Marvel Double Feature: Avengers Age Of Ultron & Ant-Man

avengers the age of ultronRight off the bat, I’ll admit that I did not actually watch Avengers: Age Of Ultron and Ant-Man as a true double feature. We probably watched the latter a month ago and just peeped the former yesterday. But, since I didn’t write about the Avengers sequel, it seemed liked a proper time.

I went into Joss Whedon’s Ultron with fairly low expectations. It seemed like a lot of the people I follow on Twitter and actually communicate with weren’t super into it. The general feeling I was picking up on seemed to be that, while it’s got all kinds of spectacle, it didn’t live up to the original.

And that was my experience as well, but then again, this is a different kind of blockbuster super hero movie. The original — which I love — seemed custom built to show that all of these series-leading, mega stars could come together, fight the bad guys and look good doing it. Meanwhile, this film seemed built with a different goal in mind: showing how said group (plus new members) can work together even when times are tough.

It’s also clearly a bigger piece of the Marvel Cinematic Universe puzzle leading up to Captain America: Civil War and the Infinity War movies. To me as a viewer, the first felt like it was worked into the bigger tale while this one was more obviously built to lead to something else. This is something I’m not usually a fan of in comics and even less so in comic films and it all just boils down to a feeling I get while watching.

And yet, I still found myself enjoying this darker take on team superheroics. Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Vision all make interesting additions to not just the team, but the universe at large. Plus, it’s not all dark. I could watch an entire TV series about the Avengers hanging out like they did at that party. I also just adore James Spader (as I mentioned here) so watching and listening to his take on the killer robot Ultron was a treat as he’s basically Blacklist‘s Raymond Reddington but crazy and a robot.

I think that the problem with this movie as related to the first one comes down to this fact: I don’t want to rewatch it a bunch. I probably could have sat through another showing of Whedon’s first Avengers film right after the first one and even stop flipping or pop in for a few minutes every time I see it on TV. I don’t see that happening here. In other words, it’s not nearly as fun as the first one, which it clearly wasn’t supposed to be, but it’s still a bummer.

ant-man posterAnt-Man is far from a bummer, though, which is great. I admit, my feelings towards these movies have been a bit tainted by elements from beyond the movies themselves. I’m not sure how I feel about every single film moving forward painting towards this gigantic epic that will end Phase Three. I love the inter-connectivity between these films, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I want them all to be about this one big thing leading forward.

And then I watched Ant-Man and it felt like a nice step away from all that intergalactic craziness to just tell the story of a few people trying their best to not make the world a worse place. I love the approach of using this intelligent thief to wear a potentially fatal suit in an attempt to stop tech from ruining the world. It’s perfectly comic book-y, but also fits in so well with this universe and Paul Rudd just kills it. I also really enjoyed watching Michael Douglas who seemed to break the rule that every old dude in a Marvel Studios movie turns out to be bad. Oh, and how fun is Michael Pena? And how bad ass is Lilly? More of both of them please! Basically, everything came together to give me a beautiful mix of heist and hero that gets a major thumbs up from this guy.

However, all respect to director Peyton Reed who did a great job, but I still wish we would have been able to see Edgar Wright’s version of this film which we reported on all the way back in the days of Wizard and ToyFare. Yes I bet it would have been an amazing movie, but it more so bums me out that a relatively slow filmmaker like Wright spent ALL that time on a movie that just didn’t happen. He’s got such an amazing vision for what he makes that I want him to make all the movies he can and this felt like a major entanglement that resulted in a great vision for Ant-Man, but not a full-on Edgar Wright movie.

And, yes, I still remain a bit nervous about Marvel tying up too many of their films to Infinity War, but then I must remind myself that Guardians Of The Galaxy did a great job of incorporating some of that into its movie and this one basically skips over all of that. Back to what I was saying above, it feels like Ant-Man is its own thing that will get incorporated into the larger goings-on of the MCU instead of the other way around. I like that and as long as that’s the way these things go, I’ll keep enjoying them.

