Seeing Blu: Adventure Time Seasons 1 & 2

Adventure Time Season 1 Bluray How have I not written more extensively about Adventure Time? I discovered this show a few years back, not right when it came out or anything, but after I saw some pretty solid buzz on the art blogs I follow. It’s so amazing and very much like someone stuck a blender in the collective conscious of my friends, hit whip and poured it into the form of an animated series on Cartoon Network. I’ve realized that 30 is the perfect age when it comes to enjoying television because creative people your own age have worked their way up to the point where they’re running and creating shows. Adventure Time reminds me of the way my friends and I played as kids, but then there’s shows like New Girl or the sadly cancelled Happy Endings which feel like hyper-realized versions of my reality (or what I wish my reality was).

If you’re unfamiliar with the show it revolves around two pals Finn the human and Jake the shapeshifting dog who hang out in the raddest tree house you’ve ever seen in the Land of Oo0. Ooo’s a pretty crazy-awesome place populated by all kinds of wizards, princesses and anthropomorphized, well, everything. Finn and Jake are the kinds of friends I have, am and want to be and I can always get into that which is the center of a show completely packed with all kinds of action-fantasy elements.

So, yeah, I like the show. When I got a press email asking if I’d be interested in reviewing Adventure Time Seasons 1 and 2 on Blu-ray, I jumped at the chance. Holy nuts, you guys, as much as I love this show on TV, it’s even better on Blu-ray. There’s the obvious benefit of just being able to hit Play All and watch 26 episodes in a row, but this show looks so bold and bright and awesome in Blu-ray it makes my brain happy. It took me a few episodes into the second season before something clicked in my head and I realized that it just looked so much better. I also noticed how thin the lines are which stuck out to me for some reason.

While the Season One disc has a variety of special features I haven’t been able to check out just yet, I did listen to the majority of the commentaries on the second. The interesting and unique thing about this group of commentaries is that they were recorded all at the same time in order in show’s creator’s house. The sound also occasionally drops out from the interviews and is replaced by Pen Ward’s ukelele music. This might seem odd, but the reasoning is that the conversation turned to things that might not be appropriate for younger viewers. It definitely makes it feel like you’re missing out on big time secrets which is kind of a bummer, but I appreciate the effort. I think it could be argued that a collector/adult oriented version with fully intact commentaries would make sense, but I’m not too broke up about it.

Adventure Time Season 2 Bluray

These discs do two other things that I really appreciate. First and foremost, unlike a lot of cartoon home video offerings, these include every episode from the season instead of a sampler offering. I know the seasons don’t have much of an arc as far as overall stories go, but I like having them all in one place. These two discs did something else that no other one has done and that’s make me want to keep the slipcover. The images I’ve posted here are what the discs look like with the covers. When you pull the Finn one off you see his long flowing blonde locks, for Ice King you get a look at the Nice King. Usually I think slipcovers are an annoyance and a waste that usually go into the recycling bin as soon as they find their way in our house, but they actually figured out a way to make them fun and somewhat necessary (I find it a bit unnerving to look at shaved Ice King for long periods of time).

Another added benefit of having these discs is that my 2 year old daughter has absolutely fallen in love with this show. It’s no surprise, really. All the things I mentioned above — fun, action, friendship, bright colors — are just as cool for kids and babies as they are for adults. Plus, how can I not be okay with my kid wanting to watch a show I love (he says knowing full well he’ll wind up watching the first hour of both Blu-rays dozens, possibly hundreds of times)? The only problem? Her version of “Adventure Time” is a real jumble of consonants and difficult to understand. Oh well, I’m hoping that her love of this show will result in her wearing adorable Finn, Jake, Fiona, Cake, Princess Bubblegum or Marceline clothes and hopefully some toys. I really like the Finn and Jake toys…

Halloween Scene: Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl (2009)

I’ve had Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl on my radar ever since I saw and greatly enjoyed Machine Girl. I was really high on that film and wanted to see more movies along those same lines, but then I watched Tokyo Gore Police and it was a little too nutso crazypants for my liking, so I stepped away from the ultra-violent, blood spraying insanity of this particular subgenre of Japanese horror films. I should note for the record that one of the directors, Yoshihiro Nishimura, did special effects work on Machine Girl and directed directed Gore Police.

