Trade Post: Runaways Volume 1

runaways-vol-1-hc Runaways Volume 1 (Marvel)
Written by Brian K. Vaughan, drawn by Adrian Alphona with Takeshi Miyazawa
Collects Runaways Volume 1 #1-18

I can’t say for sure, but I believe Runaways was the last comic I decided to check out after reading about it in Wizard. I went on to intern and work there and discovered all kinds of amazing new and old comics thanks to suggestions and coverage, but this would have still been in college before I had any real connection to the mag aside from a subscription. But even then, I didn’t actually start reading until the second volume. At some point I read through those little digests to get caught up, but when it came to actually adding this comic to my trade collection, I wanted to go with the larger scale hardcovers. Eventually, I got my hands on all three of Brian K. Vaughan’s run and have them proudly displayed, but it’s probably been six or seven years since I read this original run.

If you’re not familiar with one of the most beloved Marvel Comics of the past decade, Runaways revolves around a group of kids who find out their parents are supervillains working for giant old gods. They decide to rebel, go on the run and figure out what to do with the new information about their folks they’ve learned. Along the way they also discover they have their own abilities or accessories to help them along the way.

Like a lot of BKV comics (Saga, Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina), this one features well drawn characters with solid personalities and quick wits going through relatable experiences painted on top of a superhero canvas. Each of the lead kids has realistic moments of heroism, cowardice, failure, success, courage, doubt and everything else you feel on a daily basis which means just about everyone can find something to relate to in every issue if not page. They’re just feel them in regards to their parents who may or may not want to kill them. That’s really the key to BKV’s continued success in comics: he keeps his stories fairly simple, zeroes in on character, throws a few twists and turns along the way and just makes great, solid stories that have a low barrier of entry. And most of all? He makes it look easy.

I think Adrian Alphona’s art reflects that seeming simplicity. He’s drawing real-looking kids in some fantastic moments but never loses sight of their human-ness. I will say that some of the earlier issues in this collection seem pretty slight and I think that’s a result of some thin line-work. There’s also some pretty big inconsistencies with the characters from panel to panel and page to page, but you really get a sense of the artist’s growth as these issues progress and then experience an almost quantum leap in quality going into the next volume. Like I said when reviewing The Dummy Line, it can be fun seeing an artist of any kind progress when you’re not looking for “perfection” all the time.

Much like my experience going back and re-reading Y: The Last Man, I found it interesting comparing not only my memories of this book to the actual material, but also the things I’ve heard and read about it since then. BKV gets a lot of well deserved praised in the comics community, but that can distort your perspective a bit when you finally sit down to absorb (or in this case reabsorb) the material. I really enjoyed this reading experience, but I will say that it felt a little too drawn out at times. That might be because I knew the ending and was waiting for it or that I thought one of the the things that happens at the end actually happened much sooner. Whatever the case may be, I still had a great time experiencing this first run of Runaways and feel like I have a more realistic relationship with the work now, which is always a good thing.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: Live Action G.I. Joe

Wow. After writing about G.I. Joe toys last week, I stumbled upon this mostly live action spot from 1993 that may or may not feature actual toys. According to the poster, this was on a Street Fighter II strategy video they dug up. I have no memory of this existing in my world, but then again, I was falling out of love with Joes around this time. Even now, though, I just stared in slack-jawed awe at this clip which kind of makes me wish someone like Canon had made a G.I. Joe movie like this back in the early 90s.

Computer Movies: Evolver (1995)

evolver I usually start these more obscure film reviews off by saying how I came to watch the movie in question. With Evolver, it’s a pretty simple (boring) story. I saw this goofy poster on Netflix, looked a bit closer, realized it was from 1995 and starred Ethan Embry. That’s pretty much all it took. A killer video game/robot movie starring one of my favorite young actors of the era — I love Empire Records and Can’t Hardly Wait — is a particularly precise brand of movie catnip that works on me every time.

Embry stars as Kyle a kid who’s really good at a virtual reality (remember when that was a thing?) arcade game to the point where the company gives him the home version. Basically Evolver’s a three foot tall robot that plays Laser Tag with you. You’ve got guns and aim for those circles on his chest while he shoots NERF bullets at you and keeps score. But this being a movie, the fun doesn’t last as Evolver starts trying to really murder his opponents.