Superman Trade Post: Secret Origin & Secret Identity

superman secret origin Superman: Secret Origin (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Gary Frank
Collects Superman: Secret Origin #1-6

When I started reading Superman comics, the character was about six years out from his post-Crisis reboot which de-powered him a bit and made a conscientious effort to make him the last Kryptonian (hence a clone Superboy and extra-dimensional shape-shifting Supergirl). Another major tenet of those days was that Superman because Superman as an adult. This was the Superman I knew, though I also understood that the Golden and Silver Age were jam packed with elements that didn’t fit into that rubric. I try my best to keep an open mind for Superman stories that don’t fit into that mold, but sometimes they throw me for a loop. Luckily, I didn’t have that problem with Geoff Johns’ retelling of the Man of Steel’s life in Secret Origin.

Johns worked with the amazing Gary Frank on this miniseries after they teamed up on Action Comics a few times. Essentially, this is the definitive origin story for the post-Infinite Crisis DCU which has since gone the way of those aforementioned older ages. Still, there’s plenty of Superman-fueled goodness in here for people to dig into.

The first issue is set in Clark’s earlier days when his parents reveal his alien origins to him. He’s mad about the whole thing, but still uses his abilities to help people when he can. We also find that Lex Luthor grew up in Smallville too and even encountered Clark. My favorite part? Young Clark doesn’t like the Superboy costume his mom made him, which makes perfect sense when you think of a modern teenager running around with his underwear on the outside. In the next issue, Clark heads to the future to hang out with the Legion. I wish Frank could draw a thousand issues of Legion comics, I really do, he’s perfect for them.

The last four issues follow Clark as he gets to Metropolis and working at the Daily Planet while also revealing himself to be a hero. One of the interesting things that Johns does in this book is take some of the classic elements and making them make sense in more modern times. The costume thing is part of that, but so is the fact that the Daily Planet is still a paper that exists (instead of all the ones that have closed down in the past decade). For my money, that’s one of Johns’ strongest talents, integrating old craziness and making it work even in a world where aliens come to Earth and save the day all the time. I even like what he did with Metallo and Parasite, though I’m not a fan of the former’s design this time around (you can’t like everything, right?).

So, no, this isn’t MY Superman (everyone has their own) but it still tells a great Superman story that’s not unrecognizable. One of the problems I’ve had trying to read the New 52 Superman books is that he just doesn’t seem like Superman to me. This is still on point and fits in with what I like about the character: he’s the ultimate orphan who still wants to fight for his larger family, humanity.

superman secret identitySuperman: Secret Identity (DC)
Written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Stuart Immonen
Collects Superman: Secret Identity #1-4

Superman: Secret Identity is one of those books that everyone loves and I just never got around to reading. I actually have the last three issues in a box out in the garage, but wasn’t going to fully skip the first issue. Luckily, the library had a copy, so I dove in right after Secret Origins.

This story by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen is actually about a person named Clark Kent who’s in a version of our world. His parents named him that as a joke because everyone knows about the comic book and pop culture icon. But, after a mysterious meteor hits nearby, Clark gets Superman-like powers and starts experiencing some of the fictional hero’s ups and downs.

In a way, this book reminds me of Paul Cornell’s Action Comics story “The Black Ring” in that you find yourself learning about Superman by comparing him to the character you find yourself reading. This version of Clark follows some of the fictional version’s path, but he also finds himself living in a simpler world than the one in the comics, but still one filled with a certain amount of danger for him and his eventual family. He also deals with concepts like secret identities in ways that feel more realistic than some of the ways they are dealt with in ongoing comic book series’ that not only try to keep things interesting year in and year out, but also come from a variety of different minds and voices.

As it is, Secret Identity is a wonderful take on Superman from two very distinct, but complimentary voices in Busiek and Immonen. I was familiar with the artist’s work on books like Adventures Of Superman, but here he keeps his figures smaller and more realistic, while playing more with darkness and shadows than I remember him doing in the the mainstream superhero work. Together he and Busiek nail that real-person-dealing-with-the-unreal idea that the writer has become famous for in his comic book career.

