I was a kid or new to comics, though, and this was the first time I saw these things, it’d probably be pretty mind blowing. However, I don’t think this would be a great book to hand to someone blind. Since these stories are set in a pre-Crisis world, there’s a lot going on that might be confusing. All the Earth-1/Earth-S stuff gets fairly well explained, but then you’ve got the DCP #49 in which Billy Batson and Captain Marvel appear side by side. I think it’s because we’re seeing Earth-1 Billy Batson, maybe, but wasn’t sure and by that point I’d lost a lot of interest. This book would have greatly benefited with an introduction of some sort to give less-informed readers like myself a little context for the adventures. It’s another unfortunate example of comics not always being accessible to the non-fan market.

fables vol 2 animal farmFables Vol. 2: Animal Farm (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Bill Willingham, drawn by Mark Buckingham
Collects Fables #6-10

As I said when I reviwed the first volume of Bill Willingham’s Fables, the book didn’t strike much of a chord with me for two reasons: one, I called the mystery reveal too early and lost a lot of intrest in the proceedings and, two, I couldn’t help but compare it to Once Upon A Time. Since one of those complaints is more my fault than anything, I decided to continue on and give the second volume a shot. The fact that I got the first three volumes in a Swap also came into play, of course.

This second volume finds Snow White taking her not-dead sister Rose Read up to The Farm, a place where non-human Fables (talking animals, giants, dragons, etc.) live away from the prying eyes of the world located in upstate New York. But, once the sisters get there it becomes pretty clear that something fishy’s going on. A faction has done away with the one human left in charge while also moving forward with plans to take their homeland back from The Adversary.

From there you get a story that finds Goldilocks playing revolutionary with the non-human Fables, Snow on the run from Shere Khan, Rose siding with ‘Locks, weapons that animals can fire and a few more fantastical character appearances. While I enjoyed this volume a lot more than the first, it still didn’t grab me. Once again, I figured the thing out with Rose pretty early on, so that was a lot less of a mystery. But, since that’s not the main thrust of the book, it doesn’t take as much away. Meanwhile, I thought it was an interesting bit of worldbuilding when we learn at the end of the arc that a Fable’s strength is directly related to how many people in the real world know about them. I’ve seen this done with gods in fiction before, but not storybook characters. It’s an interesting tie that I’m sure comes into play later on down the line. While I’m not fully sold on this book that a lot of people seem to love, I’m interested enough to hold onto these collections for now and see what’s up in the third.

legion lostLegion Lost (DC)
Written by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, drawn by Olivier Coipel & Pascal Alixe
Collects Legion Lost #1-12

Back in 2000 and 2001 when Legion Lost was coming out, I remember there being a lot of buzz surrounding the book. When I say that, I mean that Wizard was covering the book pretty heavily and seemed to really dig it. That idea never really left my head, so when the hardcover collection came out, I was pretty excited to finally give it a read. I even got my hands on the 100-Page Spectacular that sort-of leads into this story and enjoyed that experience quite a bit.

I started reading Lost right after that, which would have put my first attempt at a little over a year ago. What stopped me? Well, this is definitely a big collection, an entire year’s worth of stories. Plus, Abnett and Lanning, writers I very much enjoy, put a lot of content into each issue. While the “Legion of the Damned” story featured in the Spectacular was mostly dialog and action, this one actually gives each character the first-person thought-box treatment in every issue which results in a lot of expressed thoughts. I’m not saying that’s bad because these guys have an excellent grasp on who these characters are, what makes them tick and how that differs from their outward actions, but it can make for a slower reading experience than I was expecting.

This time, I knew that going in and was more prepared for the experience which finds a team of Legionnaires — Live Wire, Saturn Girl, Monstress, Ultra Boy, Kid Quantum, Chameleon, Brainiac 5, Monstress, Umbra and a few others — lost in space. Now, the two issues that ended Legion of Super-Heroes and Legionnaires (the ones that take place between the 100 Pages Spectacular issues and this book) are not included so you have no idea what this rift thing they were fighting was (or if it was even shown on-page). But, they seem to be at an end of the cosmos that even Brainiac 5 can’t find on a map and are trying to find their way home.

