Wednesday, September 29, 2010

6 Things Kiel Got Into This Year

Hey, everyone! As Ben said earlier, today marks two years of the CKT. We thought it'd be fun to open up our own personal pop culture notebooks from the past 12 months to share a little bit about what we've been digging on lately (because really, the whole point of this blog is pretty much to make you like the cool shit we're into as much as we do), and I'm up first because I don't have an office job and Kevin's lost somewhere driving across America. Away we go!

1. "Justified"

I gave this show a shot in the summer because I was sad that the networks didn't seem to be stepping up with anything interesting after "Lost" ended (okay, and because of my man crush on Olyphant...his looks are smoldering), but I stuck with it because it's a smart, subtle crime drama that had an engaging overarching story wrapped around some fantastic one-off mysteries and a cast of inarguably human characters. The dialogue is boss, too.

2. King City By Brandon Graham

I'd honestly been hunting for a copy of the Tokyopop volume 1 of this series for what feels like it must have been two years, and finally got a copy a few weeks before the new Image issues started hitting shops. I swear I told myself I wasn't going to double buy the story in the first six singles, but after seeing two of them hit the stands with the art blown up big in the tabloid format and the extra bits and pieces (not to mention the mind-bending covers and design) Graham had added, I folded like a card table. Phenomenal comics wonderfully packaged. Do you think he'll go back to Multiple Warheads next?

3. iZombie by Chris Roberson and Mike & Laura Allred

The other serial comic that's really been scratching my art and design itch of late, I'm sure you all know that I picked this book up simply for the Allreds as I pick up anything they work on at least for a trial spin. But aside from a much more glossy version of the thick lines and soft tones Mike and Laura started digging into in the last Madman volume, I've been super impressed by the hipstery monster mash-up of newcomer Chris Roberson's story. And I'm not even a horror or hipster hound.

4. Majesty Shredding by Superchunk

Okay yes sure, I've only had this album a week or so (thanks to my local comics shop Challengers opening an account with a record distributor just to stock it). And yes, saying "The new Superchunk album is really, really great" is kind of like saying "Hey, chocolate milk is radical." But what can I say, man? Chocolate milk is fucking radical!

5. "Party Down"

One day this summer, I realized the entire first season of this absurdly brilliant and funny cable sitcom was on Netfix instant just in time to also watch the second season as it initially serialized. Explaining my reaction to the show and its cancelation right after season two ended is kind of hard.'s's like you go to camp, right? And you meet this awesome kid named Pauly Downing, and he hates all the same shit you do and knows how to screw with the dickhead counselors without getting caught, and you become blood brothers and swear to keep in touch in the fall no matter what. And then after six months of writing his address with no response, his mother writes you to tell you Pauly died of cancer.

Fuck you, Starz.

6. "Tosh.0"

This one is my "guilty pleasure" pick of the year. And, I don't know...I'm not really sure why it'd be a guilty pleasure except I have no idea what anyone actually thinks of it beyond a general feeling that a lot of my super hip friends would find Daniel Tosh's mocking of internet videos to be kind of meatheaded and vaguely racist at times. But hey, every week I turn this show on and it does the #1 thing any comedy show should: it makes me laugh a lot.

Jesus, I'm watching way too much TV these days, aren't I?

Two Years? Really?

And they said this wouldn't last.

Well, I'm sure somebody did.

Today unexpectedly marks the two-year anniversary of the Cool Kids Table--not unexpected in the sense we didn't think we'd make it this far, but rather in that none of us realized we were hitting this mark until I randomly checked last night.

So unfortunately we don't have any elaborate celebratory shenanigans in place, but we did want to take the opportunity to thank all our loyal readers who have put up with us these past couple years as we really do enjoy doing this for y'all. Hopefully you've come to dig our mix of semi-insider war stories of the comics industry, pop culture punditry and miscellaneous shenanigans.

Thanks also to all the kind people who link to our stuff, from Sean T. Collins to Tom Spurgeon to Robot 6 to Comics Alliance to Blog@Newsarama and so on; we really appreciate the hat tips from you folks who we greatly respect.

So here's to two more years and then maybe some more after that!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Would Like to Know More About Maelstrom

Next to my desk at work, I’ve got this poster looming over at me, depicting the entire Marvel Universe as it was back in the mid-to-late-80’s. Most of the characters I know, a couple I don’t and a few hover in between, where I am aware of who they are, but would like to know more about them. Today my gaze settled on a purple-and-blue-hued, weird-helmet-wearing fellow who I know to be named Maelstrom.

The first time I remember seeing Maelstrom outside of a Marvel Handbook was in Dan Slott and Paul Pelletier’s GLA limited series. He was a maniacal type with those ever-lovin’ ambiguous “energy manipulation” abilities and seemed wicked powerful, way above the pay grade of the generally-played-for-laughs Great Lakes Avengers. There wasn’t much insight into his origin or anything there, but I was intrigued by the fact that this was a seemingly big-deal bad guy—yeah, he was getting his ass handed to him by Mr. Immortal and Flatman, but Slott made it pretty clear that they got real real lucky and this was indeed a baddie to be taken seriously—who I had no knowledge of. I figured he was in the same league of Graviton: a villain earmarked for the A-list but who didn’t quite have the staying power to become a Magneto or Doctor Doom, so he got dusted off from time to time and I must have missed his previous campaigns.

