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

A Feast Of Friday The 13th Frights!

abbott and costello meet frankensteinI was looking at the calendar last week and realized that there wouldn’t be another Friday the 13th until November. I celebrated last month’s by watching Funhouse and The Shortcut, but wanted to go all out for this one. So, here are a review I’ve been thinking about for a few weeks along with a few new ones! Continue reading A Feast Of Friday The 13th Frights!

Ambitious Halloween Reading List: Creepy Archives Vol. 1

creepy volume 1 Back when I was still at ToyFare, I got a pretty epic box of books including the first two volumes of Dark Horse’s Creepy Archives reprints. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that they’ve been sitting in my closet pretty much ever since. I might have pulled volume one out a few times, but never really dove in properly until this year. Not only was I excited to get into these stories as part of the Ambitious Halloween Reading List, but I was also able to make some money off of it by working on a fun list over at Topless Robot called The 10 Best Stores from the Early Days of Creepy.

I talked about some of the history over there, but basically, back in the mid 60s Warren Publishing figuratively picked up the mantle of EC Comics and rekindled quality horror anthology comics with books like Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella. Many of the old school EC guys came over and did art while most of the stories in this volume were written by editor Archie Goodwin. After reading a few EC collections, I wasn’t quite sure what to think of Creepy, but I’m glad to say I had a wonderful time reading these stories.

The big problem I had with the Tales From The Crypt and Weird Science books I’ve read is that, while the art is often amazing, the stories are hokey, boring or built in such a way that the twist ending is just so obvious it’s not even entertaining. I was worried that the Creepy tales would be along those lines and was delighted to find that that wasn’t the case.

ambitious halloween reading list 2013In fact, this book had some incredibly unique stories that I’ve never seen anywhere else which is really saying something. In that regard, these stories reminded me of The Twilight Zone because there was such a variety of stories being told, which is all the more impressive when you think that one guy was writing most of them.

But, the real eye-opening aspect of this book was introducing me to some classic comic book artists that I’m not very familiar with. Classic guys like Al Williamson, Jack Davis, Angelo Torres and Joe Orlando came in ready to rock as did Frank Frazetta whose gnarly style fits perfectly with those vets (not that he was any rookie by this point, but you get my meaning). The one artist that really blew me away, though, was Gray Morrow. His work has such depth and quality to it that you almost wonder if these were more modern stories slid into these others from the mid 60s. I’m so intrigued by him that I want to check out books like Orion and Space: 1999, which both happen to be on my Amazon Wish List if anyone wants to get me a little something.

Anyway, as you can tell, I’m pretty darn far away from reviewing these supposedly Halloween-themed books in a timely fashion, but I’m enjoying this mix of books still and will continue on until I find myself distracted by something else. I’m partway through the Wally Wood book and about a third of the way through The Fall right now, so maybe I’ll actually finish this one out before the end of the year (but probably not).

Joe Dante Is Awesome

the burbs poster Joe Dante is the kind of director who was wildly influential on me as a kid, though I only realized it recently. After enjoying The Hole so much I decided to look at his filmography and saw that he made a ton of movies I loved as a kid that are still awesome to this day.

Of course I knew that he did Gremlins and Gremlins 2, which were probably my first monster movies, but I didn’t know he was the brain behind a movie like Innerspace which I haven’t seen in probably two decades, but loved when I was younger. I also had no idea that he helmed five episodes of Eerie, Indiana, another show that had a huge impact on me. Long before I was into actual horror, I was sitting on my living room floor staring at this wonderfully weird show with eyes wide open.  And, man, how good was Matinee? I’ve only seen that movie, but now that I actually know who William Castle is, I need to revisit it.

With that kind of revisiting mentality, I did what was natural and opened up my unwieldy DVD binder and got flipping. First I watched another Dante classic from my childhood that introduced me to all kinds of horror, suspense and haunted house tropes while also playing with them and turning them on their heads. Of course, I’m talking about The ‘Burbs, the director’s 1989 suburban horror suspense comedy starring Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman, Rick Ducommun and Henry Gibson.