In the past few weeks I’ve watched two movies that give machines a LOT of human characteristics. Between Evolver and Chopping Mall, it’s pretty hilarious how evil and mean screenwriters in this era thought machines could or would be. Both films include machines designed to kill or hurt at the very least and they not only have crappy aim (which I’m pretty sure wouldn’t happen) but also take their time in hunting down and murdering human beings.

It would be one thing if, say, Evolver was programmed to play the game, but his creators switched out his safe ammo for deadly items, but in this case, there’s a vindictive nature inherent in the robot that leads him to go out of his way to kill these people. Hell, he doesn’t even just use his own weapons, but picks items he finds out in the field to make the process even more painful. He loads steak knives into his cannon! Mind you, he doesn’t really need to do any of this because his hand is also a high powered taser. As an added bonus, he learns how to insult and demean people before trying to kill them. This isn’t a bad robot, it’s a psychopath!

Problems with computer programming aside, I actually really enjoyed this movie. It takes the Embry I know and love and puts him in a video game/geek/horror setting that’s a lot of fun, while also mixing in elements of another favorite subgenre: E.T. take-offs. Before he goes nuts, Evolver wanders around with his human companions and learns things from then, just like the beloved alien or Johnny 5 (I really need to rewatch Short Circuit).

The more I think about it, the more I’m confused by the overall story of the film though. It’s revealed that Evolver’s creator Russell Bennett (John de Lancie) originally built the bot to infiltrate and destroy enemy camps. How he got the bot away from the government, brought it to a toy company and then turned it into not just a home game, but also a video game. Also, I get that Bennett falls into the mad scientist realm of craziness, but to knowingly send this robot that he knows can and will murder people into a home with two kids is pretty reprehensible.

Even though it might have its problems, I think there’s actually a lot of good fun to be had in Evolver. Actually, it’s closer to bad fun, but what do you expect from a robot that will swear at you before wielding a buzz saw blade with lethal intent?

We Want Action: Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters (2013)

hansel and gretel witch hunters I’ve been pretty tired lately, which means I’ve started a lot of movies and left them half-watched at best. Yesterday I was trying to figure out the last time I actually finished a flick and realized it was just last weekend when the wife and I gave Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters a watch. I didn’t know much about the film aside from seeing the trailers and a vague understanding that it didn’t do very well, at least in the States. Apparently people wanted a serious film about witch hunters starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton, but instead got a tongue-in-cheek spin on things.

The Tommy Wirkola written and directed film kicks off as anyone familiar with the fairy tale would expect, with the title kids wandering through the woods, finding a house made of candy and getting into it with a witch. After that, they grow up and travel around acing witches for fun and profit. The main thrust of this story finds them in a particular town with a witch problem that turns out to be much bigger and more revelatory than they expected.

Sounds pretty rad, right? And it is, but there’s also a jokey layer of the film that probably got on a few nerves. For instance, Hansel is diabetic after being force-fed candy by the witch and injects himself with a substance, presumably insulin or something like it, every time his wristwatch goes off. I think it’s actually a really clever idea, but obviously anachronistic. If that’s the kind of thing that will turn you off too much from enjoying a fun action romp with a TON of decapitations, then you should probably skip Hansel & Gretel. If you have a sense of humor to go along with movie-based blood lust, then I think this will be your jam.

A big reason I found the film so enjoyable was because of the cast. I enjoyed Renner in Avengers, but let’s be honest, Hawkeye’s not really a character for most of his scenes. This is what I wanted from that film: a cocky hero who’s really good at shooting things. I’m not super familiar with Arterton aside from seeing her in Quantum Of Solace and Pirate Radio, but I really enjoyed seeing her play a strong, badass lady who’s equal to her brother in the witch hunting game if not better. Famke Jannsen also seemed to have a great time as uber-witch Muriel just rolling through the film chewing scenery and reveling in her badness. Plus, Peter Stormare is in this thing. That guy earned my fandom from Prison Break and I still get excited every time I see him skulk onto screen.

There’s even a few fun plot elements that weren’t exactly mind blowing, but still enjoyable. The troll looked rad and it features some of the coolest movie weapons I’ve seen in a while. Who wouldn’t want one of those side-shooting crossbow thingies? So cool. If that sounds like the kind of thing you want to see on screen, give Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters a look. It’s even on Netflix, so it’s easy to get at!

Halloween Scene Blu Review: Scream Factory’s Body Bags (1993)

body bags I love seeing horror movies that I’ve heard about over the years but never actually seen. I also love the TLC that Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint gives to films like that as far as presentation and special features go. So, as you might expect, I loved Scream Factory’s recent Body Bags Blu-ray.

