The Great Hannibal Lecter Deep Dive

Do you ever get really excited about a deep dive, go full-boat into it and then wash out? Well, that’s kind of what happened last year when I found myself minorly obsessed with Hannibal Lecter and his exploits throughout television, film and, of course, the written word. I started watching the series, which made me read the books, while still watching the show (a very unique and interesting experience) and then the movies, but I petered out after seeing my third take on the Red Dragon story. But, I still wanted to get these thoughts out there, so here’s most of the original post I started sometime last spring.

For years, I’d been hearing great things about NBC’s three season-long series Hannibal based on Thomas Harris’ character made most famous in The Silence Of The Lambs. It ran from 2013-2015 with Mads Mikkleson starring as the title character and Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, a pure empath who FBI Behavioral Sciences head Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) brought back in from his teaching gig in an effort to help catch a serial killer. I decided to dive right into the series thanks to its presence on Amazon Prime Video and now have a new favorite show! Continue reading The Great Hannibal Lecter Deep Dive

Revisiting Ed Brubaker’s Captain America Part 1

captain america winter soldier vol 1Leading into the new year, I was on a big Captain America kick. After organizing my trades in my new office I realized that I had all of the trade’s covering Ed Brubaker’s run up through Reborn and decided it was time to give the whole run a read-through. This won’t be a traditional trade post going volume by volume, but I did want to take a bit of internet real estate out to write down some of my thoughts on this epic undertaking (Brubaker’s, not mine).

This run kicked off in late 2004. At the time of launch, I wasn’t aware of what was going on aside from what I read in Wizard. At the time, I was in my last year of college and not reading too many books, aside from Runaways and New Avengers which I was picking up at a local hobby shop (when I went home for vacations, I’d mainline my regular books). I can’t say for sure, but I probably didn’t even know who Brubaker was at the time. He was working on a run of comics that easily became not just a favorite of mine, but I believe, a definitive one for one of comics’ longest running heroes.

And it all started with a bit of continuity craziness. For as long as I’d read and read about comics, the adage was, “No one stays dead in comics except Uncle Ben and Bucky.” But Brubaker noticed something interesting: Bucky never died on panel. The event was referred to and remembered many times, but readers never actually saw it happen “in real time.” With that in mind, he set out on a series of events to bring Bucky back, first as the villainous Winter Soldier and then as a potentially more interesting man-out-of-time than his partner. Around all that, Brubaker created an espionage-filled tale of intrigue that involved Red Skull, a new villain called General Lukin, the Cosmic Cube, S.H.I.E.L.D., Arnim Zola, Agent Carter, Falcon, World War II adventures, murder, Civil War and falling through time.

death of captain america vol 1By pitting the seminal hero against a variety of villains old and new and also teaming Cap up with the best heroes the Marvel U has to offer, Brubaker shows how great of a person Steve Rogers really is. This is a man who never, ever gives up. He won’t just fight until he can’t fight anymore, but he will also believe in the goodness of his friends, even when they’ve seemingly done terrible, awful things. At the same time, Brubaker gives fantastic treatment to characters like Sharon Carter, Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson that feel equally weighted, and sometimes even more important than what’s going on with Steve.

Of course, as anyone who read this book or paid attention to comics in the past 10 years or so already knows, Steve Rogers was not the star of the book after getting apparently murdered after the events of Civil War. This allowed Bucky to step into the costume and become a new kind of Captain America. This allowed Bru to continue exploring Bucky as a character while also showing how great Steve is in comparison.

Even with Steve out of the picture, though, that doesn’t mean the bad guys aren’t still planning and plotting against anyone wielding Cap’s shield. But, as we learn — and you’ll notice upon a new read through — this particular gang of miscreants has been planning something huge for YEARS. That’s one of the many reason I enjoy going back and doing these larger read-throughs, I pick up on so many of the seeds planted that I wizzed by the first time around. Of course, it helps when you already know where the story is going.

All of this comes to a head with Road To Reborn and Reborn. When I first read these books, I was working at Wizard and we’d snatch the issues up when they were available. That meant I read through them pretty quickly, usually while eating lunch, and getting them back to the stacks so someone else could read them. Actually being able to take my time with these, savor and study them a bit made for a much richer reading experience.

I’ve talked a lot about Brubaker in this post, but I also have to give huge props to regular series artists Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Luke Ross and Butch Guice who did an amazing job of keeping a consistent tone throughout these issues. Epting’s the hero for me, but all of these artists came together to create a general idea of dark, yet bold superheroics that look just as good in the daylight as they do in the shadows. I also give a lot of credit to series colorist Frank D’Armata who kept things consistent across the board. I think his work on this book was actually the first time I really noticed how important a colorist’s work can be.

captain america reborn

I read these 11 trades in pretty short order, but hit a roadblock because I didn’t have many of the trades after Reborn. I requested a series of books from the library — including these other Brubaker-penned volumes — but went off track in my read-through when I got some extra Christmas money and purchased the Trial Of Captain America Omnibus for about half price. I returned the Cap books I’d gotten from the library and waited for my killer hardcover to come in, but in the mean time, I went a little crazy with the library requests and haven’t cracked the brand new big book.