Here’s the gist. Hanks’ Ray is on vacation and wants to just relax in his neighborhood, but his wife Carol (Fisher) wants to go to a lake. Of course, that winds up being the least of Ray’s problems as his paranoid neighbors Art (Ducommun) and Rumsfield (Dern) start convincing him that their new neighbors, the creepy Klopeks, might have killed their other neighbor. All of this leads Ray and his pals down the road of madness (though funny madness) as they become obsessed with finding out where the potential bodies were buried.

I saw this movie long before things like Rear Window or House On Haunted Hill which do get borrowed from, at least in tone if not direct plot points. Dante’s able to weave actual scary elements along with cartoonish comedic bits that make this film not only unique, but a joy to watch. There are still parts of the film that get in my head and make my skin crawl a bit and then the next moment I’m laughing. And a lot of that comes from Dante and company taking the mundane — having weird neighbors — and making it feel epic. It helps that Hanks is so good at conveying that regular guy normality as well as the pushed-to-the-limits nature of the character, something he displayed in The Money Pit too.

While watching the movie I also realized that I’ve wanted to live on a street like this my whole life, one where neighbors actually talked to each other and would join forces in this kind of insane endeavor (or watch from the sidelines like Feldman’s Ricky does).

piranha_poster From The ‘Burbs, I immediately went to Piranha, a film I saw for the first time thanks to the excellent Shout Factory offering from a few years back. My second viewing brought to mind many of the praises I had the first time around, most of which revolve around the fact that what was probably originally intended as a straight-up Jaws rip off, turned out to be a lot more than that. I don’t think I’d bust out the word masterpiece to describe this movie, but I do think Dante did a whole lot of awesome work with something that could have been just another cash grab.

One of the elements of Dante’s work that I appreciate is the variety of the material. I haven’t seen his first full-length movie Hollywood Boulevard, but he went from a drama to a fairly low budget horror flick like Piranha and then onto what I assumed was the larger budget The Howling. From there he did everything from the Gremlins flick to Masters Of Horror episodes and Looney Tunes: Back In Action to Hawaii Five-O episodes.

I’m pretty excited to check out Boulevard and the more kid-oriented Explorers, both of which are on Netflix Instant. I’d also really like to revisit The Howling ( usually I don’t like werewolf movies), Matinee and also Innerspace. I’ve even heard a few good things about Small Soldiers, so let’s add that to the must-see list too.

Anyone who can keep making quality films for 40 years deserves all the accolades in the world, especially when he or she can make a series of movies and shows with all different kinds of themes and settings. Those are the kinds of artists that inspire me and the ones I hope to be like.

Halloween Scene Trade Post: Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 1

Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 1: War Of The Monsters (DC)
Written by Jeff Lemire, drawn by Alberto Ponticelli
Collects Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. #1-7

Back when I read the first issue of Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E., I was pretty psyched about this as a comic. I dug the crazy sci-fi set-up created by Jeff Lemire, the spy elements and, of course, the idea of a team of monsters going out and smashing other monsters. For the most part, I’ve liked the weirder New 52 books that I’ve experienced and this is definitely up there. Since reading that first issue, I’ve read a few more Lemire books, like the soul-punch that is Lost Dogs and the first volume of his Vertigo book Sweet Tooth and have become a big fan of his. I also want to check out Swamp Thing which everyone seems to love and have The Complete Essex County waiting for me on my Kindle Fire.

Anyway, I should stay on topic. Here’s the deal with Frankenstein. He works for an organization called S.H.A.D.E. which stands for Super Human Advanced Defense Executive that’s run by Father Time who happens to randomly regenerate his body every so many years and is currently in the guise of a small girl wearing a domino mask. Frankenstein’s ostensibly married to the multi-armed Bride of Frankenstein, but they’re estranged. He also winds up leading a new team of monster-human hybrids based on the classic Universal Monsters: vampire, wolf man, sea creature and the mummy. They go on missions that include stopping an invading horde of extra-dimensional beings, saving a sentient planet from its own demons and fighting OMAC.