I didn’t see Maelstrom again until just last year when Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning brought him into Guardians of the Galaxy, confronting Drax and Phyla-Vell during their quest to reclaim Moondragon from the realm of Oblivion, manipulating the latter into slaying the Dragon of the Moon and in the process becoming the new avatar of Death. Those machinations are still playing out today in the Marvel cosmic books as Phyla’s actions led to Thanos’ resurrection, seemingly another goal of Oblivion and thus Maelstrom.

This piqued my interest.

I’ve been intrigued by Oblivion since I picked up that 80’s Iceman mini where he first appeared. He’s so weird-looking and mysterious, but besides that, I have very little idea what his deal is. The big conceptual entities in the Marvel Universe are generally pretty easy to figure out: Eternity embodies everything, the Living Tribunal is a judge, Death is Death and so on. You’ve got other guys like the Elders of the Universe who are totally defined by their crazy hobbies listed in their names (Collector, Runner, Gardener, etc.).

Then you’ve got Oblivion—what’s his story? Does he want everybody dead? Everything gone? Why? What would he do if he got what he wanted? Why doesn’t Thanos want to make sweet sweet love to him?

Anyways, from what I’ve gathered, Maelstrom has some sort of tangled history with Oblivion and was his avatar—essentially his Silver Surfer—at some point. I’m not sure how that synchs up with Deathurge—Oblivion’s other flunky who gets his jollies convincing people like Hellcat to take their own lives—but it definitely ups his stock to me.

Digging deeper, Maelstrom is apparently a Deviant Inhuman, combining two major Marvel U sub-races in a formula I’ve never heard of. If that Inhumans are weird humans and Deviants are weird Eternals, does that make Maelstrom a super-weird Inhuman with some connection to the Eternals? Crazy. I must know more.

Maelstrom was also co-created by one of my favorite writers, the late Mark Gruenwald of Squadron Supreme greatness, as well as the non-Karate Kid Ralph Macchio, the long-tenured Marvel editor whom I still greet in the halls.

The Gruenwald involvement explains why Maelstrom seems to have made a lot of appearances in the Quasar ongoing series, where Oblivion was always a presence as well. I’ve really been meaning to check that one out as I used to have a real Wendell Vaughn aversion, but have conquered that, I think. For me, if Nova was Coke, then Quasar was Pepsi, so it was my duty to stay loyal to my cola, but as the two have proven able to co-exist in recent years, I’m willing to concede Wendell is Root Beer and give him a try.

On a related note, I don’t drink soda.

But regardless, Maelstrom seems like a cat with some potential and a crazy hat—more please.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sayonara, Smallville: "Lazarus"

Incredible but true: This year, The CW's "Smallville" embarks on its tenth and final season, making it not just the longest-running Superman TV show ever but the longest-running comic book TV show ever produced. Bananas, right?

To celebrate its final year, we're teaming up our collective powers of dumb DCU trivia, long experience watching and writing about the show and general obsession with serial TV to bring you "Sayonara, Smallville" – a semi-regular feature where we'll review the most notable episodes of the season whenever we can. Everyone is invited to play along. Let's get started with Friday's season premier "Lazarus."

Kiel: All right, man..."Smallville."

Ben: "Smallville" it is.

Kiel: I thought it might be good to start this exercise in too tightly focused fanboy analysis if we broke down a little bit of our own history with the show. Did you watch it from the beginning?

Ben: I did not, actually. What year did it start in again? 2001?

Kiel: Yeah, must've been. I remember watching the premier in my basement dorm, which was my Sophomore year.

Ben: Right, I remember it started when I was in college.

Kiel: It was weird. You heard about this show that's supposed to be "Superman as a teenager" and your first thought is "That sounds like the dumbest thing ever," but holy shit did that pilot really work. It was a great series hook.

Ben: Y'know, it's interesting. I was just getting back into comics after a hiatus of a few years when the show started, so it wasn't really on my radar. But then in college I started reading comics again and saw so many ads for the show and that image of Tom Welling on the cross with the "S" on his chest was very striking. I didn't watch the premiere, and to this day don't think I've seen it, but I became more of a periodic viewer in the first couple seasons.

Kiel: I remember there being a HUGE ad with that image in Times Square a year later still!

Ben: It was definitely a great image that really got you interested.

Kiel: You should go back and watch the pilot, but either way it set up all these rules for the first few seasons: "meteor rock monsters" each week, no real exploration of the powers at first (especially flight) and extra super doses of teenage angst.

Ben: Yeah, I know the whole "freak of the week" concept never really hooked me, so I'd be in and out those first few seasons. I think I was still watching "Angel" on The WB though, so basically if an ad for "Smallville" aired and it seemed like a cool episode, I'd check it out. I believe I became a more regular viewer around the third or fourth season with my buddy Tim. I definitely remember I was watching pretty much weekly during the season with the kid who went on to "Supernatural" and Doctor Quinn was his mom and they were building this crazy mythology. Looking back, there really is kind of a clear divide between eras of the show, between the "Freak of the Week" early years, the middle stuff where it's all new mythology, and the last few seasons have been much more DCU-centric. Does that make sense?

