Halloween Scene: My Horror Toys Part 1

To say that this Halloween season will be unlike any other is like saying that Leatherface has a unique take on cosmetics. My wife and I are still taking the pandemic seriously (it’s incredibly stupid that anyone has to say that, wear a damn mask) so trick or treating for the kids is all but cancelled. We’re trying to figure out a new way to celebrate, but we’ll see how that goes. Personally, this year will be very different for me because I’ve got a house full of people who want nothing to do with horror movies (or are too young to see them). So, I’m doing my best to squeeze them in where and when I can, but am also focusing on a lot of comics and books. But, I also decided to decorate the shelf in my office with a small army of fiends in action figure form that date all the way back to my childhood!

Continue reading Halloween Scene: My Horror Toys Part 1

Buffy Season 8 Trade Post: Volumes 1 Through 8 & Fray

buffy season 8 volume 1 the long way home

It’s vampire week here on UnitedMonkee! Let’s kick things off with one of their all-time biggest enemies, Buffy The Vampire Slayer! Like most of the internet, I loved the series (yes, even the first season). Even so, when Dark Horse first announced they were continuing the show’s adventures with Season 8, I was a bit skeptical, even though series creator Joss Whedon was acting as executive producer of the whole thing. See, back in the day, I bought a ton of Buffy comics from Dark Horse until I realized that they were just kind of filling in holes and playing with the mostly un-chronicled summers. Later on I picked up the Buffy Omnibus volumes and read in the intro that that was part of the whole deal because they didn’t want the comics to step on the toes of the show. As a reader, though, I got a bit bored reading about Season Three characters when Season Four was in full swing, but that’s old water under an old, far more crankier bridge.

The timing thing was obviously no longer an issue with the show being off the air. And, adding to the “good” column, Whedon would have an unlimited budget to work with and some of the best names in comics, TV and film like Brian K. Vaughan, Brad Meltzer, Georges Jeanty, Drew Goddard, Jane Espenson and Karl Moline.

Really, there was no chance I wasn’t going to start reading this book because I was working at Wizard at the time and free comics were everywhere. Like my fellow Buffy fans in the office, we got to reading and really enjoyed it. I might have been a little taken aback by the whole idea of this army of Slayers working around the world S.H.I.E.L.D.-style, but once I got used to it, I was all in. Continue reading Buffy Season 8 Trade Post: Volumes 1 Through 8 & Fray

Songs Of Summer “Hooch” by Everything

As I write this, the nice summer day I drove through to get to the coffee shop to get some work done is being invaded by darkness, gale force winds and torrential rain, but that won’t stop me from posting a video of Everything’s “Hooch,” another 90s song that has embedded itself in my memory as the kind of song that always reminds me of summer (not that I’ve actually heard “Hooch” anyone in the last few years, but you get the idea). What almost stopped me, however was the fact that, wonder of wonders, the video isn’t on YouTube. I was shocked and dismayed. “But EVERYTHING’S on YouTube!” I shouted to the rainy heavens and only get a wet face in return. Don’t worry, though, as you can see above, I found a live performance of the song and the official video here, but I’m still surprised it’s not on YouTube.

“Hooch” was a nice little pop song that came out and seemed like a pretty big deal, but it’s been mostly forgotten with the exception of some TV appearances. I remember actually taping the video back in the days of VHS. It was on the beginning of one of the tapes I used to record Buffy week in and week out (before the dawn of DVDs and the now-ubiquitous TV on easy-to-consume home viewing apparatuses). This one song is the most I’ve ever heard of from Everything, but it’s a fun song that always reminds me summer. I’m a fan of bands who mix it up with the basic band configuration of guitar/bass/drums. Did anyone ever get one of their albums? Were they any good?

Torchwood Is Awesome

After burning through the first four seasons of Doctor Who, you might be wondering why I never got around to talking about David Tennant’s last few movies in the role. Well, partially because I forgot to write about The Next Doctor, Planet Of The Dead and The Waters Of Mars (all of which I dug, for whatever it’s worth) and partly because the missus and I are STILL waiting on the second disc of The End Of Time. We’ve had the first disc for probably two months at this point, with the “long wait” second disc at the top of our queue, but it keeps getting passed up. Methinks our counterparts have the second disc and need the first. Why this two-parter isn’t on Instant along with the rest of the actual series, I don’t know.