I’ve calmed down a bit with the requests and hope to get back to Captain America pretty soon. Not only did I have a great time going back through these issues, but we’re getting to a point in the book that I’m not nearly as well-versed in. In fact, I haven’t read a good deal of these issues, so this will be a whole different, reading experience!

Best Of The Best: Back To The Future (1985)

back to the future posterLast week when I wrote about Romancing The Stone, I included it in a list of movies that used to be fairly ubiquitous in my younger days thanks to cable channels like USA, TNT and TBS. Another franchise that easily made that list, though I forgot to mention for some reason, was Back To The Future. I’m a huge fan of this series, yes even the third one, so it was a little surprising even for me when I realized I’d never owned it in any form. Then, just before Father’s Day, the Blu-ray set went on sale on Amazon, I passed the link to my wife and now that oversight has been remedied!

Not long after, I popped the original film in and had a wonderful time watching it again. This Robert Zemeckis film — hey, he directed Romancing The Stone too — is a masterpiece from beginning to end. It’s a fantastic adventure film, it’s a wonderful comedy and it’s also one of the best time travel movies of all time.

But, if you’re not familiar, I’ll lay down the plot. This kid Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) hangs out with a scientist named Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) who built a time machine out of an old DeLorean. McFly needs to jump inside to escape some trouble and winds up back in 1955. His presence there winds up screwing the time stream up a bit because his parents — played by Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover — don’t get together when they should. At the same time, Marty gets into trouble with local bully — and future jerkwad — Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). So, Marty not only needs to get his parents together, but also convince a younger Doc that he’s a time traveler so he can get back home.

I think I might actually remember the first time I watched Back To The Future, which is incredibly rare because, like I said, these movies all just seemed to exist on TV at random times and you’d occasionally catch bits and pieces on the weekends. Anyway, my aunt and uncle used to live in an apartment building. I don’t remember many details, but I have a vague memory of being over there with my parents and all of us enjoying the movie. That family togetherness centered around a movie still sticks with me, much like my memories of E.T.

I wish I could accurately put into words just how charming and lovable Fox is, specifically in this era. We’re talking Family Ties, Teen Wolf and The Secret Of My Success MJF when he was at his prime. Few people pull off the slightly exasperated, good natured hustler better than Fox. Plus, the rest of the cast is so on-point the whole time. Lloyd is the epitome of non-evil mad scientists while Thompson and Glover both pull triple duty, adding greatness to each version of their characters.

One of the best things about Back To The Future is how deep the world goes, especially in regards to the time travel elements. I watched this movie a lot of times during my childhood and only here and there after that, but one day I spent a lot of time reading through the movie’s IMDb trivia page which chronicles a lot of the film’s smaller moments, like the change from Twin Pines Mall to Lone Pines Mall. So brilliant. It’s the kind of movie that actually gets better the more you learn about it, which isn’t always the case.

Best Of The Best: Wayne’s World (1992)

wayne's world After recently rewatching The Matrix and remembering how incredibly huge it was for me at the time it came out, I decided to start going back and watching some of my all-time favorite movies. I’ll be sticking to the ones I haven’t written about here on UM already, because even I’m surprised at how many movies I love that I haven’t written about here on the site.

At this point you might be thinking, “You’re writing about your favorite movies and Wayne’s World is the first entry?” To which I reply, hell yes! This movie about a pair of goofy midwestern guys with their own cable access TV show who live pretty rad lives filled with rock clubs, friends, pretty girls, bands and weird characters came at just the right for me.

I was 9 when the movie came out. This was right around the time where my dad and I would see who could stay up later on Saturday’s to catch SNL, so I was already somewhat familiar with Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey). From there it wasn’t a hard sell to get me into the theaters. As it turned out, I actually went to see this movie with my grandma when I went to visit her. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I can imagine she was a mixture of confused and appalled. Still, I had a great time and soon enough added this movie and it’s 1993 sequel to my tape collection. And, of course, the soundtrack was in my 50-disc CD player.

Beyond that, this film was also a touchstone amongst my group of friends throughout grade school and high school. In fact, my two buddies Chad and Charlie dressed up as Wayne and Garth for Halloween our freshman year of high school. Heck, another friend would constantly pledge his undying love for the film’s female lead Tia Carrere. This movie was part of our DNA. It shaped us in ways that I can’t even properly explain.

Speaking of explanations, I should probably talk about the movie itself. Wayne and Garth host the cable access show Wayne’s World. Slimy 80s yuppie holdover Rob Lowe sees this and offers them a deal to take the show to a wider audience. Meanwhile, Wayne meet’s Carrere’s character Cassandra. She’s in a band that Lowe’s character Benjamin tries to sign in an effort to seduce her. Eventually, Wayne and Garth realize what’s up, get back to their roots and try to make things happen anyway. It’s kind of a “screw the man” film packed with all kinds of humor and gags that might not work for modern audiences, but sure as hell worked on me and my friends when we were kids.