Kiel: That's exactly what I wanted to get into in this discussion of the new season, because it's crazy how long a shelf life "Smallville" has had. And I think a big part of the show's success has been that unlike almost any other teen drama on TV, this has been able to grow into something out because of the source material. Like, if you were a fan of 90210 or whatever, and you heard "in the next few seasons, the plan is for every character to slowly graduate high school and wander around the state doing odd jobs for a while until only two original cast members are left and all the other people are wildly different from the expectations you had in the early seasons"...hell man, any show that does that would tank in the ratings in like three episodes. But because the entire show has become about playing off the expectations of what it's like when Clark becomes "the real Superman," people have stuck through all these complete changes to what the show is and how it works.

Ben: That's a really good point. And certainly the "Smallville" of 2010 bears very little resemblance to the "Smallville" of 2001. As somebody who has been through the whole journey, your take on why it has stuck around is very interesting, though I'd also really want to hear from a non-comics fan who started in 2001. Did they stick around for another reason? Did they ditch out once cast members left?

Although as an aside, not to be too disrespectful, but I do think it helped that some of the cast members brought in as "replacements" were probably stronger than the originals who left, which had to help. I think Justin Hartley and Erica Durance are probably two of the best if not the best actors on the show, so I wonder how many people really miss Kristen Kreuk (who I have a rant to get to about her) or the kid who played Pete Ross. But the show has also endured losing really strong cast members like John Glover, the Kents and especially Michael Rosenbaum. And let's not undersell it: To be on the air for 10 freakin' seasons is a huge deal. That's not a benchmark a lot of shows achieve.

But yeah, to get back to your point, I think the producers and writers were savvy to adapt somewhat on the fly, knowing they may lose the high school kids who initially tuned in for a typical WB teen drama and gradually replacing them with nerds. "Smallville" really did a 180 from a "One Tree Hill"-type deal to a total genre show over the decade.

Kiel: Yeah, the closest I have to a non-comics watcher on the show is [my girlfriend] Jami, and she stuck with it for a long time as more and more superhero stuff came into it. And I think that the whole potential audience was kind of continually primed for more actual superhero stuff over the decade. I mean, when Smallville premiered, "X-Men" was the only big superhero movie out there where they were making fun of yellow spandex. Now we've got three Spider-Mans and two Iron Mans, you know?

Ben: Very true. The audience of today is far more likely to accept a super hero show than what "Smallville" was when it started.

As an aside, I'm looking over some Wikipedia synopses for the first season and it's kinda nuts how many future big or semi-big names played meteor freaks. Lizzy Caplan, Eric Christian Olsen, Amy Adams and Adam Brody were all in that first season.

Kiel: HA!

Ben: It's also funny to think how once upon a time you'd get a character who was even kinda similar to Mr. Mxyzptlk was a huge deal and now they just throw in Suicide Squad cameos for fun. I remember The Flash showing up for the first time was a massive marketing blitz, and now unless you get the whole Justice Society, it's just another episode. Because Green Arrow is on a show about Superman growing up EVERY WEEK.

Kiel: I agree with all of that! But what I was going to say to get to the actual episode was that I'll admit to having fallen off watching regularly over the past few seasons. Part of it was the fact that the show moved to Fridays where sci-fi tends to do better than other kinds of series because nerds don't go to the club, part of it was the fact that Kreuk's "I'm going to art school in Europe where I'm going to get a mystical tattoo" shit was HORRIBLE (probably the low point for story on the show), and part of it was the fact that we had to do writeups with Brent from InQuest at Wizard that were tedious because it made something that was fun feel so much like work...

So end result is that I've been kind of in and out over the past three seasons...only watching those ones where big name characters would show up or trying to catch a stray episode to see where the mythology was going. I'm kind of bummed I missed most of the Doomsday stuff last season. Did you watch it all?

Ben: That was actually two seasons ago.

Kiel: Oh man, was last season all Zod?

Ben: And yeah, I definitely watched that season. Interestingly enough, what got me watching regularly was part of what made you quit, in that I got kind of hooked because we had to do those Wizard write-ups. Last season was Zod, and I was in and out on that one. DVR definitely gives me an advantage over you. :)

Anyways, one point I wanted to touch on quickly before we got to the episode itself was that we should probably note we both have some actual connection to "Smallville" beyond just being viewers in the sense that we were each on that "beat" for a period while at Wizard. I definitely know that doing interviews with cast and crew members made me feel a sort of weird loyalty to at least give the show a shot every so often, which I'm not sure if you felt or not.

Kiel: It definitely made me think more about what people were putting into the show from the writers on down where with most shows all I would think about is the final product. So as we go about this column, I'll probably have a lot more to say about my perception of what the show is trying to accomplish than I would with "Justified" or whatever.

Ben: Right. I think the tipping point for me was actually when Al Gough and Miles Millar left the show and Kelly Souders and Brian Peterson took over as the primary producers (I think) because I interviewed them about the switch and they were so earnest and a little nervous that I was like "Well fuck, I gotta watch the show now because these people are so nice and surely every little ratings point helps..." And that was season eight, after Kreuk and Rosenbaum had just left too, so it really felt like even more of an underdog show.

Kiel: It's a tough thing about covering a show. Luckily, even when I'd watch only because I talked to these nice people on the phone, I'd still be able to show up the next day at Wizard and be like, "Well, THAT episode was shit" but overall, I do think the quality survived in a different way.

Ben: So interestingly enough, though I did watch the show a fair amount during those first seven seasons, the post-Lex/Lana era has really been the one I was most invested in.

Kiel: Good! I think you'll be filling me in on stuff from time to time!