Big Bot Double Feature: Robot Wars & Crash And Burn

robot wars posterSeveral years back I was in the enviable position of being on Shout Factory’s PR list thanks to working at ToyFare. Because of that, I got a lot of interesting DVD sets, some of which I haven’t even watched yet. The Giant Robot Action Pack featuring Robot Wars and Crash and Burn is one such selection that I decided to finally watch over the weekend and I was surprised at the results.

I’ve actually tried to watch Robot Wars — directed by Albert Band and released in 1993 — a few times, but never really made it through for various reasons. This time, I was set to watch the film and actually succeeded. A kind of sequel to Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox — which is also getting the Shout Factory treatment — this movie takes place in a future world where one scorpion-like robot carries people from a protected city to one that was abandoned and preserved in 1993. After terrorists take over the robot, it’s up to our brash hero, his co-pilot, a reporter and an archaeologist to find another robot and save the day.

Though the title is pretty misleading — two robots fighting does not a war make — I had a lot of fun with this film. The stop motion on the robots looks better to my eye than the bad CGI that would be used today and the characters, while broad and oftentimes goofy, are charming and fun to watch (it wasn’t until this latest viewing that I realized the reporter is actually Lisa Rinna in an early role).

While this is far from the best giant robot movie I’ve ever seen, I appreciate that everyone involved seemed to be doing their best and trying to create something fun and interesting. Full Moon would sometimes swipe heavily from other projects, but this felt pretty original to me. That might not sound like the most thrilling endorsement, but it went pretty far for a low budget 90s sci-fi action film. It helps that my experience with huge robots doesn’t extend much past loving Transformers as a kid and loving Pacific Rim.

crash and burn posterThe other film on the set — Crash And Burn — is another kinda-sorta-not-really sequel to Robot Jox (they were marketed as such overseas, but share nothing in the way of continuity). This one actually really surprised me because it was such a mix of genres and movies that I love.

It starts off with a guy on a futuristic motorcycle traveling through the desert to visit a factory-turned-TV studio run by a rebellious old man who rails against the corporation that runs everything (and also employs the motorcycle driver). Once there, we meet an eclectic cast of characters that includes Bill Moseley, the old man’s granddaughter played by Dark Skies‘ Megan Ward, blowhard talk show host and a pair of women who…are there for some reason. Soon, an important character is murdered and the search is on to find out what happened. It just so happens to involve killer (human sized) robots and a huge robot outside that doesn’t work (BUT IT WILL!).

So, with this one movie you’ve got the seclusion of the desert with the post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland-type set up mixed with the group-of-stranded-strangers motif (because there’s a radiation storm of some kind) plus the whodunnit mystery (though it’s pretty clear who the killer is if you pay attention to footwear), the someone-isn’t-who-they-seem thing AND THE ROBOTS.

Let’s jump into SPOILER TERRITORY for this graph because I don’t want to ruin an old movie I do actually want you to check out. I tried to paint with broad strokes above, but here’s the deal. If you happen to notice the murderer’s ridiculous boots and then wait about five minutes until you see the cast together once again, you’ll know who the murderer is. Of course, it’s not revealed until AFTER they do a take on the test from The Thing that doesn’t quite go as planned. But once the killer is revealed, it’s a damn delight to watch him go absolutely bonkers, knock off a few randos and then have a big fight at the end that eventually involves the big robot.

All in all, it’s a perfectly crazy movie. While I appreciated Robot Wars for being better than I expected, Crash And Burn actually surprised me by being more aware of what it was and playing with the audience before finally giving them what they wanted in ways they might not have known that they wanted it. I can’t think of another movie I’ve watched recently where I had little-to-no expectations and yet was so pleasantly surprised.