While some of the humor is admittedly amateurish and sophomoric, this movie also gets into some fourth-wall breaking stuff that not only comments on this movie, but movie-making in general. This might not seem like a big deal, but to me, at the time, it helped me figure out some of the different working parts that went into making something like this.

At the end of the day, I understand that Wayne’s World fits into the category of “Great To Me” and not necessarily “Great,” but that’s the whole point of these Best Of The Best posts.

Grant Morrison Trade Post: Animal Man Volumes 1-3

animal man vol 1 morrison Animal Man (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Chas Truog with Tom Grummett
Collects Animal Man #1-9

After reading Sin City: Booze, Broads and Bullets, I figured I’d stick with some my shelf for further reading selections and decided it’s time to give one of my favorite comics of all time another read. Like a lot of the more progressive comics I love, I discovered Grant Morrison’s Animal Man while interning or working at Wizard. I’d read a few Morrison comics before that, specifically JLA, but hadn’t gotten into his crazier stuff. Morrison has a reputation as being weird for weird’s sake, but I don’t think that’s the case. Sure, some of his stuff is just bonkers, but as far as I’m concerned he’s just trying to go to new places in the medium. I totally get it if that’s not for you, especially if you were a big time Animal Man fan before this run which took the character and did a lot of crazy stuff with him, but I dig it.

The run follows the adventures of Buddy Baker, a man who can copy the abilities of any animal in his immediate vicinity after an alien spaceship blew up in his face. At least, that’s how it works in the beginning. Buddy’s married, has two kids and doesn’t bother with a secret identity. He also develops into a vegetarian concerned with animal rights, which makes sense when you consider his power set.

The first four issues of the series mainly focus on Animal Man trying to figure out why B’Wanna Beast is running around making disturbing animal hybrids and wrecking STAR Labs facilities. These four issues really set the stage for the series as a whole in some respects. We see the relationship between Buddy and his wife Ellen which is super realistic and one of the best superhero relationships around. Meanwhile, Morrison puts Animal Man through some standard superhero paces — fighting another hero, meeting Superman, etc. — but he puts a different spin on them. Buddy can and does throw down, but he soon finds out that it’s not the only way to solve a problem which definitely carries throughout the series.

After that initial arc, we’re treated to a series of killer single issues. #5 takes a meta approach to Looney Tunes cartoons, #6 is one of (if not THE) best Invasion tie-in, #7 finds Buddy dealing with an old villain called The Red Mask, #8 has Mirror Master invading Buddy and Ellen’s home and #9 brings in Martian Manhunter and the JLI tech team to secure the house. #5-7 are actually three of my all time favorite single issues stories because of the unique ways they look at the material and superheroes in general.

On a quick note, I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but there’s a crowd-scene skater kid in #2 with an Anthrax T-shirt and then an issue or two later we find out that the scientists were experimenting with the drug of the same name. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but reading so many Morrison comics with little hints and nods like this have primed me to look for those kinds of connections which makes for a fun reading experience. I also noticed that Ellen’s drawing a spaceship heading towards a planet in #1 that I assume refers to something, but can’t figure out what. I thought it might have been from Invasion, but that doesn’t check out.

animal man origin of sepcies Animal Man: Origin Of Species (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Chas Truog with Tom Grummett
Collects Animal Man #10-17, Secret Origins #39

One of the major aspects of Morrison’s run that a lot of people talk about is the meta nature of the story which ends with Animal Man actually meeting his writer, Morrison. The first volume doesn’t get into those ideas hardly at all, though #5 does prime that pump to an extent. All of that really starts coming to the surface in Origin Of Species which finds Buddy meeting the aliens who actually created him. Meanwhile, Dr. Hightwater and Psycho Pirate first enter the story, two characters who continue to break the fourth wall, revealing that some of these characters know that they are actually comic book characters. We also start seeing scenes that will make a lot more sense at the end of the next volume.

On the superhero side of things, Animal Man keeps meeting more heroesincluding Vixen, who he has a lot more in common with than just powers. A lot of this material was revisited in Dwayne McDuffie’s Justice League Of America volume called Second Coming. There’s also a pretty moving issue featuring future Aquaman co-star Dolphin and a few of the Sea Devils trying to put a stop to a gross dolphin killing ritual in Denmark. The abused animal stuff gets offset by a fun adventure with the Justice League Europe before getting back into some pretty awful things done to apes.