Ben: Ha! We'll fill each other in for sure. I had no illusions that the show was pretty bad a lot, but it was never not fun to watch, so that certainly helped. I never got from talking to the producers or Tom Welling or anybody else that they had any real pretenses that they were making high art or anything, they were pretty humble about just wanting to provide viewers with a good time, and I think they more or less did that.

Ben: So with that...should we get to the premiere? I've got one more rant for sure, but I think it will come up organically.

Kiel: Sure...the thing that first caught my attention with this premier was that I actually DID watch the finally last season, and that cliffhanger felt so awkward and strange. The whole "someone's in the air vents with Ollie" thing felt like a scene was dropped from last year's finale on accident, and the Zod stuff didn't make a whole lot of sense (where were they getting zapped to, and why did Clark survive?). But I thought the opening of this episode grounded things really better and I was back into it immediately.

Ben: Yeah, I did not watch last season's finale, so it was even more confusing for me.

Kiel: Oh man...literally at one point Chloe is looking at this monitor and a bunch of red dots surround where Ollie is supposed to be, and then that's it. No more Green Arrow. But anyway, the episode overall got right into new plotlines rather than holding over a lot from last season. Shall we take them one at a time?

Ben: For sure!

Kiel: Let's start with Clark and Lois...after skirting around it since like Season 3, they finally have put everything on the table with the pair of them, and now Lois has figured out his identity. It's a definite break from the comics, but at this point I kind of love that they don't care about matching it up anymore.

Ben: Oh if they were slavishly devoted to making it match up to the comics I'd get annoyed, I think. The show definitely needs to be it's own thing. I am wondering how long they'll keep up the whole "She knows but he doesn't know she knows" deal though? I wouldn't put it past them to ride it out all season and maybe beyond, but it definitely makes Clark look like a bit of a dunce during scenes like the one where Lois fake drops her pen so he can super speed scan the files at the Daily Planet. It's a fine line between funny and ridiculous, so hopefully they land on the right side.

Kiel: For sure. In a way, this is an example of how the final season kind of has to be about them taking the audience to a version of the Superman legend. Like, so much of what I'm wondering this year is going to be "How will they establish the secret identity?" etc etc. And a big part of that is the fact that the costume has showed up in episode 1. That's kind of a crazy move, I think.

Ben: Did you know that was actually Brandon Routh's Superman Returns costume?

Kiel: I'd heard that beforehand, yeah. I also saw Welling talking somewhere about how he hasn't actually seen the costume in person yet. That scene is all trick photography when you look at it.

Ben: They had the choice between that and Reeves' costume and went with that, which makes more sense. And yeah, that makes a lot of sense with the trick photography. Getting back to Clark/Lois, I can't help but wonder how the show would have been differently had Kristen Kreuk never left. Do you think this would have been the endgame regardless?

Kiel: It would have to be. People want to see Lois and Clark in general, plus I think the "they hate each other because they love each other" is a more fun romantic hook than "the girl next door he's been pining for." Both have been done on screen in comic adaptations, but Lois keeps Superman from being too lame. Also: Durance is just so good in that part. Maybe the best on-screen Lois ever.

Ben: I agree on that first point. I do wonder if the plot would have shifted from "Lana leaves, Lois/Clark fully develop" to "Love triangle, Lana ultimately lets Clark go in the finale" more like it did in the comics, but I think the first route is better in that it gives Lois/Clark more room to grow without a third wheel around. It is another interesting representation about how much the show has changed in 10 years though, and also your point about source material informing it, given how it was all about Clark and Lana to begin with.

Ben: And now, my rant...

Kiel: Oh boy!

Ben: Simply put, I've reading all the reports about how they're getting this guest star and that guest star for the final season, and yet they're having trouble nailing down Kristen Kreuk and Michael Rosenbaum, and that just blows my fucking mind.

Kiel: What else are those two doing?!?!?!?

Ben: I've always given Rosenbaum a bit more of a pass both because I liked him more as Lex (I do think he's the best on-screen Lex ever) and because I know he exited the show less because he thought he had some glorious film career ahead of him and more because he just got kinda tired of playing the part. So whatever, I'm probably unfairly harping on Kristen Kreuk here...but seriously: what the fuck? She has done zilch since leaving Smallville aside from that "Chun Li" movie which tanked hard.

Kiel: SO HARD.

Ben: And this show MADE her.

Kiel: Hey man, she was on some Canadian teen soap operas.

Ben: That she is not racing back for as many episodes baffles me. Does she think it's going to kill her momentum or something? Dude, she's gonna end up playing the teacher on "Degrassi 2012" or something for the rest of her career. Anyways, I never really like her on this show and wasn't broken up when she left, but I do feel like Lana was a huge part of the mythology, and definitely that she owes it to "Smallville" to make herself as available as need be to wrap things up. I wouldn't want too much Lana in the final season, because I don't want it overshadowing Lois/Clark, but I feel strangely betrayed and annoyed, way more than I do by Michael Rosenbaum.

I mean, fucking Teri Hatcher, who is on a MAJOR NETWORK SHOW, is going to do a guest shot and Kristen Kreuk can't find the time? Megan did point out to me that she may just not be able to get the shifts off from Olive Garden.

Kiel: Hahahahahahahaha! "I'm sorry guys, but I have to work doubles during Old Tuscany Days." But I'll really miss Rosenbaum if he doesn't come back, though I thought evil clone Lex was pretty good.