Along the way they make a few friends but even more enemies only discover what’s really going on at the very end of the story when it turns out that one of their own has caused all this heartache. That’s an important part of the tale, of course, but what really struck me was how well Abnett and Lanning captured the growing feeling of helplessness as the story continues. Certain characters have decided to put on shows for what they assume is the benefit of their teammates which wind up backfiring. Meanwhile, others who started off positive eventually start losing their cool as the twelve issues progress. Mistakes are made and we see what those actions do to that person as well as their teammates.

We also get to learn a lot about these characters which is great. I’ve said it before, but the Legion and X-Men are the two most confusing franchises in comics as far as I’m concerned, but I didn’t feel that going into this book. Sure, I could have used some of those boxes reminding me of what each character’s powers are (like Geoff Johns and company did when they reintroduced the team in Action Comics), but other than that I was right on board and that’s mostly because DnA included a new character who offers folks like me a window into this wild world.

If you’re curious about Legion Lost, I’d say give it a shot, but go in knowing a few things. One, it’s a fairly wordy book. Those are good, well thought out words, but there’s still a lot of them. Two, you won’t need to know anything about the Legion going in, what you need to know is on the page eventually. Three, you get to see some awesome Olivier Coipel and Pascal Alixe art that captures the dark mood of the story.

The Challenge Rivals II Episode 2

Last week I went the live blog route when it came to the season premiere of The Challenge: Rivals II, but I think I’m going to go the play-by-play route tonight. The episode kicked off with a fun little maneuver by CT, Johnny, Theresa, Anastasia and someone else I missed all dressed ninjas throwing water balloons at the rest of the group who are sleeping in the air conditioned living room. This didn’t explode like you might have thought, but even more surprising was the fact that CT and Johnny did something together.

A big source of drama this episode came thanks to the Diem-CT-Anastasia love triangle. As we learn throughout the episode, CT basically wants Diem to tell the other girls like Anastasia to back off. He wants her to make it known that she wants to be with him. He’s basically playing games with her and using Anastasia to prove his point…and get his rocks off.

Actually, that leads to another point of conflict in the episode and one of two fights. CT’s in a room talking to a group of people including Derek, Trishelle, Frank and Knight. Frank and Trishelle tell him that Anastasia’s been telling people they slept together. CT says it’s hokum, but it doesn’t stop there. Frank starts getting in his face for some reason and a fight is pretty close to breaking out, though both CT and Frank tell the camera they know the game: punch someone, get sent home. Frank and CT start pushing back and forth and CT’s shirt gets ripped, but that’s about it because Knight decided to jump in and basically stop the whole thing by wrapping Frank up and bringing him to the floor. This tension ends with Johnny trying to talk his almost-in-tears partner down.

All of this brings us to the episode’s challenge, bawdily called The Triple X Games. But before getting into that, TJ Lavin reveals Cooke’s partner will be none other than Cara Maria. I figured it’d be Heather, the only other female she actually had problems with on her season. Instead, she got partnered with a person that apparently no one else on the cast likes. You guys, they didn’t even clap for her when she came out, it was crazy. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was a cavalcade of complaints about her thanks to a quick talking head montage.

The Triple X Games were broken up into two parts: Woody and Ball Gag. For the first, you and your partner are joined at the crotch with a saw and have to cut through a log. The winning team gets a five second head start with each subsequent team getting one. With the second part, one partner stands with the other one facing them, but upside down and attached to them. You’ve got to get up from a position on the ground, run through an obstacle course, pick a ball up off a stick, drop it down to the other play and pop that ball into an periscope-esque pipe sticking out of the ground.