Anyway, we moved on to the new TV season and got absorbed in whatever else was on, but now that things have slowed down thanks to the dearth of good summer programming, we went back to the Netflix Instant well and gave Torchwood a shot. As fans of Doctor Who know, Torchwood is an anti-alien invasion organization in Great Britain, the Cardiff, Whales branch of which is run by the way-too-hansom Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman). He’s got pretty much his own thing going there with a team consisting of coffee getter Ianto Jones, doctor Owen Harper, science genius Toshiko “Tosh” Sato and policewoman Gwen Cooper who facilitates our entry into this crazy world of alien invasions and artifacts as she’s the new person joining the group. There’s a lot of craziness going on in that area because of a space/time rift attracting all kinds of aliens, time travelers and the like.

The show takes on a kind of “monster of the week” vibe, but there’s a clear, overarching storyline going on, just like in shows like Doctor Who or Buffy. In fact, the Buffy comparisons don’t end there. Unlike Doctor Who where there were big chunks of episodes I was bored by or straight-up didn’t like, I liked all the Torchwood episodes (much like Buffy). But, the comparisons run a lot deeper. Gwen struggles with keeping her new job secret from people like Buffy did with her mom, the rift is very similar in concept to the Hellmouth and there’s a character played by James Marsters who likes to kick the shit out of the person he’s got a thing for. Oh, there’s also some episodes that are very similar. In Torchwood there’s an episode called “Adam” in which this guy Adam all of a sudden is part of the Torchwood team even though we’ve never seen him before, which is very similar to the Buffy episodes “Superstar” where nerdy Jonathan becomes a huge deal to everyone in Sunnydale. I don’t bring up all these comparisons to say that Torchwood is a rip off of Buffy. In fact, many of these comparisons didn’t come to me until later (specifically the rift/Hellmouth one). I think it speaks well of the show that it’s comperable to one of my favorite shows. I think it also makes it easier to explain to someone who’s never seen Doctor Who or Torchwood. I’d say that, for the most part, you don’t even need to watch Doctor Who to get the show. There are a few references here and there, but it’s not dripping in Who lore, which is good because it allows the show to stand on it’s own two feet (the Doctor doesn’t sweep in and save the day whenever things get really crazy, something that bugged the missus, but I really appreciated, especially during the five part Children Of Earth story). Actually, even when Martha Jones shows up, there’s only a few quick references and inside jokes about the Doctor. As with her later appearances in Doctor Who, I like her much better now that she’s not the companion anymore.

The show really hinges on Barrowman who, it must be said, looks suspiciously like Tom Cruise. Anyone else thing Cruise might have jumped ship to England to film a niche genre show while things got too hot in the US, creating an actor persona in Barrowman that seems pretty detailed? I’m just saying. Anyway, like I said before, the dude’s hansom, but more importantly he’s charming as hell. When he was on Doctor Who he was portrayed as being attracted to both men and women, an aspect of the character heavily played up on the TV series. In fact, unless I’m mistaken, he’s seen exclusively with men on the show from his workplace romance to James Marsters. I guess that bugs some people enough that they need to complain about it on message boards, but can’t we all just grow up a little? Boys kissing boys isn’t that big of a deal. Don’t we have better things to worry about?

The treatment of the other characters throughout the two 12 episode seasons the five episode Children Of Earth miniseries is pretty fantastic too as you never really know what’s going to happen to who. Jack actually can’t die, but that doesn’t mean life is easy for him (neither is death, as coming back seems pretty traumatic every time). He’s got his own long-running problems. Plus, the fact that he’s been around for hundreds of years means there’s a lot we want to and do find out about him. One of the other characters seems to be shit on pretty regularly. Another died and came back, but doesn’t have any life functions, so he’s basically “made of glass.” There’s an episode built around him called “Walking Dead Man” that I actually found very moving and it didn’t end the way I thought it would. Meanwhile, Gwen starts off the series trying to keep her job as an alien cop from her boyfriend Rhys. I really appreciated how they handle the secret identity concept. As a superhero comic fan, it’s a pretty common story point, but I think they handled it more realistically than a lot of comics. It’s not an easy thing to keep your loved ones in the dark, especially when you live with them. I really like how that story arch took form, where it went and how it was resolved. Be warned, though, the show isn’t precious with it’s characters and the mortality rate for Torchwood employees is pretty damn high during the whole series.