Ben: I'll be very bummed if Rosenbaum doesn't come back. With Lana, I actually won't be disappointed so much as annoyed that Kristen Kreuk could clearly make time, but with Lex, I feel like the show really needs him. Ultimately the show was always supposed to be about Clark and Lex, yeah?

Kiel: Totally. I wonder how we'll see the season develop on that front. With the Cadmus stuff, it feels like Lex will be hanging over the proceedings, and I think his dad is coming back too. How can they not write him back in?

Ben: Again, it was a nice touch for Lex to be the adversary in the first episode of the final season even if it wasn't directly him. In many ways, not having the "real" Lex there but having his legacy still be able to attack Clark in such a creepy and seemingly unstoppable way really only made the character and the dynamic between the two seem even more weighty. And the Welling-Rosenbaum confrontations were always my favorite scenes, so even a facsimile was neat.

Kiel: For sure. I also dug the going back to that S-cross in the cornfield well worked in a big way. It kind of brought things full circle really quickly without having to rely too much on the early seasons from here on out.

Ben: Hey, question from the early season-ignorant: Why did he get an "S" painted on his chest? Was it for "Smallville"?

Kiel: Yeah, like the high schoolers would pick the nerdiest kid every year and make him the official "Smallville scarecrow" and hang him in the field the night of homecoming. Your basic jock hazing bit, but they were able to pull it on Clark because they slung Lana's Kryptonite necklace on him.

Ben: That's hilarious that underwear model Tom Welling was the nerdiest kid at Smallville High. But anyways, I do hope they find a way to keep Lex (and hopefully Michael Rosenbaum) in the mix this season, especially towards the end, even with the other cool big bad.

Kiel: Ok, but before we get to that, two questions:

Kiel: 1 - What's up with Tess Mercer? I have no conception of who she is as a character. I know she somehow runs LexCorp now. Was she Lex's former lover or something? And is that character any good? I've never gotten a read on her from any of the episodes I've seen with her.

Ben: I actually had to explain this to Megan when we were watching (and by "watching," I mean I was and she was on her computer tossing out occasionally snarky comments) so I had a bit of a warm-up. Here's what I know:

She showed up in season eight as Lex's handpicked successor to run LuthorCorp (or is it LexCorp on the show too?). We didn't know much about her other than that Lex had saved her from some situation at some point and she was super loyal to him, but I don't believe they ever banged. She did however have a romantic past with Green Arrow, as she was a captive on the island where Ollie became GA, they beat some drug dealers together, then had a relationship but he ditched her at some point.

Kiel: Rich dudes.

Ben: Right? Anyways...she also used to be a pure heart environmentalist or something at some point. She found out Clark's secret ID and all about Krypton because she's apparently smarter than Lex. However, she also found out that Lex had implanted spy cameras in her eyes (yep) at some point and that pissed her off, so she cut him off and became a kind of wild card, but more or less an ally to Clark the last couple seasons. So she's kinda conniving and you can't really trust her, but she's not really a bad guy. Oh, and she was also an inactive agent of Checkmate. Her past is really confusing and pretty eventful for somebody who looks to be in their mid-20's tops.

Kiel: Jesus...that is a LOT of backstory for two seasons of show

Ben: The actress who plays her, Cassidy Freeman, is pretty decent, so she's a solid character despite a ridiculously convoluted history. I like her more than Chloe (which isn't saying much).

Kiel: Ah ah! Well, that was question #2 - What do you think of this whole "Chloe's surrendering herself to creepy evil guys" plotline? Are we ready for another shadowy conspiracy plot on this show, or do you think this is an extension of the Checkmate stuff (which I never saw)?

Ben: Yeah, I immediately assumed this is more Checkmate stuff, because, like you said, having a second shadowy organization introduced in the final season when we've already got one (and we know there's Suicide Squad stuff coming up) seems pointless. And I believe Alison Mack didn't renew her contract for the full season, only recurring, which is why she was written out for a bit, which is a whole other Kristen Kreuk rant, but I'll hold off on that one.

Ben: I've got the sense that dude torturing Ollie will turn out to be a DCU character, but I'm not sure who.

Kiel: Who's that one guy I always want to call Col. Flagg? The guy who played a big part in New Frontier...Faraday?

Ben: Ah yes, King Faraday. I do think they announced that Rick Flag will be on the show though, so I bet that was him. I could easily confirm or deny by checking KryptonSite, but where's the fun in that. I love all things old school Suicide Squad, so of course I'm all good with Rick Flag being on the show.

Kiel: No yeah, I purposefully didn't read anything about the premier once we decided to do this thing.

Ben: Haha, I fucked up then.

Kiel: And I know nothing about the Suicide Squad, so we'll see how well they can educate me this year.

Ben: I gotta lend you my run. Great book. I don't want "Smallville" to be your only exposure to Suicide Squad.

Kiel: I also saw that Cooke-written episode of "JLU."

Ben: Ok, not bad then. Still, you should read the comics.

Kiel: For sure. So last thing then...DARKSEID!!!!

Kiel: What'd you think?

Ben: Man, it was pretty damn cool. I wasn't sure how they were gonna do it, if they'd just allude to him all season, so seeing that CGI was just awesome. I'm so interested to see how he fits in the Smallville universe, and so far, so good. That build with the creepy smoke building was perfect.

Kiel: I was kind of worried because the idea of having a guy dressed up in stone-face and purple cloak sounds really bad, but so far so good. I'm still worried about whenever they put the character into a real actor (which they'll have to do) but maybe they'll do a think like in Final Crisis where it slowly overtakes a normal person.