It’s interesting looking back at these comics from the 80s that tackled some of the real world’s horrors, especially as perpetrated on animals. These are the kinds of things you might have seen on Dateline or 20/20, but they weren’t in your comics until Morrison and creators like him went out on a limb with a potentially off-putting social perspective. They might be too in-your-face for some people and I don’t agree with everything presented in the issues, but I appreciate and respect him for going there and DC for allowing him to do these crazy things with their characters. At the same time I get that some readers just want to read about superheroes punching each other, so this probably isn’t the best comic for them.

animal man deus ex machina Animal Man: Deus Ex Machina (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Chas Truog with Paris Cullins
Collects Animal Man #18-26

And then things get really weird. Buddy and Highwater take peyote in the desert. Characters die. Villains help heroes. Costumes change. Revenge is had. Time is traveled. Limbo is visited. And Grant Morrison has a chat with Animal Man. I don’t want to reveal too much about the story, but I will say that this comic is both one of my favorite regular-guy-as-superhero stories as well as the best commentary-on-comics books around. The whole last conversation between Buddy and Grant should be required reading for everyone who gets bent out of shape about their favorite characters getting turned into something they don’t like. In addition to all that it’s a wonderfully plotted, long-form story that has end-of-run elements seeded going way back. Plus, above all else, it actually makes me feel things when I read it, even this second time around.

The beauty of a story like this is that it came at a time when DC Comics was allowing their creators to not only take risks with long-lasting characters, but also tell wild stories that hadn’t been done before (at least in Corporate Comics). Basically, Morrison was allowed to tell the story he wanted to tell while utilizing elements of the larger universe when they made sense. Characters weren’t just showing up to show up or boost sales, but because they made sense. Heck, Morrison got to take this idea to even crazier levels by using The Psycho Pirate and Limbo as ways to play around with pre-Crisis and alternate reality versions of the DC characters.

A lot of people have noticed connections between Morrison’s DC works. There’s quite a few to be found in these pages. First off, Animal Man is the first place he wrote the Justice League specifically characters like Superman and Martian Manhunter who he would go on to pen later on. More obviously, he created this new version of Animal Man and then returned to the character with 52 almost two decades later. Morrison also dealt with multiple realities and whatnot in Final Crisis and Superman Beyond, which also featured Limbo, Merry Man and Ace The Bat Hound all of which appear in these books.

I enjoyed reading Animal Man so much this time around that I decided to do a long-term read/re-read of his other DC Comics work I have in my collection. I don’t have Arkham Asylum, Batman: Gothic or the third and fourth JLA deluxe books but I’ve got just about everything else. I’m not only looking forward to enjoying those stories again, but also getting a better feel for the connections.

My Favorite New Records Of 2013

Well, this list turned out to be easier than I expected. The way I compile these things every year is I go into my iTunes and organize the tracks by release year and then narrow down which albums deserve a spot on the list. 2013 was an interesting year because I not only cut back on my album purchases — almost all of which are done via Amazon’s MP3 site these days — but also apparently didn’t go for much in the way of new music because I only bought two records that came out in the 2013 calendar year! And, as it happens, I like them both very much. So, without further ado, here are both of my favorite records from 2013.

Volume 3 by She & Him (2013)

I feel like something of a broken record, but I’ve been a fan of Zooey Deschanel since I first saw her in Elf. Several years later she and M. Ward started a group called She & Him. I was sold already because a major reason I like Elf so much is because of her singing voice. Since then they’ve release two more regular records and a Christmas album, which is one of a dozen such records I praised last year. In fact, She & Him Volume 2 made my list of favorite new records of 2010-, so it’s not much of a surprise that their next effort not only made its way into my collection but onto my list.

I didn’t go back and listen to the other records, but after giving this one a more recent listen, I want to say 3 might be my favorite She & Him offering. Deschanel doesn’t seem to be singing as many songs that don’t do her voice any favors and M. Ward is in there creating tracks that feel like what they are: updated girl group numbers. I especially like when he gets kind of twangy and noodley on tracks like “I Could Have Been Your Girl.”

These are just fun, nice, breezy pop songs about all the best pop song subjects: love, unrequited love and lost love. If you’re looking for a mellow record to relax with, I think She & Him Volume 3 is a pretty great option. But, it’s not like this record is all fluff. I actually really got into the heart of “Together” and a few other tracks that have themes I can easily tap into.

This album does something I kind of love, it reminds me of a party. You know how parties kick off loud and great with everyone having fun, hit a crescendo at some point and then end with a few tired/drunk people sitting around talking quietly? I like when albums share that similar progression. You’ve got a lot of the peppier pop songs in the beginning and then end with slower, even more mellow tracks like “Shadow Of Love” that I can easily imagine playing in the background of a clean-up scene at the end of a party movie.

Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy (2013)

My other favorite record of 2013 is another one that’s not much of a surprise. I’ve expressed my love of Fall Out Boy’s rock sensibilities before, so I was all over the idea of a new record from them after their hiatus (no one really believed they broke up, right?). Save Rock And Roll might have a pretty brazen title, but there is a bit of truth to it. I don’t want to be that guy, but as a very casual observer of pop music, I’m not seeing a lot of bands actually getting their music out between all the pop and hip hop tracks. And yet you’ve got FOB whose “The Phoenix” is already an instant sports stadium and commercial hit. How can you not get pumped up to this song? Between that and “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” they’ve got two of the most prevalent guitar-based tracks I can remember in a while which is fantastic because I also happen to dig them both.