All in all, pound for pound, I think I might actually like Torchwood more than Doctor Who. That’s probably a sacrilegious thing to say, but overall, I enjoyed Torchwood on the whole more than some seasons of Doctor Who, especially the third which was pretty rough at times). Like with Doctor Who, the special effects can be good or bad depending on the day. Most of the CGI monsters look like just that, but the practical monsters and aliens all look pretty fantastic. I highly recommend Torchwood to anyone looking for a good sci-fi action show to help get them through the summer. The missus and I devoured all the episodes in about a week and it only took as that long because we wanted to watch Children Of Earth in a sitting or two. Oh, one thing to note, though, is that the show is a bit more adult. They drop some curse words in here and there and there are some butt shots, but it’s not like it’s profanity laden orgies every episode, though that would be something to see, wouldn’t it?!

As you might have heard, there’s going to be a new season of Torchwood co-produced by BBC and Starz next summer. I’ve never watched a Starz show, but I do know that Party Down and Spartacus are available on Netflix Instant the day they premiere on TV, so that’s a pretty damn good deal. It’ll be interested to see how they pick up after the craziness of the Children Of Earth finale. Should be fun! In the meantime, we need to get that second End Of Time disc and then jump into the fifth season of Doctor Who. I’ve heard good things about the newest Doctor and his companion and can’t wait to see for myself.

Trade Post: Question Epitaph For A Hero, Trials Of Shazam & Buffy Omnibus Vol. 4

Written by Dennis O’Neil and drawn by Denys Cowan
Collects Question #13-18
The Question’s one of those characters I never had much of an opinion about good, bad or indifferent. In the early 90s when I was coming up in comics, he wasn’t really around, which is surprising. You’d think he would have made some appearances in Batman or something, but I don’t really remember seeing him until years later. My first real exposure to him was in 52, which was fantastic and, of course, lead to his death. He was also really great in the JLU cartoon. The two of those were enough to get me interested in reading his series from the 80s. Luckily, DC started reprinting them a couple years back and now we’re up to six volumes at last count. I’ve read the first three and liked them all.

There’s an interesting subsection of DC comics from the 80s that were basically set in the real world or at least ignored the super hero aspects of the greater DCU. Mike Grell’s Green Arrow book was a lot like that and so was The Question. This volume includes the first meeting between those two versions of the characters. The stories are mostly one-offs with a political bent following the Question as he rights wrongs. What I like about the book is that it continually throws curve balls. The racist cop throws himself in front of a bullet. Green Arrow and Question don’t become buddy buddy right away. They’re not huge twists, but enough to keep the story flowing and interesting. Cowan’s art might be considered sloppy, but I think it’s got a strange energy that actually lends itself to the types of stories O’Neil tells. Personally, I’d rather see him using the style he did on Hardware, but, like I said, it works. I recommend giving the first installment of this series a look if you’re interested in more grounded mystery adventure comics with something to say without drowning you in it.

Written by Judd Winick, drawn by Howard Porter and Mauro Cascioli
Collects Brave New World 1, The Trials Of Shazam #1-6 and 7-12
Captain Marvel’s another character I’ve known about, but never really felt one way or the other. He was used incredibly well in Kingdom Come, I liked him in JLI and JSA, plus a few appearances here and there. The character has gone through a lot of changes over the past few years. Infinite Crisis rewrote the laws of magic in the DCU, the Wizard died, Mary Marvel went absolutely crazy and Billy had to take over as the Wizard. That meant that someone had to take over and the mantle fell to former Captain Marvel Jr. (or CM3 as he was called for a while) Freddy Freeman, which is where this maxi-series picks up. See, Freddy has to meet up with a series of gods–the ones who make up the name SHAZAM–go through trials and get those abilities.