Anyway, since I was aiming for something that could fit under both the Halloween Scene and Friday Fisticuffs banners, this flick made for a great candidate. After seeing that it was dubbed instead of subtitled, I was in. Then I was treated to a scene where a vampire fought three Frankenstein chicks, going so far as to bite one’s face and pull away which actually unraveled the skin until she was just a skull. That skull then sprayed like a thousand gallons of blood at another character and I was pretty much shown what this movie would be about and I was IN.

Well, you’re not shown everything right away. There’s actually a lot of dark, dark comedy in here, some of which will probably offend someone. The main characters are in high school which means we get treated to some pretty crazy clicks. When I say that, I’m actually being surprisingly restrained because one group is a group that sings songs about cutting themselves and another is a group of Japanese girls who emulate Africans and African Americans by, well, it’s pretty bad.

But wait, what’s this movie actually about? Technically, it probably doesn’t matter. The movie doesn’t get super slowed down by bothering with a story — it’s only 84 minutes — but there is one that includes the new girl in school giving the popular boy a candy bar with vampire-ness inside. We’re told in the beginning that when a girl gives a boy chocolate or candy in Japan it means they’re showing their love, which is something I only just now remembered and better explains why the other girls were so mad about it. Anyway Frankenstein Girl comes into the picture because her dad’s a crazy sadistic mad scientist who wears some kind of Kabuki make-up who puts her back together after an incident with Vampire Girl. After that, things get REALLY bloody.

But like I said, that’s not what you watch a movie like this for. You want to know how the kills and gore look. Honestly? They look really good. If only they would have nixed the terrible CGI blood splatter (one of the biggest banes on horror since Scream‘s self awareness) you’d have a pretty darn solid group of kill scenes where blood is literally sprayed all over the scenes. I should also note that there’s some really good FX work when it comes to prosthetics and whatnot, things that verge on Re-Animator territory. The action scenes are also pretty solid when they come around. There isn’t a lot of hand to hand combat, but when the swords and pick axes start coming out, you know things are about to get even bloodier. Most are cool, but I’ll tell you what, the ones with the cutter girls actually made me cringe more than the more gruesome set-ups (though those turned pretty gruesome too now that I think about it).

Longtime readers will remember that I always prefer voice over to subtitles when it comes to foreign flicks. Basically, I think there’s already a pretty big barrier to entry for films written and shot based on whole cultural concepts you’re unfamiliar with, let’s make it a little easier by getting rid of the words on screen which scream YOU’RE WATCHING A MOVIE instead of allowing you to get really engrossed. I give the Funimation folks a lot of credit for getting some actual actors to do the dubbing in this movie. A lot of times the tracks can feel like afterthoughts, but you can tell that they got actual voice actors who know how to act to do these roles. Kudos for that.

So, yeah, at the end of the day, I’ve got to say that Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl was a surprisingly bloody delight that is patently offensive, but still has a really odd sense of humor to go along with it all. So, if you’re not easily offended and like a good amount of blood and gore, then you can do a lot worse than checking this movie out.

Vertigo Trade Post: Northlanders Volume 1 & Faker

Northlanders Volume 1: Sven The Returned (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Brian Wood, drawn by Davide Gianfelice
Collects Norhtlanders #1-8

It’s been a while since I’ve read a Brian Wood comic. There’s no real reason for that aside from the fact that I didn’t have any on hand until recently. I was pretty excited to check out the first volume of Northlanders because it’s a book I’ve heard good things about and it did not disappoint.

I’m not sure how the whole series goes, but this particular arc of the comic is about Sven, a Norseman who ran away from home as a boy and became a warrior in his own right. Now he’s gotten word that his people are being corrupted by their new leader, but more importantly, he’s owed some money. Upon returning, Sven finds that he’s dealing with a spiritually and emotionally crippled people. They also don’t want to go down without a fight, or at least their leaders don’t. There’s also the matter of another attacking people.