Books Of Oa: War Of The Green Lanterns & Aftermath

green lantern war of the green lanternsGreen Lantern: War of the Green Lanterns (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, Tony Bedard & Peter J. Tomasi, drawn by Doug Mahnke, Tyler Kirkham, Fernando Passarin, Ed Benes & Ardian Syaf
Collects Green Lantern #63-67, Green Lantern Corps #58-60 & Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #8-10

After the events of Blackest Night, the Green Lantern books had a little time to do their own thing before coming back together for the next big event, War Of The Green Lanterns. As it turned out, this also marked the end of this run in the old DC continuity as Flashpoint soon followed and everything was replaced with the New 52, though the GL books seemed to come through mostly unchanged (at least as I’ve seen in the first few volumes of Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps). For reference, the volumes that lead up to War Of The Green Lanterns include GL: Brightest Day, GLC: Revolt Of The Alpha Lanterns and The Weaoponer and Emerald Warriors.

Alright, so the basics of this big event are that Krona, the being who looked back on the origins of the universe and accidentally unleashed evil is still around as a shrunken, crazy Guardian. He’s collected all of the emotional entities, trapped most of the main Lanterns in the Book of the Black, possessed the Guardians with the entities and put Parallax back in the main power battery to infect and control all existing GLs. Since they already had experience with Parallax, Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, John Stewart and Guy Gardner are able to resist long enough to ditch their rings and eventually put on new ones. Hal goes with Yellow, Kyle Blue, John Indigo and Guy Red.

From there it’s a matter of them figuring out how to master these new rings while also saving the galaxy from an army of mind-controlled Green Lanterns, including the biggest one of all, Mogo. Incredibly hard decisions have to be made, but in the end the heroes come through with a very hard-fought victory that results in one of them getting ousted from the Corps.

While the idea of yet another big GL crossover might not seem like the most interesting thing in the world, I will say that this one offered a lot that the others didn’t. For one thing, the rainbow of Lanterns is not around aside from our four main heroes. I also enjoyed how it focused mainly on the four Earth GLs working together, something that didn’t happen in the other events until the last few chapters. Also, while the universe might seem crowded with so many different and new Lanterns, this story really focuses on the GLs which is kind of nice.

war of the green lanterns aftermath War of the Green Lanterns: Aftermath (DC)
Written by Tony Bedard, Peter J. Tomasi & Scott Kolins, drawn by lots and lots of folks
Collects War Of The Green Lanterns Aftermath #1-2, Green Lantern Corps #61-63 & Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors #11-13

As you can imagine, the stories included in War Of The Green Lanterns: Aftermath deal with everything that happened in the wake of that story. There’s a plot to kill Sinestro who has a Green Lantern ring now, everyone hates John Stewart for taking out a major player in the Corps and the other Corps members seem to generally dislike Earthmen because they cause so much trouble. Of course, they also seem to forget that, without Earthmen like Hal and Kyle there wouldn’t be a Corps at all, but I guess small details like that are easily forgotten in the post-battle, post traumatic stress-filled Oa.

Overall, the tone of these stories is pretty down, but that makes sense from a story perspective. On the other hand, Guy gets to have a bit of fun as he goes on three one-off adventures in the final issues of Emerald Warriors, one of which teams him up with Batman. But, the sad tone actually makes sense on another level when you realize this is the very last Green Lantern Corps collection set in the old universe. As I mentioned above, the GL books made it through the change pretty unscathed, but there’s something to be said about closing out on something of a down note.

Books Of Justice: New 52 Volume 1 & 2

justice league origins Justice League Vol. 1: Origin (The New 52) (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Jim Lee with Carlos D’Anda
Collects Justice League #1-6

After years of the Justice League not exactly taking center stage in the grand scheme of things in the DC Universe, the company put them right in the forefront when they launched the reality-altering New 52. Justice League by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee not only boasted one of the biggest creative teams around, but also marked the new continuity’s birth as the very first New 52 comic.

Set five years in the past, Origin puts the team together as they all face the incoming threat of Darkseid and his Parademons. It’s basically a “putting the band” together story that doesn’t feel contrived or boring, like some of the ones in the old continuity. In other words, there are no meeting scenes where the big three look at photos or ones where a bunch of scrub characters talk about how they’re going to carry on the team’s legacy. We start with Batman meeting Green Lantern. They then meet and fight Superman which leads to GL calling his pal Flash in. Later Wonder Woman and Aquaman show up. Oh and Cyborg goes from football star to, well, Cyborg as the story progresses.