Originally conceived as a Tales From The Crypt-like horror anthology series for Showtime. Body Bags features director John Carpenter as The Coroner, a creepy, pun-loving ghoul who opens various black bags in the morgue and tells the person’s tale. Carpenter directed the first two installments, “The Gas Station” and “Hair” while Texas Chainsaw Massacre mastermind Tobe Hooper came in and did “The Eye.” As with most of the horror anthologies I’ve seen — like Cat’s Eye or Creepshow 2 —  this one features two solid stories and one weaker one.

I loved “The Gas Station.” It’s about a young woman named Anne (Alex Datcher) working over night in a gas station in one of those small booths so she can take money and sell cigarettes. While there she encounters a few creepy regulars, a few nice guys and a bum-murdering adversary who wants to add her to his kill list. Carpenter does a killer job of making this whole thing feel tense and dangerous. There’s a scene where Anne locks herself out of the booth and has to go find keys in the main building. I got super nervous during this portion of the short. Then you’ve got the end where she actually faces the killer. It’s great how Carpenter never leaves the gas station and makes it seem both cramped and huge depending on the scene.

There are a lot of fear elements here, many of which are simply related to work. She’s new, wants to prove herself and also make herself seem super capable. This seems like less of a pride thing and more a need for cash to keep putting herself through school, which is super important to her. You’re also dealing with the claustrophobia of the booth which goes from safe zone to cage and the seemingly expansive space between it and the main building.

Sometimes with anthologies or shorter form horror stories, they feel like truncated films, but I thought this story was perfectly suited for this format and used the timing well. Too much longer and it would be filled with too many fakeouts and lose suspense, which it has in spades.

SPOILERS THIS PARAGRAPH I want to talk a bit about the killer reveal in this one. Carpenter set up several possibilities for the killer in the forms of various customers — including a super-creepy Wes Craven — but I’ve got to say, I never once thought it was going to be Anne’s fellow employee played by Revenge Of The Nerds star Robert Carradine. He got me there. Even though I didn’t recognize Carradine right away, I knew he was a nice guy and didn’t even think about him again  I also liked how Carpenter included a few nods to his other films like when Carradine’s character does the background sit-up Michael Myers style with Anne in the foreground.

I wasn’t nearly as interested in “Hair” which stars Stacey Keach as an aging rich business guy who becomes obsessed with his thinning hair. I understand that this is something that does get into peoples’ heads, but it’s not really on my radar. Anyway, Keach goes to Doctor Lock whose method for hair growth seems to work really well, so well in fact that hair starts growing everywhere. I won’t get into the end reveal, but I’ll say it didn’t do much for me. I’ve actually gone back and watched this segment with an eye for the satire of it all and enjoyed it a lot more. 

Thankfully, I enjoyed the third installment, “Eye” starring Mark Hamill and Twiggy. Hamill plays baseball player Brent Miller who gets into a car accident that leads to the loss of an eye. He gets a transplant, but soon comes to realize that this new organ might be a bit defective as he begins seeing morbid scenes some of which are genuinely spooky. As it turns out the new eye came from a misogynistic killer who starts taking over his body which doesn’t work out so well for his wife. This is definitely the darkest, most intense entry in the series as Hamill struggles for his sanity.

It’s funny, while watching the movie again with audio commentary, “The Gas Station” whizzes by. The first time I watched, I was so absorbed and freaked out that it felt like a feature. Carpenter also points out that he used a station out in the middle of nowhere so it would feel even more remote and lonely. He also pointed out a number of shot set-ups that add to the feel of the picture. Carradine also joined in on the fun. The pair caught up a bit and talked about a few other things, but mainly stuck to the story at hand offering lots of insider details.

Keach comes on and does the same for “Hair” and it’s a ton of fun listening to these two longtime pros talk craft. More than that, Keach says that this story was very personal for him because his parents always told him to wear his hairpiece in part because his dad thought he didn’t make it as an actor for being bald. They even went off on a bit of a tangent about zombie movies after pointing out effects artist Greg Nicotero in a quick shot which was a lot of fun. Listening to this track actually framed the story in a better light for me which will definitely make repeated viewings more fun.