Winick puts on a good story with Freeman starting off nervous about the whole thing and turning into a dog gone hero by the end. The problem is that the story’s a little long. It could have been cut down to 7 or 8 issues and been a lot tighter. Another negative thing about the book isn’t really its fault but DC’s and that’s that the character of Captain Marvel hasn’t really been used since the end of this book. I know he’s shown up a few times, but his supposed inclusion in Cry For Justice turned out to be a ruse. So, you finish reading this pretty great story, which is basically an origin story. And what’s the first thing you want to do after reading a character get set up like this? Read more of his adventures. Too bad there’s no where to turn. I’d like to see Freddy as Captain Marvel leading some kind of magic oriented team like the Shadowpact or some other concoction.

Art-wise, it’s an interesting affair. Howard Porter, whose style I loved in JLA, changed things up and it looks…I don’t really know how to describe it. Less crisp? JLA had the sharpness to it that I really liked, but this is a little sketchier. It’s not bad by any means, just not what you might be expecting from a Porter comic. He was replaced by Mauro Cascioli whose art I like, but goes from looking really awesome to really wooden sometimes from panel to panel. Overall, I liked the story and the art, but I won’t be keeping these books on my shelf.

Written and drawn by a bunch of folks
Collects Buffy #9-11, 13-15, 17-20, 50, Annual 99, Angel #1-3, Wizard 1/2, Lover’s Walk & Dark Horse Presents #141
Buffy fans who weren’t reading the Dark Horse comics back in the day while the show was on have no idea how good they’ve got it. Now, the comics flow directly from the show with Joss Whedon heading things up (at least that’s what they say) and, for the most part, are damn good. Back in the day, though, the comics weren’t so good. They weren’t bad, but they were saddled with keeping their stories set in earlier seasons so as not to interfere with or contradict the show. I bought those comics for two years and actually quit reading because of the main story in this Omnibus. It took a long time to tell, I couldn’t remember all the details and I was sick of reading about Buffy in high school when she was going off to college and having completely different adventures. I actually sold those books on eBay in past year or so.

The thing about these Omnibi is that they collect the stories in chronological order by season. It’s actually really interesting editor Scott Allie’s forwards in these books as he explains the thinking behind that and how the stories inside came to be. All that being said, I was surprised to find that I enjoyed reading this volume and got through all 368 pages in one night. The main story is called Bad Blood and features am image-obsessed vamp from an earlier comic appearance coming back and forcing a doctor to use science and magic to create a new kind of blood that made super-vampires. Reading it all together was a much more satisfying experience, but I also found a nostalgia going back and reading adventures set in Buffy’s high school, as those have turned out to be my favorite seasons.

The rest of the book has short stories here and there. I probably shouldn’t have tried to read the whole thing in one setting because the stories have a definite rhythm that gets really repetitive when you read them in a row. If you’re a Buffy fan, these are good books to pick up, but I would imagine you already have. If you’re not a Buffy fan, well, I don’t think this book will make you one.

Trade Post: Criminal 3, Buffy 4 & Diana Prince Wonder Woman 3

Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips
Collects Criminal Vol. 2 #1-3
I’ve read Criminal here and there. I know there was a push at some point during the first volume to try and convince people to read the book in single issue form instead of waiting for the trade. I’m a big fan of the monthly comic book format, but I’ll be honest, I think most of Ed Brubaker’s comics work better in trade form, and usually reading several trades in a fairly short time period. You don’t have to do that with Criminal because it works in an arc system that doesn’t really crossover (maybe a few names here and there, I really can’t remember names from the first volume or if I even read the second volume).With that in mind, a Brubaker trade is usually something I really look forward to because it’s been so many months since I last read one. Unfortunately, this book was a pretty big disappointment. In the three issues, you see a heist from three different perspectives, the problem though is that, by the last issue I knew all the important parts of the story and didn’t really care about how crappy of a life the girl in the story had. I’ve read enough crime and mystery fiction to get where it was going from page one.

I will say that Phillips’ art is top notch as always. He really sets the mood and tone of the stories with details that go unnoticed at first. Plus, I liked the first issue, which followed a black boxer as he tried to set his life straight even though his former friend and current white gang leader started causing all kinds of trouble. Even that, though, felt familiar. Not like it was swiped from somewhere, but like I’d seen it or it’s parts elsewhere. If you haven’t seen or read a lot of crime or mystery movies, books or comics, I recommend checking this out. If that’s not the case, go check out the first volume of Criminal or, better yet, Brubaker and Phillips’ Sleeper for WildStorm. That’s one of the best mystery/crime/espionage/superhero comics of all time.