Also, I’m a huge sucker for songs about staying young and awesome like “Alone Together,” which clearly means there’s still a pretty large portion of my psyche that’s stuck in my more carefree days. But, hey, why not? Those days were a lot of fun and I like songs that remind me of them. I could easily go through track by track and talk about how I couldn’t stop stomping my foot while listening or how I love dancing around with the kiddo to this record, but I won’t (anymore than I already have, I guess).

Unlike the other records, this one actually features a number of guest appearances from Foxes, Big Sean, Courtney Love and Elton John. I don’t really know Foxes or Big Sean, but I thought they both worked well into “Just One Yesterday” and “The Mighty Fall” respectively. And, guys, Elton John and Fall Out Boy! It sounds crazy on paper but makes a lot of sense resulting in a pretty great title track.

My biggest problem with the record is that I really hate Courtney Love. I was far from excited when I heard she was on the record and while she’s as awful as always, she doesn’t really have much to do in “Rat A Tat” aside from some strange newscaster-esque rants and one bit towards the end that try to ruin the song, but don’t. I can’t tell you how glad I am that she’s not in the mix when it comes to that awesome chorus.

After a four year hiatus, I think FOB came out swinging with a collection of songs that stand up there with a lot of my favorites. Keep it up fellas! Aging dudes like myself still need music to rock out to and I hear the kids dig you too, so that’s good. While writing about Save, I was reading the Wiki page and realized I hadn’t picked up the short EP they did with Ryan Adams called PAX AM Days. I had some extra iTunes gift card scratch and picked it up, but haven’t actually listened to it yet, so maybe it’ll make next  year’s list!

Friday Night Fights: Tommy Lee Vs. Dae Han Park In Best Of The Best (1989)

best of the best Phillip Rhee Simon Rhee

*Friday Night Fights presents crazy fight and battle scenes from movies with little-to-no context. If you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll probably want to skip the clip. *

Writing about Phillip Rhee’s new movie The Underdogs reminded us of the epic fight between Phillip Rhee’s Tommy Lee and Simon Rhee’s Dae Han Park towards the end of that movie. Haven’t seen it in a while? Give it a look.

Best Of The Best Trade Post: The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Part 2

league of extraordinary gentlemen volume 1The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1 & Volume 2 (America’s Best Comics/WildStorm/DC)
Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Kevin O’Neill

Back in 1999, Alan Moore threw in with WildStorm, then still part of Image, and launched his own imprint called America’s Best Comics. His first three books were Top 10, Tom Strong, Promethea and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The line took various other genres like pulp fiction, Victorian literature and crime drama and looked at them through Moore’s probably-snake-god-shaped-superhero-loving prism. At the time, this was a big deal because Moore had been doing a lot of random Image and WildStorm books just a few years before.

I don’t quite remember when or where I picked up the first LOEG trade, but I think it was in college. I do know that I wrote an extensive paper comparing Moore’s versions of these characters to their literary originals. I found the document and might upload a PDF along with my notes if its not too too embarrassing. Anyway, I believe the second volume was already out by the time I got into the series, but after getting caught up I had to wait like everyone else for Black Dossier, which, as I mentioned previously, spawned my re-reading of this whole franchise.

As I mentioned in that post, I wanted to see how the book’s two main stars Mina Murray (Dracula) and R. Rider Haggard’s adventurer character Alan Quartermain started their relationship, but I was also excited to see the book’s other stars Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll (well, really Mr. Hyde) and the Invisible Man (not really, but I’ll get to that). You could say that this book does not actually revolve around the burgeoning romance between Murray and Quartermain that the book’s latter installments focus on, but in addition to introducing us to the characters and pitting them against a nefarious Doctor, you still get to see how these two first met and hints at what attracts them to one another. This becomes much more the focus in the second volume, but the seeds are here.

That being said, it wasn’t the romance that made me fall for this series in the first place, it was Moore’s very simple concept of gathering together several characters from fiction and putting them together on a team to battle other characters from books. I love a good crossover/mash-up and this is a superb one. So, you’ve got me on one level just because I like the idea, but upon re-reading the series, I was impressed with how Moore made me care about dusty old characters whose books can by quite boring to read through. There are some really cool moments between characters that some writers would have gotten rid of in favor of more action scenes, but Moore balances these things well.

I will say that I had a bit of the problem with this first volume that I had when re-reading Moore’s Top 10 a while back: the journey isn’t quite as fun when you know the twists and turns. For Top 10, a lot of the stories revolved around “Whoa” Moments (when a detail is revealed to the reader and he or she does their most sincere Keanu impression), but those moments aren’t quite as interesting the second or third time around. For LOEG Volume 1, I had some of the boredom when the team was being put together in the first few issues. I’ve read these before (and seen the cover) so I know they get Jekyll/Hyde to join;, seeing it again feels a bit been-there-done-that. But, even those teambuilding scenes get peppered with some of those personal inter-character moments that I really like. For instance, when on a mission that winds up bringing the Invisible Man into their ranks, there’s a really cool moment between temporary roommates Nemo and Quartermain where they acknowledge they’re participating in this wild experiment because they both love adventuring even though they’re gaining in age.

loeg vol. 2

The second volume of League stories follows the same team on adventure that takes many of its cues from War of the Worlds. I wrote about this a while back when comparing it to the original novel, the radio play and the movies, but there’s a lot more going on here than just a take off on the heat gun-using walking milkstands first described in H.G. Wells’ novel. Again, it’s the character moments that I not only liked most but also remembered better. Mina and Alan in the woods sticks out, as does Hyde’s encounter with the Invisible Man, which happens to be one of the most disturbing and creepy sequences in fiction that I’ve ever experienced.