For “Eye” Hooper wasn’t available, so producer (and Carpenter’s wife) Sandy King and Justin Beahm talked about not only his segment, but also some of the goings on behind the scenes that went into filming the various segments and how the movie came to be. This one’s a bit more dry, but still really interesting.

The last major bonus feature on the disc is a doc called Unzipping Body Bags. Carpenter and King get a little more into the background of the show, which started out as an anthology script that they presented to Showtime who bit. So, they decided to do the first one without much thought to anything beyond this first offering. Carradine and Keach also joined in on the doc, which adds a lot of depth to the proceedings.

I’ve been on a John Carpenter kick lately and this movie just continues to build my feelings of affection for this director who has such weird, great sensibilities that have resulted in some of the most fun, creepy and adventurous films around.

Trade Post: Star Wars Volume One – In The Shadow Of Yavin

Star Wars Volume One In The Shadow Of YavinStar Wars Volume One: In The Shadow Of Yavin (Dark Horse)
Written by Brian Wood, art by Carlos D’anda with Ryan Odagawa
Collects Star Wars #1-6 & Free Comic Book Day 2013

Like a lot of comic fans, I get skeptical when I hear of a new licensed comic. For every great continuation of a beloved mythos, there are plenty of uninspired stories that either feel like cash grabs or fail to capture the qualities of the original that made them so great to begin with. However, when I heard that Brian Wood was starting a new Star Wars comic set within the time frame of the original trilogy, I was pretty excited. After it started coming out, I heard good things which made me even more curious to pick the book up. So, when I found myself looking around on InStockTrades with a little extra birthday scratch to spend, it was one of the first books I added to my cart.

The issues contained in this book take place just after A New Hope. The Rebels scored a huge victory by blowing up the Death Star, but they’re not exactly on top of the world as they search the galaxy for a new home base. Of course the Empire is looking for them, but they also seem to have some inside information as Star Destroyers keep appearing at potential HQ locales. To find out what’s going on and also speed up the search process Mon Mothma puts Senator Leia in charge of a black ops pilot squad that includes several new characters as well as Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles.

Meanwhile, the Emperor strips Darth Vader of his command ship and places him in charge of overseeing the construction of the second Death Star. In his place we meet Colonel Bircher, a hot shot pilot who wears a pretty cool looking red TIE fighter pilot suit when he’s out there trying to blast Leia and her Gray Squadron. And then there’s Han and Chewie who try to meet up with a Rebellion contact on Coruscant which doesn’t work out so well and leads them into that planet’s seedy underbelly. In other words, a whole heckuva lots goes down in this one book and that doesn’t even cover Boba Fett’s appearances.

I freaking loved this book. Not only does it tell a variety of interesting and compelling stories that match up with my expectations for new additions to this world, but they also take into account several elements I never would have thought of. In my mind, Luke’s the hero of these movies, but at this point in the story, he’s still the brash farm boy who’s pretty high on himself after blowing up the Empire’s major weapon, but who has very little Jedi training. He actually doesn’t play that large of a role in these issues. Instead, Leia takes the spotlight and shows the world why she’s such an amazing badass. Seeing her in that cool dark Gray Squadron flight suit, zooming around space and shooting bad guys was great!

It also seemed like Wood did his homework when it came to the prequels. I’m no huge fan of those movies, though I also don’t spend my time hating or resenting them for what they are. In fact, I haven’t seen them in a while, but reading this book made me want to go back and check them out again because there are allusions and references to those films that take them seriously. It would have been fairly easy to ignore those movies — basically writing them as if the original trilogy were the only movies in existence — but Wood takes bits and pieces from them, which makes them more relevant in a way.

StarWars_4_CVROf course, Wood’s not the only big name on this book. I’ve been a fan of Carlos D’Anda going back to his WildStorm days. He’s got a great, cartoonish style that works so well when rendering everything from crazy aliens to shiny robots and stealthy vehicles. I’d like him to draw a huge Mos Eisley Cantina poster to cover my walls with. And then there’s this cover artist you may have heard of by the name of Alex Ross. I became a huge fan of Ross’ painterly style with Kingdom Come, but thought he got too far into pastels in the 00s. These Star Wars covers he did are so great, though, that I’d also like to see posters of them. If Dark Horse could get on that, that’d be great.