I was already into this concept because it’s monster soldiers, a concept I like just about every time I encounter it, including the Marvel miniseries Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos. But Lemire takes things in directions I never would have thought. This isn’t just a big monster fight book, there’s also a great mix of alternate dimensions and even super-tech. The S.H.A.D.E. HQ is actually a shrunken down floating city with an impenetrable bubble around it. You have to get shrunk down and then teleported just to get inside. I love that kind of stuff and there’s a lot of that in here. Oh, I should note here that the shrinking tech was designed by none other than Ray Palmer, which marks this series’ closest connection to the larger DCU as far as I’ve read (aside from the OMAC appearance later on).

All of which is a commentary on Lemire’s versatility as a writer. Dude made a name by writing and drawing real world-based stories and has moved on to some of the craziest comics on the stands. I’m a big fan of that. I’m not as big a fan of Ponticelli’s artwork though. It can get really messy and hard to read. I appreciate the scope they’re going for on this book — our team of monsters fighting legions of evil monsters at one time — but it can get confusing at times. I will say that he does some really interesting things with page layouts where they look like splashes, but wind up actually containing several scenes. Take the page below, see how it all seems like one thing at first glance, but then you realize the water’s surface winds up acting like the panel break? That’s pretty rad. Maybe it’s an inking thing, because when he was inked by someone else on issue #7, it looked so different I thought it was a new penciler altogether.

Anyway, I had a great time reading this comic for all kinds of reasons and would definitely recommend it to anyone. I just did some looking around and saw that Lemire’s only on the book for another few issues. This news would generally bum me out, but then I saw that Matt Kindt took over and I’m pretty excited to see what he does/did with his run.

Haha, oh man, as I finished writing this I remembered that my pal Kiel Phegley had written about some upcoming DC cancellations on CBR. I hadn’t had a chance to read it yet post-NYCC and catching up on things. So, I just gave it a glance and saw that this book will get the axe with #17. That’s a bummer, especially because it feels like the kind of project that could have just as easily been a long-running Image series with like, two tweeks. Ah well, that’s Chinatown or whatever.

Halloween Scene: The Cabin In The Woods (2011)

Every now and then a horror flick comes along where the story behind the movie is almost as good as the movie itself. Usually there’s a lot of studio interference delaying the release of the movie like in the case of the wonderful Trick R Treat and sometimes its big names have a surprising time getting a movie distributed. In the case of Cabin In The Woods, it’s a little bit of both. The film was written by Drew Goddard and a guy named Joss Whedon of Cloverfield and Buffy The Vampire Slayer fame respectively with Goddard directing. You’ll also remember that Whedon went on to direct a little film called Avengers and both films happen to star a guy named Chris Hemsworth. Of course, that was all well after CITW had finished shooting. Even so, you’d think that a pair of beloved genre guys could get a movie out to the public. Well, Lionsgate shuttered it for whatever reason and then finally decided to release the thing last year to critical acclaim.

All of which brings me to watching the movie, which I honestly had pretty high expectations for. The trailers hinted pretty heavily that the Evil Dead-type set-up they were showing off was just the conceit and that there was a kind of Truman Show thing going on where people were monitoring these probably soon-to-be-dead teenagers. As it turned out, for me at least, this movie turned out to be more about finding out exactly what was going on and not so much the horror or teen character stuff.

It’s nearly impossible to talk about this flick without getting into SPOILER TERRITORY, so let’s do just that for a few paragraphs. We’re instantly introduced to characters played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford who clearly work for some kind of organization that manipulates college kids into some pretty horrific situations in a cabin, but we’re not exactly sure why. Here’s the deal (remember that SPOILER WARNING), the kids represent specific archetypes (the athlete, the fool, the whore, the scholar and the virgin) who need to be sacrificed in a certain order to appease old gods living beneath the surface of the world. We’re not told when this somewhat high-tech organization was put into place to fulfill these duties, but we do know that several other projects like this one exist all over the world.

To achieve their goal, the organization manipulates the quintet to the location and, using a series of drugs and other elements to mess with their heads, get them down to a crowded basement where they inadvertently chose the form of their destroyer. There’s apparently an entire Cube-like set-up of potential supernatural and mythical murderers to chose from (everything from redneck pain-loving zombies to regular zombies and killer unicorns to mermen). Two of our characters screw up the order, find their way into the facility and wind up unleashing every single monster before actively allowing the world to (seemingly) be destroyed by the old gods.