Ben: Yeah, that's exactly what I'd do, and with Geoff Johns consulting on the show, I'm hoping he goes with that tack.

Kiel: Rickey's gonna flip either way when he sees it

Ben: What did you think of this thing with Clark having to overcome his "inner darkness" of ego and pride? Did that feel organic or like it came out of nowhere just because Darkseid is the big bad?

Kiel: I think they needed a twist on the whole "it's my fate to become a great hero that I don't understand" bit because that angle has gotten kind of played. This works as well as anything just in terms of variety. I don't know. I hate fatalistic storytelling because it sucks all the drama out of stuff, but I didn't hate this so much.

Kiel: I also like the Pa Kent scene. This show has always kind of been about Krypton Vs. Smallville for Clark, and that highlighted it well

Ben: Yeah, that was one of two final things I wanted to talk about. After that first scene with Clark in the sorta-afterlife, I immediately thought of Adventures of Superman #500, with Superman and Pa Kent in the afterlife, so I felt a little gypped when Jon Schneider didn't show up there, but that last scene really made up for it. Schneider is never going to win any awards, but he really owns that part. He's just such a man's man but simultaneously makes you feel so reassured and that everything is gonna be A-OK.

Kiel: Oh man...Adventures #500! Formative book for Kiel.

Ben: Yeah, I was sure you'd be thinking the same thing re: #500. I wonder if the writers did that deliberately or not

Kiel: Well, I think getting into the comics connection is a good thing for a later column because I have LOTS of thoughts on it but we're going long here already.

Ben: Sure sure. One thing that didn't work as well for me was Lois all of a sudden going to Africa. WHAT? Where did that come from? Like, she'd been kidnapped a billion times. Did she flee the country just so she wouldn't have to keep making up lame excuses not to tell Clark she knows his secret?

Kiel: That's always something they feel the need to do in superhero TV and movies...last minute decisions that the world of heroes is too crazy for them to make themselves a target and hurt the hero or whatever. It's a total cliché but one I hope they don't stick with over the season. I think you're right that her knowing the identity needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later

Ben: I get the whole "this world is too crazy" bit, but I don't get it here, since again, being kidnapped by lunatics is part of her daily routine and just that she now knows Clark's secret didn't put her in any more danger than she was already regularly in. I hope there's more to it and it does get handled quickly, because it didn't work for me. That aside, I think this was a decent start to a season which feels like it's going to be a good combo of greatest hits revisited and an epic ongoing storyline hopefully building up to a conclusion that lives up to a decade of build, which is no small task.

Kiel: I've got my theories on what I'd like to see in the finale, but let's save that for next time.

Ben: Indeed. Closing thoughts?

Kiel: Just that I'm not 100% in my ability to watch every episode all season, so they've really got to nail some cool shit to keep me engaged.

Ben: The gauntlet has been thrown down, Smallville: Please Kiel...or else. Did you see what's up for next week? My taping cut off.

Kiel: If I did I have no recollection. Maybe Lois in Africa?

Ben: Oh! I would also be remiss in not expressing my disappointment that in a Cadmus lab full of Lex Luthor clones, there wasn't one with a fade cut and pierced ear.

Kiel: Dare to dream, Ben!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Easy A

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back.

This was a passably entertaining movie, but not a great one; by that I mean I enjoyed it, there were some legitimately funny bits, it moved along nicely and so on, but if you want to break it down, the plot was pretty slapdash, the transitions were awkward and there were huge logic holes even for basically a teen romantic comedy; however, none of this mattered. There are some films that are above all else a showcase for a single actor, which is what this was for Emma Stone, and she was spectacular, elevating the movie from something that would have been forgettable with another lead into the one we'll probably all look back on as her big star turn. I can't remember the last time I saw a legitimate turn the corner "whoa, he/she's going to be huge" performance like this, but it really bowled me over; Stone was endearing and fun in Superbad and Zombieland, but she carried the show here as the headliner and seemed to do it with ease. She seemed incredible relaxed with whatever was asked of her and able to seamlessly toss off every piece of dialogue or physical gag into something that made you laugh out loud; she really seemed totally at ease, like this wasn't even work for her, and that made you feel similarly relaxed, allowing you to just kick back and have fun with it. Stone is an incredibly endearing star who did a lot with a decent amount here, so I can't wait to see what she does with headier material. To be fair, she also had a pretty great supporting cast, particularly Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson as her laidback parents, who legit seemed to be having the time of their lives and just goofing around as they stole every scene they were in, Stone's "let's just have fun" enthusiasm" spreading to these veteran actors; Thomas Hayden Church was also funny as the dryly witty favorite teacher and my boy Penn Badgley delivered as the nice guy who rides in on the white horse (really the only role he seems able to play, but hey, he does it well). Ultimately though, this was Emma Stone's show, and she rocked the house.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Linko! LX

* If you read one piece of writing on comics this week or maybe even this month, please for your own sake make it Alex Duben's EXCELLENT CBR piece on the life and work of Al Williamson. My boy even got George Fucking Lucas on the phone along with a lot of comics folk to make for a really nice tribute.

* I don't understand this French article about Moebius' Arzak because it's in French. Maybe you do? (Via)

* Our old Wizard forefather, HERO Initiative head and all-around swell guy Jim McLauchlin has a new blog: Unpopular Opinions. It's about media/journalism/etc. Bookmarked!