I haven’t read or watched a lot of stories set in this time period about these people, so it was a fun and interesting thing to witness made all the better by Davide Gianfelice’s artwork which is a little cartoony or stylized and sharp at the same time. It also looks like he draws on a paper that’s bumpy or porous or digitally altered to look that way. It adds an element that kind of subconsciously makes you think you’re reading something old even if the art doesn’t look old.

What I like best is that this is one full story that’s well told and well paced. I haven’t read any other volumes or issues so I’m not sure if they tell Sven’s adventures or move into other tales from the realm, but I can appreciate this as it’s own thing. Bonus points to everyone involved (especially Gianfelice) for keeping a consistent look throughout the whole thing. I’m getting pretty bummed out by six issue collections or storylines broken up by different artists. It does take me out of things. Anyway, I’d recommend giving this book a shot and I’ll keep my eyes peeled for future volumes.

Faker (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Mike Carey, drawn by Jock
Collects Faker #1-6

A quick story before jumping into the review. I have a kind of long history with writer Mike Carey. One of the very first freelance writing gigs I ever had was interviewing him about Vampirella for Newsarama right after my Wizard internship. I didn’t realize at the time, but I was actually reading his Hellblazer comics at the time. Anyway, when I did wind up working at Wizard and occasionally doing some writing, I wound up on the X-Men beat a bit which meant I interviewed Carey several times about his work on that series. He’s a super nice guy that I’ve talked to a few times since leaving Wizard. I really enjoy his comics as well as the first book in his Felix Castor series The Devil You Know and have the second Vicious Circle sitting in my to-read pile once I’m done with the 2012 Ambitious Summer Reading List.

So, when I realized I had a copy of his Vertigo miniseries Faker — drawn by another favorite, Jock — I was curious to give it another read, the first one with all the issues on hand (I believe I read it when it came out at Wizard, but can’t quite remember). Anyway, the story is about a group of neredowell (or downright awful, depending on how you look at the world) college kids each getting by in school without really doing it the way you’re supposed to. One of the girls sleeps with professors, saves the “evidence” and then blackmails them to get good grades. They’re all just getting back to Minnesota University, throw a big party, get sick (all over a lab) and get reacquainted with their friend Nick. The problem is that no one but them knows that Nick exists.

Let’s slap the SPOILER label on this paragraph. It turns out that the lab they were partying in contained an experimental drug. They were all so messed up and emotional that when they all threw up, it all combined with the drug and actually created a new person, Nick, out of them. They wind up at a lab where the stuff is made and discover what the deal is and then on the run.

I got a very movie script feeling from this comic and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because of the miniseries aspect and the way the story ends, I thought it was a very well contained complete story, though one that’s not always easy to read. These are mostly bad people who wind up doing some bad things to other dead people and have bad things done to them. It’s not an easy story to read because of that, but Carey does a great job of finding the nuggets of humanity that keep me interested while also throwing in all kinds of other elements that did the same. This is the kind of comic you could give to your film fan friend to show them that the kinds of stories they dig can also be found in the medium of comics.

Annihilation Trade Post: Books 1-3

ANNIHILATION BOOK ONE (Marvel)
Written by Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, drawn by Mitch Breitweiser, Scot Kolins, Ariel Olivetti & Kev Walker
Collects Drax The Destroyer #1-4, Annihilation: Prologue & Annihilation: Nova #1-4
Back in my days at Wizard, I wound up being the go-to guy for Annihilation interviews. I had just read Infinity Gauntlet for the first time and was pretty high on the idea of Marvel’s space characters getting a jump start. With very few exceptions, I had very little experience with these characters, so it was kind of fun to just be thrown into the middle of all this craziness and see where it went. When these issues were coming out, I had trouble not comparing the Annihilation set-up with that of DC’s Infinite Crisis. Both had four four-issue minis leading up to a main series. At the time it felt like Marvel did the whole thing better because their minis lead into the main series better. I can’t say I necessarily feel the same way now, but at least we didn’t have to get four one-shots to actually cap those stories. But, as usual, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Continue reading Annihilation Trade Post: Books 1-3