Since it was a woman’s challenge day, the fellas went first. Right off the bat, Wes wound up quitting, so he and CT were disqualified. Wes and Preston wind up finishing first, but before the second round can begin, Preston says he doesn’t want to dangle in front of Knight’s junk and bails, so that’s one more team out. CT actually picks Knight up and runs a good deal of the course with the others until TJ tells them to bounce. Zach and Trey wind up winning and walking away with the money.

Then it was the ladies’ turn to see who would wind up avoiding elimination and who would be going straight to The Jungle. Nany and Jordan wind up finishing the Woody portion first, but the real treat here is watching Camila go at this thing like a cougar with her first stud and editing that with Jemmye talking about how ridiculous her partner is.

Even though they won a five second head start, Nany and Jonna can not get their poop together and actually stand up. This apparently wound up being a problem for Jessica and Anastasia AND Jemmye and Camila who wound up rolling over one another between obstacles in an effort to not come in last. It was basically a three-way battle for second to last with the rookies coming in last. Oh yeah, Emily and Paula won.

Before heading back to the house, CT drops a bombshell on the two teams of quitters: a penalty will be assessed at the beginning of the next challenge. BOOM. As far as I can remember, that’s never happened before. Back at the house, CT, Wes and Diem are talking about who the guys are going to vote in. Diem — who pretty much always plays safe/scared — wants to throw in newbies Cooke and Cara Maria because they’re new, but CT and Wes think it might make sense to ally themselves with a strong team like that who might stick around for a while and be able to help them with votes down the line.

Voting itself wound up being only slightly interesting, which tends to be the case in these early episodes when the rookies are still around. Most of the newer teams vote for newer teams, so Cooke and Cara Maria got sent in, but the surprise was that Trishelle and Sarah got two votes, mostly for popping off against CT earlier in the episode. So, that’s that, but afterwards Sarah tries to talk some sense into Trishelle, asking if she’s really there to compete, which apparently is the case.

At this point, the Anastasia-CT-Diem triable comes back into play when Theresa explains some of the history between CT and Diem to Anastasia who finally realizes she’s just a pawn. This plays out the next morning when CT comes into her room which sets her off. Anastasia slapped him several times, threw his glasses and kicked him in the butt. Once again Knight was there to stop someone from going after CT (does he think this will help him somehow? is he training for bodyguard school?). Ana lost it, but to be fair, CT just kept pushing her on purpose which isn’t cool.

With that, we’re at The Jungle which is called Hanging By A Thread. Both teams hang down from swings that are part of this large apparatus. While upside down they’ve got to cut through a super-thick rope with tiny hand saws, thus making the opposite team fall into the water. However, before getting to that, Anastasia has a minor medical freakout that sounds an awful lot like dehydration (shock upon shock considering how much wine flows in the house, right?). While waiting for her to get back in action Cooke actually pees into the water they’re supposed to fall into should they lose adding another reason for them to win.

Once the game actually starts, it seems like Cooke and Cara Maria have the lead because they’re attacking this thing from opposite sides. But, their intense movements have started them rocking which — if we believe the editing — allows Anastasia and Jessica to catch up a bit, but it winds up all being for naught. Team C cuts through the rope and we say goodbye to the ladies from Real World Portland. I don’t see these ladies as having anything close to a shot at these things down the line, but I bet we’ll see at least one of them again (a CT/Anastasia Battle Of The Exes team would be funny).

As one ill-conceived “love” dies by way of realization and poor sawing skills, another one between Sarah and Trey starts heating up back at the house. What starts as some couch flirting very quickly turns into shirt-off, straddling time in what they seem to think is a closet area without cameras, but are clearly mounted way up in the top corner.

All in all it was a pretty good episode, packed with all the kinds of craziness you expect from these things: fighting, “romance,” interpersonal drama, etc. The funny thing about this season is that I keep forgetting about some of the more fiery characters who don’t seem to be causing any trouble just yet. It’s still pretty early, but I expected Jasmine, Camila, Ty and Trey to get into it a little more by this point. Maybe next episode!