* Seant T. Collins crack Link: "Goodfellas" oral history at GQ.

* Hey, Look! It's Jill Thompson and Grant Morrison's first ever collaboration.

* Hooray for the internet: Superchunk performances from national television broadcasts: ONE and TWO.

* Kids book writer Adam Rex writes a letter to his younger self...about not reading his own reviews. Nice. (Via)

* Flint, Michigan Watch: We made the New York Times a story on the trend of cities who are mayoral recall crazy. At least Flint started that trend?

* I found this Werewolf comic by Ian Anderson while goofing on Twitter, and it made me laugh. Anderson has a site full of other comics work – Citric Acid Comix – that seems worth a look.

* For a few years I've been absent-mindedly trying to find Archie's Super Hero Comics Digest Magazine #2 on sale on the cheap because I'm a wank for Archie superheroes and digest comics, but I've never bought it. Pumped when I saw that the Groovy Agent had a few of the horror stories from inside on his blog, though. (Via)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Art Attack: December 2010's coolest covers

Rather than make poor "It's the holiday season!" jokes, I'm instead going to tack my brief thoughts on December's nicest-looking comic book covers (in my humble opinion) up front here.

-From kinda out of nowhere, Dustin Nguyen has emerged as one of my very favorite cover artists. I love his interiors as well, but with his covers, he is quite possessed of the ability to not only create a striking image, but draw attention to it through sheer craftsmanship. I'm quite impressed by his output of several covers a month in addition to staying on task for at least one ongoing series at a time, and pretty psyched to have him on Justice League: Generation Lost cover duties where I can see his take on some non-Batman characters (like Captain Atom).

-The other guy who continues wow me across the board is Dave Johnson, who certainly doesn't need my praise, but you're getting it, fella. His covers aren't just gorgeous, they're smart, with a savvy design sense and use of color.

-I've said it before, but I'm really pleased to have Esad Ribic doing the Uncanny X-Force covers, if only to see new work by him monthly. His group shots were hot enough, but when you draw Wolverine and some sort of barbarian on the moon, that's just raising your game.

-Not only is Ivan Brunetti's Stange Tales II cover just awesome, I can't tell you how much it pleases me that pretty much everybody is commenting on his Nova of all characters.

-I think the cover of I Am An Avenger #4 somehow represents a whole new level for Daniel Acuna. I like his stuff already, and I'm not wise enough in the arts to pick apart what happened, but something there just pops to me. His Thing is (in a word) fantastic.

-That Ozma of Oz cover is the creepiest comic book art I believe I've seen all year.

BATGIRL #16 by Dustin Nguyen
BATMAN 80-PAGE GIANT 2010 by Dustin Nguyen
BULLSEYE: PERFECT GAME #2 by Tim Bradstreet
DEADPOOL #30 by Dave Johnson
DMZ #60 by John Paul Leon
FREEDOM FIGHTERS #4 by Dave Johnson
HULK #28 by Ed McGuinness
I AM AN AVENGER #4 by Daniel Acuna
OZMA OF OZ #1 by Skottie Young
S.H.I.E.L.D. #5 by Gerard Parel
STRANGE TALES II #1 by Ivan Brunetti
UNCANNY X-FORCE #3 by Esad Ribic
X-FACTOR #212 by David Yardin

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pimping Our Stuff: What The--?! NYCC Promo

We posted a very special edition of Marvel Super-Heroes: What The--?! today, a promo for the kind folks at New York Comic Con who requested it and everything. As I say every time, these are above all else an incredible testament to the talent and dedication of Alex Kropinak, who I will flat out stack up against anybody else working in stop animation on any level; he's that good. He works tirelessly on these and it shows in the quality.

However this particular episode was an incredibly important one for me as it's my first official go-around as the newly-minted Producer of What The--?! Without getting too inside baseball, Alex is still doing all the really hard stuff, but my job is to basically facilitate the day-to-day communications, operations, etc. What The--?! needs so he doesn't need to worry about anything but the creative end. It was great getting to work closely with Alex as well as Jesse Falcon--he's the talent of the operation--on each step of this, learning how it goes down and hopefully making their lives easier. I think the end product came out nicely and Alex told me he found the whole process easier with me in this role, so I'm feeling aces.

I also helped develop the concept and actually wrote the script for this. Jesse came up with the initial idea of a monster movie homage then came up with the basic plot, then handed it over to me to flesh out and provide stage direction, dialogue, etc. From there, I handed it to Alex, he storyboarded, I gave my input, he got to working, we came up with Easter eggs, etc. I also served as liaison to the fellas over at NYCC, keeping them looped in and happy.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the latest Marvel Super-Heroes: What The--?!. It was a pleasure to make and I'm already looking forward to the next few we've got lined up.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Anti-Avengers? Why not!

When people ask me that old “What’s better, Marvel or DC?” chestnut—and not just who’s better in the here and now, since obviously I’ve got a horse in that race and can’t answer without bias, but rather of all-time—I prefer to avoid answering by instead talking about the differences between the two. In short, rather than pick one of the classic super hero universes over the other, I’d rather ruminate on the root contrasts between them and why those separating factors ensure that each has an important role to play in this larger industry we love.