Trade Post: Chew Volume One Taster’s Choice

CHEW VOLUME ONE: TASTER’S CHOICE (Image)
Written by John Layman, drawn by Rob Guillory
Collects Chew #1-5
If my poor memory serves me correctly, Chew was a pretty big deal for Image when the book launched in 2009. A quick scan of the Wiki page for the book even tells me that it made it’s way onto a bunch of best of lists for that year and even won an Eisner this year. I gotta say, I don’t get it. I was excited to check out this comic about Tony Chu a “cibopath” which is basically an empath, but with food so when he takes a bite of something he gets images in his head about where it came from. The world he lives in is one in which a bird flu ravaged the country killing many people, which lead to the government banning chicken as a food and seemingly granting the Food and Drug Administration with more power to stop black market chicken selling. Chu gets a promotion as a special investigator where he works alongside the huge Mason Savoy, a fellow cibopath. The trade ends with some action and a big reveal, but for me, it didn’t really go anywhere and didn’t hook me enough to make me care about what else might happen in this book.

My biggest problem with Chew is that it’s very hard for me to get a grasp on it. Why should I care about Tony Chu? He’s so vanilla and uninteresting aside from his ability–which is supremely gross and potentially unpalatable for some readers–that he comes off as every “cop thrown into a new job” role I’ve seen a million times. Savoy’s far from flat, but also doesn’t seem to have much real character. Sure he wants to find out what really happened with all this bird flu stuff (there’s conspiracy theorists who say it never happened and that something else caused the epidemic), but he’s all style and no substance. Plus, I feel like we’re just groping blindly in a world that doesn’t really get well-explained in these issues. I pieced together what I mentioned above about the bird flu, but even I had questions. Some writers are able to throw you into the middle of the story and give you a good amount of information as you go along without being too obvious about it, but that’s not one of Layman’s strong suits. He often has characters straight-up explain their relationships so the reader knows what’s going on. I guess one could argue that the entire thing is a big parody or cartoon or exaggeration, but even though Guillory’s art has some of those elements to it, I didn’t get that feel as I read the book.

Speaking Guillory, I freaking love his artwork. He draws exactly how I see some of the stories I’ve written or have had bouncing around my head for years. He’s stylized, yet able to include crazy action at the drop of a hat. His angular, cartoony style takes some of the edge off of the grosser moments in the book, many of which involve Chu and Savoy taking a bite out of dead people and animals in various states of decomposure. His art, rather than the story itself really kept propelling me through the more boring parts of this book.

In the end, I just didn’t care about what was happening in this comic. Were this a 90 minute action movie, I probably would have loved it, but as an ongoing comic book that I’m supposed to be curious about and interested in to the point where I want to come back month in and month out or at the very least for the later trades, it just doesn’t grab me. It was a lot like NBC’s The Event in that there are mysteries, but I don’t care enough to continue on and, at this point, would just assume ask someone, read about it online or just forget about in general. Anyone else read this book and have a different take? I’d love to hear one because I’m really at a loss.

Hey Kids, Want Some Gummi Chicken Feet?

I know what you were thinking last time you were at the movies looking for a snack, “I want a gummy candy in a fun shape, but not a small person with an overly large head, I wish there were some chicken feet for me to chomp my way through.” Well, you’re in luck because Adams Faircare Farms has them in bulk! I’ve seen everything in gummy form from human body parts and rats to fruit and vegetables, but for some reason, chicken feet grosses me out the most.

Halloween Scene: The Exterminators (2006-2008)

The Exterminators is one of those comics that came out of nowhere, smacked me in the face and demanded my attention. I was working at Wizard at the time and was always looking for a new comic to check out and Exterminators was it for me. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but if you ever read anything in Wizard about this book, I probably wrote it. I think it was Book Of The Month at some point, something I had to fight for. Exterminators is one of my favorite Vertigo comics and probably their best series in a while. I was bummed to hear it got canceled and had unfortunately gotten behind in the issues, so I slowly collected the trades to read all at once at some later date. Well, that later date started last week and carried over to today when I finished the fifth volume. This is another long one, so hit the jump for the full review.

I should probably explain the comic a bit more than just saying it’s awesome. The basic premise is that this dude, our hero, Henry James has just gotten out of jail and is working at his new step father’s exterminator business Bug-Bee-Gone. Meanwhile, there’s something weird going on with Draxx, the latest in bug-killing chemicals. And by weird I mean that it mutates certain kinds of pests so they no longer have the genetic restraints for things like size and ability to procreate. All of which leads to an all out war between man and bugs by the end of the series.