Here’s an interesting look into my own psychology and how I approached this first two volumes the first time around. As I said, I was in from the first description I heard of these characters. I hadn’t read most of their stories, but I also immediately liked them. But, these are not all very likeable characters, especially the Invisible Man. An interesting combination of my own misguided bias and Moore’s ability to make even monsters charming made me almost forget about some of the terrible things these characters have done. That’s an interesting trick.

Another interesting thing I realized on this second reading is that, by populating these stories with characters from existing fiction — including people seen in crowd shots — Moore and O’Neill actually make me think about every single character in every single panel. “Oh, I wonder if that guy’s somebody? What’s her story?” These are things I don’t normally think when reading a normal character because they’re “just normal people.” But if I’m under the impression that even a background character might have an existing literary history, I’m more intrigued. This also makes me worry about extras in dangerous scenes more than I normal would.

One of the interesting things that I noticed having read these books in the unconventional order that I did — Black Dossier, the Century books, Volume 1 and Volume 2 — is that certain things seemed to become more important. When Mina starts writing a letter to Campion Bond in the second issue of the first volume it wasn’t just a literary device used to convey exposition and remind readers what had happened, but also an actual document that was probably sitting in a folder somewhere. This along with the above comment about the book’s population add an extra layer that makes me want to dive in all the more.

I could probably go on and on about these book and how much I enjoy them or how many things I noticed in this reading that I hadn’t noticed before — like Mina being “treated” at the same hospital they found the Invisible Man in — but I want to bring it back around to one last element that I’ve kind of hinted at and danced around in both of these posts: Mina is a fantastic character. She’s so strong it’s ridiculous. Terrible things have happened to her in her life, not the least of which was getting attacked by Count Dracula and yet she perseveres and strives to utilize the opportunities given to her in an effort to make her life better and move on. She was a school teacher who would otherwise have no business working for the government, let alone leading a secret tactical group of freaks and ne’re-do-wells, but as Hyde points out in volume two, she’s seen worse than most of them can offer. Instead of letting her past destroy her, she’s embracing it and using it not only to her own advantage, but to the advantage of her country and the world. These are qualities that her teammates can sense in her and lead to them accepting her as their leader. She’s the human lynchpin that holds the monsters together, but also offers the example that allows them to have human moments of their own. She’s literally the key to the whole series which is why she’s not only the first character we’re introduced to, but also the focus of the rest of the volumes.

With all that being said, I’m really looking forward to whatever else Moore and O’Neill have in store for this universe. I remember reading they’ve got something with Nemo’s daughter in the works. I’d love to learn more about that family and what they’ve done over the years. Frankly, I’d love to read about anything set in this world. I’m hooked, keep the juice coming.

Best Of The Best Trade Post: The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Part 1

league of extraordinary gentlemen black dossierThe League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, Century 1910, 1969 & 2009 (America’s Best Comics/WildStorm/DC Comics/Top Shelf)
Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Kevin O’Neil

Any time we go away for more than a few days, I like to give myself what I call a project comic. This is where I grab a bunch of issues or trades of one series or a particular creator and dive in. For Christmas, we went to visit my wife’s parents in New Hampshire and after a lot of thinking (more than I like to admit, really), I settled on giving League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a read from Black Dossier through the last Century book, which I hadn’t read yet. After finishing Century 2009 I hadn’t quite gotten my fill of the series, so I went back and gave the first two volumes a read and had a delightful time with the whole series.I’m going to start off with this post focusing mainly on Black Dossier and the Century trilogy and then come back for the second part which will talk about the books and concepts in broader terms.

If you’re not familiar with the general concept behind League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it started out as a Victorian superhero team of sorts that brought together Mina Murray from Dracula, Alan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde brought together by the British government to help them defeat extranormal threats. The bigger idea is that Alan Moore created a world inhabited by many of the characters we’ve read about it books for as long as the written word has been around. While introducing his versions of these characters and the kind of world that can hold them all, Moore also hinted at a much deeper and richer history to this world.

Black Dossier completely revolves around that history. The book works on two levels. First, it’s your average comic book showing the latest adventures of Mina Murray and Quartermain in 1958 as they steal the document you’re reading in an attempt to figure out what the government knows of their exploits since they severed ties. It’s also the aforementioned collection of documents all pertaining to the history of the League as if it were put together by someone in that universe. So, while you get your comic story, you’re also, essentially, looking at papers that are not for your eyes only, making it kind of fun and sneaky.