All in all, I’d say this is a home run for Star Wars and comic fans. I loved the story held within these covers and am looking forward to adding more of these books to my library as they come out. My only complaint, and it’s a publishing one, is that all the covers from the monthly issues aren’t included in the collection. I prefer them to appear in between issues, but barring that, they should at least be collected in the back, especially when you’re dealing with a killer artist like Ross. But that’s all I got on the negative front, which says a lot about how much fun I had with this comic. Here’s hoping Episode VII captures some of that same energy and adds another great new chapter to one of my favorite franchises.

Toy Commercial Tuesday: G.I. Joe Personnel Carrier

I don’t talk too much about vehicles here on Toy Commercial Tuesdays, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t a fan of them growing up. While playsets were definitely the gold standard for me when it came to action figures accessories, vehicles were a lot easier to get back then, especially when it came to the 3 3/4-inch scale of G.I. Joes.

While looking around YouTube for this week’s TCT, I stopped when I saw this ad for the G.I. Joe Personnel Carrier a vehicle that not only let you mow down evil members of Cobra, but also gave you a practical place to store your toys. I don’t remember when I added this truck to my collection, but it definitely helped lead to some epic Joe adventures that took place on the terrain of my parents’ living room floor.

Book Review: The Dummy Line By Bobby Cole (2011)

the dummy line by bobby cole When it comes to books, I’m not the most adventurous consumer. Over the years I’ve discovered enough authors I like who have solid outputs that I’m pretty well set when it comes to the book department. I’ve also got a huge backlog of books in my to-read piles and bins thanks to sales at various stores, most of which are out of business. But, one of the interesting things about moving into the world of e-books is the Amazon system put in place that either suggests other offerings you might like or gives you a great deal on semi-related novels. That’s how I came to own a digital copy of Bobby Cole’s The Dummy Line. While in Michigan over Christmas, I decided to travel light, take the Kindle and decided to give this book a shot. I’ve been casually reading it since, but finished it over the weekend.

The story focuses on Jake Crosby, a turkey hunter heading to a hunting property with his daughter for a weekend of shooting. Once they get there they run afoul of some ruthless local hoodlums and things quickly get dangerous. They’re not the only ones in the area though as a pair of local teenagers also get wrapped up in the conflict. Before long the police start investigating and scramble to figure out exactly what’s going on as an increasingly confusing series of events make themselves known to the authorities.

I was pretty much on board with this thriller from the get go because it features a normal guy trying to get away for the weekend with his little girl who realizes he needs to make some tough decisions to keep them both safe. That’s an easy in for me as a dad, even if the idea of going to a remote cabin to shoot birds is not something I feel the need to do.

I also enjoyed the way Cole bounces from player to player in this drama. You’re not just with Jake — which would have been exhausting — but also his pursuers, the teenagers, the cops and various other characters. This not only mixes things up to alleviate tension, but also shows how various events can be correctly and erroneously misinterpreted by various parties. Too often I see stories where everyone can figure out exactly what’s going on and that seems too unrealistic. For me it was as interesting seeing the cops try to figure out what’s happening as actually experiencing those moments firsthand with Jake.

But it’s not a perfect book, not that I would expect as much from a first novel. My biggest problem with this book was the proliferation of clunky prose. One of the tricks I learned early on as a writer is to read your work out loud to see if it sounds natural to your ear and not just your brain. It seems to me like this step might have been skipped in the process because there are some overly complicated ways of saying simple things in this book. I didn’t feel like this on every single page, but it happened enough from beginning to end that it stuck out to me.

I also wasn’t a fan of the early chapters in the book when the villains were introduced. As a dad, I felt easily manipulated by these grown men who had no problem harming a child in any manner of awful ways. But, I also realized that they were presented as very one-note characters right off the bat. These are bad, bad dudes with no conscious who faithfully follow the most cunning of their ilk. And, for the most part, that stuck throughout the book, though I was happy to see one of them go to great lengths to stop some pretty bad stuff from happening.

In the process of reading The Dummy Line, I was listening to an episode of the horror podcast Killer POV and I had an interesting thought. On the episode, one of the hosts was talking about seeing an early movie by a filmmaker, noting some parts where they didn’t do so hot, but also looked forward to seeing what their next project would display as far as growth. This got me thinking about Dummy Line because it’s also by a relatively new creative person. It’s not a perfect offering, but it sure is good and got me interested enough to eventually read his next book Moon Underfoot, which I also got on the cheap from Amazon. While I still enjoy reading all the authors I’ve come to know and love over the years, it’s also kind of exciting to get in on the ground floor with someone developing their craft and trying out this whole author thing, which I myself am trying for as well.