The series (which ran for 30 issues total) reminded me a lot of Preacher. You’ve got a mysterious yet chivalrous hero with his fair share of lady problems (his new girlfriend Page is a literary stripper) dropped into a supernatural problem he knows nothing about, but is willing to fight the good fight. There’s also plenty of corrupt, terrible people around him, though he has a solid group of confidants he grows to rely on. I don’t make the comparison to say that Oliver cribbed from Garth Ennis’ book, I just say that to get you interested if you’re not already. In fact, there’s a physical injury that Henry suffers at the end that Jesse Custer also survived that I probably would have changed if I was Oliver, but it’s not that big of a deal.

I want to elaborate a bit on the place of the supernatural in Exterminators. I wasn’t expecting it because the book seems so firmly planted in the real world what with them killing all manner of creatures from bugs to animals. But, having read it all in a short period of time, it all makes sense and fits. It’s kind of like an Indiana Jones movie where you’re solidly in the real world for most of it and then you’ve got thousand year old Grail knights or guys ripping hearts out through chests. In this case, the supernatural elements stem from Egyptology. I have no idea whether the gods mentioned in the comic are real (I’m guessing so), but everything seemed really well put together and it was ingenious of Oliver to combine these elements with modern day exterminating, big business, a take on environmentalism, Cambodian history and the role a bug called the Mayan hisser had in the downfall of the Mayan civilization (again, something I don’t know about, but totally bought in the context of the story). I think it’s Oliver’s ability to weave these real world elements in with the supernatural ones that makes them make sense within the story.

But a story can’t just be told with creative details, the characters also have to be there. Now, unfortunately, towards the end of the book we lose some of the characters we were introduced to. I’m guessing that Oliver had more story to tell and had to sacrifice some characters like Henry’s mom and her step son in favor of actually finishing the overall arc of the book. Regardless, the characters that are around are very intriguing. Henry’s a lot of fun to read, especially as you learn more about his past. Then you’ve got his bug brother Stretch, a Buddhist with a mean streak and a cowboy hat. Nils, Henry’s stepfather, is of the old school. He’s been in the pest killing biz for years, in fact inheriting the business from his own father who has an interesting past. AJ’s a scumball beyond the pale. Saltoh is a man of science with a very dark past. The list really could go on and on. I can’t think of a single character that wasn’t at least reasonably fleshed out.

And, considering I’m talking about a comic book here, you can’t ignore the artwork. For my money, no one draws a creepier bug than Tony Moore, who can be considered the regular artist on the book since he pencilled 17 of the 30 issues. The other artists do a good job keeping up Moore’s aesthetic while using their own styles, but none of them quite hit the absolute creepiness of the swarms Moore did. I really wish he could have stuck around for the full series, but he had Fear Agent to do, a book I’ve never read, but have heard is very similar to Exterminators (but in space). I know that a few people from back in the day at Wizard couldn’t stomach reading Exterminators because of how gross the bugs look (we used to read new comics at lunch all the time, which didn’t help).

And for anyone wondering whether this book should really fall into the horror category, the book is basically about monsters trying to destroy a city and then humanity as a whole. Oh, plus it’s gross at times. Let’s just say that bugs aren’t the only things that get annihilated.

So, I can’t recommend a self-contained book more than Exterminators. It really is the full package as far as I’m concerned. And, unlike some books that got canceled before their time, it definitely has an ending. Yes, some elements don’t get addressed before the very end (What was the deal with Nils and his son? Who gave Saloth the Draxx information in Vegas?), but it feels complete enough for me. Word on the street (ie Wikipedia) is that Exterminators might be making it’s way to television thanks to Showtime, which is interesting because it started as a TV pitch). My fingers are crossed. Plus, you’ve gotta love a book that uses a quote you wrote on the cover (#10, it reads “With more intriguing plot twists than ‘Lost’, THE EXTERMINATORS seems poised for a long, mind-blowing run.” – WIZARD Magazine). That’s my first (and I believe only) cover pull quote!