After all the introductions and set-ups, our heroes finally face off against Darkseid in a battle that is clearly another set-up, but also feels satisfying because they earn their victory. Clearly, the dark New God will return, but that’s a story for another time.

What I liked most about this book is the tone and interactions between the members. It sets up their characters pretty well — even if those personalities might not reflect across the line — and gives an interesting dynamic between them that could be fun to read about. I will say that I’m not a fan of the overall dark and mean tone of this new DCU, but I guess that’s just part of the deal these days.  I haven’t heard great things about the huge crossovers that spun out of Justice League, but enjoying this book definitely piqued my interest in the second volume which I quickly requested from the library. I also got a big kick of of Flash’s line at the end where he calls their group The Super Seven.

Plus, can we just talk about how fun it is to look at a Jim Lee Justice League book? Even if it includes these weird, overly piped and paneled costumes, he’s just so good at drawing those big, iconic characters doing all kinds of crazy things. I’m down for at least looking at anything he does.

I actually picked this book up on a Comixology sale not long ago, but after my Kindle broke, I figured I’d check the library and see if I could get a hard copy. I will say that, while I like the convenience of digital comics, I still prefer actually holding the book.

justice league vol 2 the villain's journeyJustice League Vol 2: The Villain’s Journey (The New 52) (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Jim Lee, Carlos D’Anda, Gene Ha, Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver & David Finch
Collects Justice League #7-12

It took me longer than expected to get my hands on this second volume called The Villain’s Journey. I guess someone else in the library system was equally excited about giving it a read. This second book is set in the current time frame of the DCU where the Justice Leagues have become a pretty big sensation that seems to defeat anything the universe can throw at it. But, there’s still some mistrust from the government and a mysterious villain first seen in the previous book who proves to be a bigger threat than anyone could have imagined.

And yet, there was something that just felt off about these issues. A LOT of time is spent on Steve Trevor and how sad he is because he loves Wonder Woman and she doesn’t love him back. That’s exactly what you want from your Big Seven Superhero comic, right? I only complain about that because it felt like the team itself doesn’t get nearly as much time as they should. As much as I love seeing the League fight against impossible odds, I also like to see a little bit more of them hanging out together and interacting.

I still like the interactions between Batman and Green Lantern and how GL and Flash are pals, but those relationships get leaned on a bit too heavily. Sure we find out that Superman hasn’t revealed his identity to his teammate in those five years, but what the heck does Cyborg do all day? As the one character in this comic without his own solo book, it seemed natural to focus more on him, but that doesn’t happen.

Speaking of characters who get a lot of page-time, but aren’t on the team, Green Arrow gets a lot of time too as the US government tries to get him on the team. Arrow trying to get on the team is something of a Justice League tradition, but in an odd turn, he doesn’t make the squad. Instead, this is all a set-up for Justice League Of America, a book I haven’t read yet.

Back to the villain for a paragraph, I just didn’t care and I’m not sure why. SPOILERS follow. This guy Graves and his family were saved by the League in their first mission back in the first trade. Something about the incident wound up killing his wife and kids, but also turned him into a weird monster that looked an awful lot like a White Martian. None of this is very well explained and all felt like a really long way to get around to Graves being locked up in Belle Reve where Amanda Waller asks him to write down how to destroy the League. I don’t think I would mind all of this if it was a one or two parter instead of spread out over all these issues.

This book also features Green Lantern’s exit from the group, a big fight between the members, a big kiss between Superman and Wonder Woman and a lot of teases about what’s coming up after this volume. All in all, I would say that this book didn’t do much for me. I really enjoyed how the first one just got right into it, but this one felt more plodding. I felt like I could see the plot points more clearly, like there was a checklist being checked off in a slightly disjointed manner. Part of the disjointed feeling came from the various artist drawing these issues. I’me a big fan of all these artists, but their styles are so vastly different that you’re constantly made aware that you’re on to the next part instead of being absorbed by the story.