I’m impressed with how dedicated Moore was to the idea of this book. The documents he created range from forgotten Shakespeare plays and weird mod tales to journal entries and MI6 correspondences. From my limited experience with the types of writing Moore pays homage to in these stories, he does a solid job of matching them and utilizing them to convey information accurately in the style of the respective eras.

To be honest, though, reading through all those text pieces can be a slog. While I appreciate Moore’s attention to detail and ability to switch styles with the flip of a page, I wonder if the whole thing is a little more, “Hey, I bet I can do this,” than, “Hey this will serve the story really well.” I’m still on the fence with this point but think I’m leaning towards the latter. I like the idea of the format and maybe just wish there had been more image-oriented tales instead of page after page of dense text. I admit, I tend to have a problem getting interested in all-text pages in comics, so that doesn’t help. Still, I stuck with this one and read almost every single bit, skipping some paragraphs here and there to get to the point a bit quicker.

league of extraordinary gentlemen black dossier absoluteAs far as the references this series is known for, I liked seeing James Bond’s involvement. I mean, he’s not treated particularly well and seems more based on the movie version of the character than the one I’ve read about in the first few Ian Flemming novels (to my poor memory, at least), but it was neat to see Campion’s relative involved in the proceedings. I know there was a lot of problems getting this book published, I believe because Moore wanted to incorporate more overt references to pop culture characters but DC was worried about a legal backlash. I’d love to hear what those were, if anyone knows of a good interview on the subject — or LOEG in general — please drop me a link in the comments.

While I’m not 100% in agreement with the presentation of all the information conveyed to the reader in this book, I do really appreciate the lengths Moore went to to not only stick with his vision, but also give the reader a mountain of information and history to comb through and absorb. I forgot most of what was in the text sections after only reading this book one time previously, but it’s still amazing the way he weaves together all kinds of existing fictional elements into a brand new tapestry that has its own history. It does raise a few questions like how come no one seems to believe in weird stuff in this world that not only survived a Martian invasion but at one time had an England ruled by a faerie queen? But overall, I like the information, I like the intent and above all else I loved getting to see Mina and Alan together again doing their thing. I’m a sucker for that thing in fiction where you allow your characters to cheat death and be together, it’s the hopeless romantic in me I guess. Oh, minor SPOILER, but Mina and Alan found a fountain of youth in Africa which is why they’re neither decrepit nor dead.

league of extraordinary gentlemen century 1910Things were a lot less romantic in the Century volumes, at least as they progress. These three books were presented in prestige format with mostly comic pages and a few text pages in the back. I admit, after going through Black Dossier, I skipped all the other supplementary materials moving forward. Anyway, Century 1910 gives us a look at what the British government has dubbed The Mina Group, consisting of mostly new members, trying to stop the birth of an apocalyptic individual called the mooonchild.

The plot mainly revolves around that, allowing the reader to get their first real look at the team that now includes Quartermain Jr., Carnacki, A.J. Raffles and Orlando who becomes a major part of the next two books. I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the giddy thrill of reading these new characters just because I’m nowhere near as familiar with them as the members of the first team, but it was still an enjoyable read with an intriguing story. We’re also shown what happens to Captain Nemo and the brutal, unfortunate tale that finds his daughter becoming the captain of the Nautilus.

Let’s call the next paragraph SPOILERVILLE. The most interesting part of this story is that, thanks to the soothsaying visions of team member Carnacki and the ensuing investigation by the team, they actually plant the ideas necessary to bring about the apocalypse in the villain’s mind. I thought that was kind of a brilliant and tragic kick off to a three part story. My only complaint about the book is that it seems a little bit preachy at the end. Actually, preachy’s probably not the right word, but the reason Nemo’s daughter decides to become the new Captain Nemo is because a bunch of drunks at the bar she works at rape her one night. She decides to bring down the thunder of the Nautilus on these people as revenge and then continue her father’s work. The very end of the book features a murderer and a barmaid sing a song about how terrible the world is and that the basic needs of the people need to be met if the higher classes expect things to get better. This is actually an opinion I agree with, but a part of me saw the brutality of Neo Nemo’s situation exploited to make this point. I know it holds with the history of the time and this is a fictional character, but that feeling still nags at me.

league of extraordinary gentlemen century 1969This second volume of Century, set in 1969, follows the adventures of Mina, Alan and Orlando who have become an adventuring trio who no long work for the British government. Much has happened in the 59 years since the previous volume (and the 11 years since Black Dossier), but like all the other installments of this franchise, most of them are hinted at or further explored in the text pieces that remain half- or un-read by yours truly. I’m particularly interested in Mina’s superhero team, but will get to that eventually.

Anyway, it’s the swinging 60s in London and our heroes are reminded of the old case revolving around the moonchild and the apocalypse. This time, the nefarious plot revolves around the bad guy who hops from body to body and intends to take over the lead singer of a Rolling Stones-esque band.

Since I’ve already fallen hard for these characters, I think I’d enjoy seeing them in just about any situation, but I’m also fascinated by this era in history and love the way it lends itself to a visual medium like comics. I also really enjoyed seeing how this trio had progressed over the years and how they deal with their immortality in different ways, especially how Mina adopts the language of the times in order to not feel like a dinosaur.