Written by Joss Whedon and Jeph Loeb, drawn by Karl Moline and Georges Jeanty
Collects Buffy #16-20
I’ve gone back and forth between not really caring about the Buffy comics and loving them. In the beginning, the whole story seemed a little off, but then the missus and I rewatched the whole series and I like where Whedon and Co. took the story with there being tons of slayers and Buffy being in control of all of them. And, for the most part, I’ve been pretty impressed with how well all the different writers have been at nailing that tricky Whedon-esque dialogue. Every time I pick up one of these comics, it can hear the actors and actresses’ voices easily tossing off the verbal calisthenics. My big problem has been the art. It’s not bad, but I’m often left scratching my head when a supposedly big reveal happens. “Who the hell is that?” I’ll often ask myself.

With this fourth volume of the Season 8 comics, that’s not too much of a problem as Buffy’s transported to the future where she teams up with and faces off against the future slayer Fray who starred in her own Dark Horse mini back in 2001. I will say that Whedon’s future dialogue is a bit too much at times, but all the other future stuff is pretty rad and the story fits well into current continuity while also wrapping up the Fray-verse. There’s also a big villain is interesting to see, but I think, with the end of the book, that won’t be a problem anymore. The trade also includes the one-off Jeph Loeb issue which finds current Buffy in the world of the animated series universe that never was. I actually ignored this issue the first time around because I don’t really care for Loeb’s writing generally and it seemed like a throwaway, but this time it was probably my favorite of the bunch because it put Buffy back in the early seasons of the show, but with her current thoughts, so it was kind of cool to see where she had come from and how much she’s made it through and changed (and not changed). It’s a funny little issue that’s definitely worth checking out.

Written & drawn by Mike Sekowsky, with Denny O’Neil and Dick Dillin
Collects Wonder Woman Vol. I #190-198 and World’s Finest #204
I’ve talked about how much I love these early 70s depowered Wonder Woman volumes here and here and that continues on with this collection. I’m blown away every issue by Sekowsky who writes and draws all of the Wonder Woman issues in this issue (O’Neil and Dillin did the World’s Finest issue). These comics are filled with the elements that I love about Roger Corman movies: crazy fights, weirdly fantastic battles and mysterious houses filled with potential murderers. I think it’s awesome that DC let Wonder Woman get played with in such a way that basically made her the hero of a different kind of genre movie every single month. I would imagine all of this was because of lagging sales, but I don’t really care, I’m just glad they happened. I will say that #194 falls short as it’s basically a Prince and the Pauper/Dave riff with Diana turning out to look just like the princess of the country. She even takes the princesses  place when she gets captured. It’s pretty by the book and not all that interesting, but it’s but one stumbling block in an overall solid collection.

One interesting thing about this collection is that it actually leaves out a big chunk of #191 is missing. Right in the middle of an epic medieval-like war in an alternate dimension, Diana sits down to tell her new friend how she came to be de-powered, but you flip the page and it says “Later.” I thought that might be how the original comic was written until that issue ended after a total of only 5 story pages. I guess it’s kind of cool that they didn’t bother with a huge recap of something in the first volume of this series as I probably would have just grazed it anyone. On the other hand, I did have to go back to the original volume and give it a flip through as it’s been quite a while since I’ve read it.

In addition to the huge amounts of enjoyment I got from reading this story, it also pushed me towards digging into the history of comics a little more. I looked up Sekowsky on Wikipedia and found some really interesting stuff about him and a fellow creator. That got me thinking about a potential story set in the days of comics past. That got me reading Comic Book Artist #9, a TwoMorrow’s mag I ordered a while back and never got around to reading. The issue focuses on Charlton Comics which is freaking fascinating. It’s packed with history and interviews that have given me even MORE ideas. It also introduced me to how amazing Dick Giordano was as an editor from the accounts of his former Charlton co-workers. There’s a 31 page interview in the issue that I was saving for last. The next day Giordano passed away. Weird timing right? Of course, as I was finishing this Wonder Woman trade, I realized I had actually seen some of Giordano’s work as an inker and cover artist. It makes me wonder if he edited this book as well, considering it’s so interesting and eclectic and clearly focuses on the writer/artist’s strengths (a hallmark of Giordano’s editing style from what I’ve read). It makes me wish there was some kind of intro in these books. Hopefully someone’s working on a big book about Giordano like that Kirby book I want to pick up.