It also felt like something of a misstep to focus on a brand new villain while also mentioning all of these established League villains who don’t do much of anything this time around. I’m sure this all leads to the next big thing in the DCU, but as a one-off volume meant to be read in and of itself, it’s not very satisfying.

Books Of Oa: Green Lantern – Emerald Dawn II

green lantern emerald dawn 2 Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn II (DC)
Written by Keith Giffen & Gerard Jones, drawn by M.D. Bright
Collects Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn II #1-6

When I was a kid, DC went through a lot of changes when it came to their big time superheroes. Superman died, Batman got broken and Hal Jordan went nuts. So, I became very used to the idea of change when it comes to my superheroes. I also developed allegiances to the newer, younger, cooler characters like Kyle Rayner, especially when I heard about the old guard complaining so hard about that old guy Hal getting kicked to the curb.

Aside from a few random comics I acquired over the years, Emerald Dawn II, a 1991 miniseries became my first real introduction to Hal Jordan. This series is the sequel to 1989’s Emerald Dawn and takes place directly after that. See, the series that launched in 1990 was all about current, grey-templed Hal, so these series’ about the rookie space cop were a bit more appealing to me. I scored these particular comics while visiting Carol & John’s in Cleveland while visiting my grandma who was always a big supporter of my geekery. However, looking around in my library’s system for other GL comics reminded me of this story’s existence. A few clicks later and I had requested the trade.

So here’s the deal, not long after getting the GL ring and joining the Corps, Hal Jordan needed training so the Guardians sent one of their most accomplished officers, Sinestro, to do just that. Making matters more difficult is the fact that Hal just got sentenced to jail for drunk driving and is spending his days in prison. While hanging out with Sinestro, it soon becomes very apparent that the large-headed, pink-hued GL is actually a pretty big despot on his home planet of Korugar. This is the first time Sinestro’s expulsion from the Corps is expanded upon. There are also references to Invasion and appearances from Guy Gardner as a social worker, which is a wrinkle of his character I wasn’t familiar with.

I had a pretty good time reading this story from a time when DC was excited about explaining these Silver Age characters in ways that make more sense while expanding on their histories. This is just a few years after Crisis On Infinite Earths still. A lot of people, including my pal Ben Morse, feel that Hal is just too much of a hot shot jerk to like, but I thought he came off as much more human and likable in this series. Things might get a little After School Special at the very end, but overall, I dug this Year One-ish story. Not only did Emerald Dawn II make me want to get my hands on the original series, but also dig out my recently completed collection of Guy Gardner comics written by Gerard Jones as well as the Guy Gardner Reborn miniseries which I also haven’t read yet.

Books Of Oa: Green Lantern Volume 2 The Revenge Of The Black Hand

Green Lantern Volume 2 The Revenge Of The Black Hand Green Lantern Vol. 2: Revenge of the Black Hand (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Doug Mahnke with Ethan Van Sciver, Pete Woods, Renato Guedes & Jim Calafiore
Collects Green Lantern #7-12 & Green Lantern Annual #1

I know I’m getting ahead of myself here, but it’s crazy to think that Geoff Johns isn’t writing Green Lantern anymore. I’m pretty far from caught up on his Lantern comics, but few people have done so much with a fairly simple concept and expanded on it so much as he did with these books. When he did Rebirth, there was only one Lantern and no Corps. Now there’s thousands of GLs and a whole variety of colors to choose from. Heck, he even got his book to move from the old continuity to the new one relatively unscathed, which is no small feat.

It’s that last bit that takes center stage with today’s Books Of Oa trade post as I review the second volume of Johns’ New 52 Green Lantern drawn mostly by the amazing Doug Mahnke. In the first volume, Hal got ousted from the Green Lantern Corps, but Sinestro came along and gave him a ring of his own. This book starts off with Sinestro visiting his deputy and a fight breaking out that only stops because the Indigo Tribe appears and takes them away. This part of the story explains the Abin Sur helped complete this group as a way of punishing the evil. Basically, the Indigo rings make very bad people feel compassion as a form of punishment. But, they discover that, over time, it actually works.