I also like how I got a lot more of the references in this volume. I mean, the Ruttles are a big band in this world, which is hilarious and awesome. There’s still a lot that went over my head, but I’m used to that from every other volume. Speaking of references, this volume is basically one giant nod to Empire Strikes Back. You’ve got the heroes learning more about the villains, a battle between the main hero and the main villain and a super-downer ending that makes you salivate for the next installment. For what it’s worth, I don’t usually get emotionally worked up when it comes to comics, but I got pretty upset with what happened to Mina at the end of this book. I was even more upset when I read 2009, though.

league of extraordinary gentlemen century 2009Seriously, when I realized what had happened between 1969 and 2009 with these three characters I was heartbroken, or at least as heartbroken as I can get from fictional characters. It’s just so sad. Forget about losing a a hand and realizing your dad’s a galactic-level jerk, Mina, Orlando and Alan had it ROUGH.

This volume finally brings the promise of the first to a head as the apocalypse and moonchild are both confirmed unless our incredibly damaged heroes can stop them. This part of the story is not only about defeating what seems undefeatable in an external sense, but also getting over even the worst possible things done to you by others or yourself. It’s about triumph over adversity and for that it’s a positive and exciting tale, one that features a SPOILER Harry Potter analog fighting Mary Poppins…or god, or something, I’m not quite sure, but I liked it better than that weirdness at the London Olympic Opening Ceremony.

As you’d expect, I got WAY more of Moore’s references this time around, which always adds to the enjoyment of these books. The more you’re in on the joke, the funnier it is and all that. I also like how the mythology of this series kind of came to a head with several characters from other books, including Dossier, making appearances and playing important parts in the story.

Getting back to SPOILERVILLE, beware. Still, it’s not the happiest of endings, is it? While Orlando and Mina seem to get through the final battle relatively unscathed, poor Alan looks to have died. We see that he was taken back to their fountain of youth, but doesn’t seem to have made it. Here’s the thing though, we know that Alan’s faked his death before and it’s possible that Mina and Orlando don’t trust their new former government friends as much as they’re letting on. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of him. I hope we do, I’ve grown quite fond of these characters of the years.

I’ll get into this in more detail in the next post, but one of the reasons I went back to read the first two LOEG volumes was because I wanted to see how Mina and Alan’s relationship started out. It’s much different than what we see in BD and the Century books. I like who Moore developed them both as individual characters and their relationship as its own kind of entity, not to mention how the inclusion of Orlando altered and augmented that union. At the end of the day, beneath all the literary characters and all the references and all the magic and sci-fi and fantasy, League is actually the story of two very extraordinary people not only teaming up but finding love in a world that never fails to surprise and accost them. That simple nugget in the center of this much larger thing is what readers can grab onto while being exposed to the strange, wonderful and horrible.

The Chronological Spielberg: Jaws (1975)

Jaws is one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s an amazing combination of real world drama and horror with so many amazing comedic and dramatic moments mixed in. I truly love this movie. So, why did it take me almost six months to watch after checking out Spielberg’s first two movies Duel and The Sugarland Express? No, it’s not because I didn’t particularly like Sugarland, but more so because I wasn’t as excited about watching a movie I’d seen before. I’ve talked about this here and there on the blog, but since graduating high school I’ve been really enjoying watching new things instead of rewatched movies I love. This actually worked in my favor as I sat down to watch Jaws today because it had been a while since I watched it (I’m shocked I’ve never blogged about it before, actually, but then again I’ve never blogged about The Usual Suspects, Reservoir Dogs or Lost Highway either and those were wildly influential on me).

Everyone knows the plot of Jaws, right? A great white shark starts terrorizing a New England island community in the summer. This presents a problem because the greedy mayor doesn’t want Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) to shut down the beaches for fear of losing tourist money. After more and more attacks, Brody teams up with out of town shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and off kilter local shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) to go out on Quint’s boat and kill the fish.

What makes Jaws such a great flick is that, in addition to having some truly scary moments (the underwater head in the boat still creeps me out on the same level that Michael Myers sitting up does at the end of Halloween), there are so many great moments with humor and emotion. That bit where Brody’s wife looks at the shark book and yells at her kids to get out of the water is fantastic as is the wonderful scar-comparison scene on the boat. Chills, you guys, chills.

Even better? The film itself has an equally epic behind the scenes story. It took forever to get some of the shots and the studio was freaking out. The mechanical shark — Bruce — didn’t work well which is one of the reasons you only see the shark briefly in the film. This bit might not have been in the script, but it certainly made the film more dramatic. After seeing just bits and pieces, can you get a better reveal than the “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” one? I think not. And this goes to show that Spielberg’s not just a great technical director (as seen in Duel), but has also had great instinctual storytelling instincts.

I really can’t say enough good things about this movie, but I think I’ll just stop here. Gallons of ink both real and digital have been spilled about the movie. If you’ve never seen it, do so immediately. You will absolutely not be disappointed. And if you are? Well, I probably don’t want to talk to you.