So, yeah, there’s a lot going on. I admit, I really like the story. Like I figured from the previous, it pays homage to the films that came before it, but also takes those tropes and actually does something new with them, which I really appreciate on a creative level. However I had some problems. First off, the stoner kid was just way too over the top. He was like every single stoner from every 90s movie all rolled into one, thrown into a bong and distilled into this annoying, Shaggy like kid who was pretty difficult to like for me. While the other characters’ weirdness was explained to an extent, his wasn’t and I found myself taken out of the movie by his cartoonishness. I was also as disappointed by the shoddy looking CGI as I was by keeping scenes that needed the heavy CGI in the film when they could have been changed to not even need CGI. My wife and I have been watching Once Upon A Time on Netflix and it’s a pretty good show, but the effects there can be pretty bad. Some of the CITW monsters looked almost as cheap and that really takes me out of a movie, especially one like this is that is doing a lot well. And it’s too bad because the redneck zombies looked amazing while the dragon or whatever looked silly. Cut the dragon out and use more costume effects and I think you’d have a much scarier experience here.

END SPOILERS. However, overall, I’d say I did really enjoy this movie. It goes places you won’t expect, does things that will surprise even the most jaded horror fan and has a certain amount of fun while doing so. At the end of the day, that passion is what I like to see on screen, even if it means some subpar special effects.

Just Finished Once Upon A Time Season One

In case you were unaware, ABC’s Once Upon A Time is available on Netflix Instant. When I saw this I was curious. I hadn’t heard much about the show — which I realized is the result of not talking to people about TV much anymore, one of the bummers of not having in-house co-workers — but the concept sounded interesting: characters from fairy tales are trapped in the real world and one woman is trying to deal with them while we see flashbacks to their previous lives. It sounded like a very Lost set-up, which makes sense when you realize it was created by two writers from that show Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. I proposed checking it out to the missus, she was amenable, so we gave the first episode a whirl. That was a little over a week ago and we just finished the 22 episode season last night.

To get into a little more detail, the series revolves around Emma, the daughter of Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwinn) and Prince Charming who was sent to our world as a baby just before the Evil Queen (Swingtown‘s Lana Parrilla) cursed the fairy tale world by imprisoning them in a world without magic where they don’t remember their past lives. Emma had her own child who she gave up for adoption and wound up adopted by the EQ in our world. Years later, he’s one of the few people who know the truth, so he tracks his mom down, tells her what he knows and gets her to stick around town.

From there we get  episodic reveals of new characters, backstories in both worlds and growing intrigue. It’s a really well set up series that gives you enough information while also seeding new ones to keep you coming back for more. I was particularly taken by the choice to definitively show the audience that the kid is telling the truth, but having most of the town think he’s nuts, including his biological mom. There are also really creative uses of some very familiar fairy tales, I especially liked how they incorporated Belle and the Beauty and the Beast story. It’s fun because they’re basing their stories on existing mythology while creating a whole new one, kind of like a comic book relaunch/reboot/whathaveyou.

We wound up finishing the first season at around 8:50 PM last night which was unfortunate timing because the first episode of the second season premiered at 8:00 PM. I will admit that I’m a little leery about watching this show as it comes out. The beauty of checking out an entire season on DVD or via streaming is that you see all the pieces in a relatively short amount of time meaning you remember a lot more of the connections. Plus, cliffhangers (either around commercials or between episodes) get resolved a lot faster. I like that immediate gratification.

On the other hand, I have been looking for my new Lost. When I say that I don’t just mean a series with weird elements and lots of drama, half of which is told via flashback. I mean the kind of show I get really excited about every single week, the kind of show I’m deeply invested in and love absorbing. Weird as this might sound, the closest thing I have to that right now is How I Met Your Mother — which is more like Lost than just about anything — and the various Challenges.

A good testament to how much we like the show is that we’re actually planning on giving up a show we usually watch in an effort to get on board with the episodes as they air. Usually we watch The Amazing Race, but as we talked about this very serious decision last night (I kid…mostly), I pointed out that it doesn’t really matter if you miss a season of AR because there’s no carry over. If we don’t like watching OUAT in real time, we can easily switch over and not miss much of anything. So, all we need to do now is watch the season premiere online and we’re good to go next Sunday.