Halloween Scene: Castle "Vampire Weekend"

I’m a little surprised that the internet is still standing after tonight’s episode of Castle called “Vampire Weekend.” Not only did set pictures of star Nathan Fillion dressed as Mal from Firefly cause quite a stir last week (maybe two back), but there were also a series of Buffy and comic book references. I do have to say that I swear I’ve seen another procedural show like this with a very similar plot: a “vampire” gets killed, during the investigation we learn about that disease where people can’t go out in the son (or that one where they love drinking blood thanks to their iron deficiency), and at some point we find out the victim worked on a comic or graphic novel that gives some clue to the crime. Maybe it was an episode of CSI, that’s starting to sound right.

Anyway, I couldn’t pay much attention to the beginning because I was on the phone with my folks, but Em filled me on after I hung up and made nachos. Overall, it was another good episode, though I did find myself confused and, being such a comic nerd, I called bullshit on a few things (that dude’s art didn’t look like Frank Miller and who uses ink for lettering anymore?), but it was fun. Too bad I missed most of the geek stuff. I was hoping that Kate would turn up at the final Halloween party wearing a costume referencing Buffy or Firefly (or maybe even Drive), but it was a no go. As of now the episode isn’t up on Hulu yet, but it probably will be by tomorrow, so you should check it out.

Welcome to the Hellmouth: Buffy Season 1

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So, there used to be this show that I’m sure most of you have heard about called Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Well, back when I was a sophomore in high school, my friend Randy told me about this show. It was in its second season at the time, but I just jumped in and started watching. Luckily for me, the WB used to show these things called reruns that got me caught up on most of the first and second seasons. One thing that I really enjoyed was that Buffy was only one year older than me (when she was a senior, I was a junior). I was so into the series that I actually taped every episode I saw, sometimes cutting out the commercials (and usually screwing that up) and even going so far as to make my own tape covers which had promo shots on the front and an episode list on the back, just like the bootlegs I’d buy at comic conventions (I’ll take some pics when I go home in a few months to really show you how big of a dork I was).

Also, Buffy was a big reason that Em and I got together. We had met a few times, but since we were both Buffy fans we’d meet up with a few other people and watch in the common room every week.

So, yeah, I’m a fan of Buffy, though, surprising as it might sound, not one of the uber-fans, though I’m not sure what differentiates me from them. Anyway, I’ve been picking up the Buffy seasons as they go on sale at Best Buy (I’m all about value), but haven’t really sat down to watch them all in a row for a while. I talked to Em, that girl I watched season five with and eventually married, and convinced her to rewatch the series with me. So we started Sunday at the beginning. And it turns out that she hadn’t actually seen the first season and it sounds like she hasn’t seen all of season two, so I’m excited to watch it with her.

Season One seems to have a bit of a bad wrap amongst some of the people I’ve talked to. Sure, the show doesn’t look as good as it does later on and the plots get a little repetitive (character A falls in love with character B who turns out to be D-monic), but upon re-watching season one (for maybe the third time) I realized that I really like these episodes. I was also surprised at how many lines I remembered.

And MAN, is the Master creepy. So is that freakin’ little kid. Can’t wait till Spike…well, you know. Personal highlights include the first two episodes (I used to have the original, different Willow pilot on bootleg, that’s very similar), “Nightmares” in which Buffy tries to help a different creepy little kid who’s making everyone’s nightmares come to life and the season finale “Prophecy Girl” where she actually dies then comes back and kills the Master.

Season One definitely isn’t my favorite, but it watched a lot better than I remembered it would and I can’t freakin’ wait to get into Season Two (we started tonight). That’s the season that I started watching and still remains as one of (if not the) favorite season (3’s pretty rad too).