While Hal and Sinestro fix the Indigo’s problems, Black Hand — a fairly recent inductee into the Tribe — escapes which leads into the second story collected in this volume. While disconnected, he scores a shiny new Black Lantern ring and then heads back to Earth where our heroes eventually find and attack him. Meanwhile, the Guardians, who have clearly lost their minds, are making moves to create a Third Army (the Manhunters were first, the GLs second). To do this they break into a secret jail and leave with a being called The First Lantern all of which leads into the next big Lantern event.

One of the great things about this volume is that, unlike some of the other ones I’ve read in this ongoing space-fantasy epic, it feels like its own story. Sure, it leads into the larger story and will surely be referred to in those pages, but the immediate tales are not only fun and interesting on their own, but also offer new information about what the heck is going on in the larger Lantern tapestry.

And let’s just say that the world is a better place when Mahnke is drawing aliens and zombies. I think that’s a pretty universal truth at this point. It was fun seeing the other artists jump in for the annual, but at the end of the day I think Mahnke will go down as one of the best Green Lantern artists of all time and with good reason.

Halloween Scene: Alien (1979)

alien poster The Alien franchise is pretty revered both amongst my circle and many of the people I know and respect. And yet, I have very little experience with the series. It’s not that I had anything against it, I just didn’t get around to it. I remember watching Aliens on VHS  in high school and thought I’d seen Alien, but while watching the Blu-ray version and writing this post, I now remember that I meant to get the first film, wound up with the second and just went with it. I’m sure I’d seen bits and pieces of Alien here and there, but much of it seemed new to me. And yet, when I saw the Alien Anthology Bluray box set go on sale for something like $22 last year, I asked my wife to pick it up for me for the holidays. It seemed like the kind of series I’d be into if I just sat down and watched it.

Even as a novice, I was familiar with the basic story of Ridley Scott’s Alien which finds the crew of a tow ship investigating a potentially alien transmission on a planetoid that just so happens to contain huge ruins and a particularly nasty brand of alien that makes its way onto their ship. While onboard, the menace makes short work of the crew — which consists of characters played by  Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt,Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto — before they go on the offensive and try to save their lives and at least part of the ship. It’s a taught, scary film that gives you enough time to get to know the characters and then doesn’t let up as it races towards the final.

I don’t think there’s any arguing that Alien is a classic film, expertly put together and acted. While reading about the movie, I discovered that one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Walter Hill, had a hand in it. He not only produced, but also rewrote Dan O’Bannon’s script. We’ll probably never know exactly how much which people got through to the final film, but it shows Hill’s versatility and radness.

But there is one problem with Alien and it has nothing to do with the movie itself. By being such a successful film with a fairly simple plot (alien hunts down people in strange place) it’s been talked about, homaged, parodied and flat-out copied for decades. Even if you haven’t seen the chestburster scene, but are otherwise well versed in horror or film history, you’ve probably seen the scene on a countdown show of some kind. Heck, you probably also know going in that the cast’s reaction was real because they didn’t know exactly what was going to happen.

A few years back I watched the Shout Factory double feature of Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: The Terror Within / Dead Space. I don’t remember much about either movie aside from the fact that, even without being familiar with the source material, one or both of them were rip-offs of Alien. Sometimes, that can work out well, like in the case of Jason X, but usually it just feels old, tired and unoriginal.

So, what’s the solution to this problem? See Alien as soon as you can. It’s just one of those movies that’s so iconic and so influential that it’s best to get it in your system as early as possible so you’re comparing all of the copycats to the original instead of an idea of the original you’ve formed from being part of the pop culture landscape. I’m to far gone in that regard, but I figure a few more solid viewings in glorious Blu-ray will help to retroactively fix the problem.

Computer Movies: Evolver (1995)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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