DC does the big cosmic stakes stuff. Marvel does the down to earth relatable stuff. DC celebrates legacy. Marvel has characters with feet of clay. You’ve heard it all before, and frankly, in 2010 there’s nothing either company does that the other can’t—Marvel can certainly do a Crisis-level event darn well and DC has created plenty of characters with grounded and relatable personas—but there will definitely always be something in the base DNA of both universes that separate them.

And now to move away from a dangerously intelligent dissection of what makes super hero comics tick, let me swerve over to a far more in-my-ballpark proletarian (looked it up) statement around which I shall frame the rest of this post: DC has more evil twins than Marvel does.

Don’t get me wrong, Venom is awesome, and to a lesser extent so are Sabretooth, Abomination and all those armored bad guys that Iron Man fights, but most of those folks aren’t really classic evil twins, and even if, you can’t really hold them up to the collective grouping of Bizarro, Sinestro, Reverse-Flash, Ocean Master, the Crime Syndicate, the Legion of Super-Villains, and so on and so on.

The fact of the matter is that while Marvel was really born out of the socially-conscious super soap opera stylings of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, et al., DC grew out of the fantastical sci-fi landscape imagined by Gardner Fox, Julius Schwartz and their crew, and it was a multiverse that utilized every tried and true trope of the genre, one of which happened to be evil twins. And hey, they’re tried and true for a reason; opposite number villains is the type of concept that makes our inner-10-year-old squeal with delight (ask Sean T. Collins).

One of my favorite evil twin comic concepts is when they all team up together to take out a grouping of their heroic counterparts. The aforementioned Crime Syndicate is the prime example of that, but another story I really love is Grant Morrison and Howard Porter’s “Rock of Ages” from JLA where Lex Luthor gets a whole Injustice League together specifically composed of villains to counter the then-roster of the Justice League; a lot of Luthor’s picks were more archenemy types than doppelgangers—The Joker and Mirror Master aren’t terribly similar to Batman and The Flash on a superficial level—but I still liked the strategic human chess “I’ll counter Martian Manhunter with Jemm” aspect of it all.

Marvel has had teams like this in the past. The original Masters of Evil were pretty much the inverted Avengers, with Baron Zemo (a Captain America villain), Radioactive Man (a Thor villain), The Melter (an Iron Man villain) and The Black Knight (another Iron Man villain, because Giant-Man and The Wasp never fought anybody cool). I also remember quite fondly a story I’m not sure anybody else feels similarly about towards the tail end of Chuck Austen’s X-Men tenure where he and Salvador Larroca created a Brotherhood of Evil Mutants that had Sabretooth and Nocturne in there just for the sake of having “dark” Wolverine and Nightcrawler analogs because that seemed cool to me. The Dark Avengers would also be a pretty obvious example of what I’m talking about here, and I really liked that idea, but in a lot of cases the characters were plucked out of their elements and molded to what Osborn needed as opposed to say Bullseye being a bad Hawkeye or Moonstone as malevolent Ms. Marvel defining who they are.

I would really dig seeing a big ol’ anti-Avengers team though. As I’ve said more than once, I consider Roger Stern and John Buscema’s “Under Siege” to be not only one of the best Avengers tales ever, but one of the flat-out best comic book stories of all-time. The deal there was that Baron Zemo attempted to overwhelm Earth’s Mightiest Heroes with numbers, counting on having three of his Masters of Evil for every one Avenger being enough, and it nearly was if not for the usual backstabbing, ego and underestimation that we know we love seeing bad guys fall prey to in the end. More recently, The Hood pulled a similar routine with his gang, piling up the odds with tons of villains, and he also had some success, but fell in with the wrong crowd. Speaking of that wrong crowd, Norman Osborn did organize his own anti-Avengers team, but preferred to wage a PR battle more than a physical one at most points during his Dark Reign, so I don’t feel like we really got a full-on Avengers vs Dark Avengers throwdown before his house of cards crumbled, despite tantalizing teases.

I’d love to see a new Masters of Evil where it’s a line-up specifically tailored to take on the heroes currently comprising the Avengers. With the A-team currently being more iconic and filled with a diverse roster of heroes than perhaps ever before, it’s the perfect time for it. And if Brian Bendis called me tomorrow (which he never does) to ask for my roster, here’s what I’d hand him…

Natural pick for team leader both based on history and because he’s a perfect foil for Steve Rogers as well as Bucky Barnes. Ed Brubaker has been doing a great job sprucing Zemo up over in Captain America and he’s always got great motivation to put together a scheme like this because no matter how many times he teases a hero turn, at the heart of his motivation is that he believes he is better and more deserving of glory than everybody else, so if taking out the Avengers validates that, he’ll do it; great character, excellent starting point.

The kid who nearly took Tony Stark apart has been lying low since his debut in the first arc of Invincible Iron Man, but I’d say he’s due for a return. If Zeke almost got the job done on his own, why not join up with some like-minded allies to try again? But then that’s the best part about this Stane: he’s really not like-minded with anybody, being an anarchist like he is, so he’s a total wild card whom Zemo would love to have, but need to keep an eye on at all times.

Speaking of evil twins and speaking of wild cards, Thor’s clone gives the Masters a primo powerhouse, a reminder to Iron Man of a huge mistake he made, and a potentially uncontrollable force of nature to spice things up. Seeing him one-on-one with Thor again would be great, but how about watching him match up with his creator?

I know Gabriel Stacy is a polarizing character among fans to say the least, but with Harry Osborn working well closer to the side of angels these days, a gleefully psychotic wannabe successor to big daddy Norman has a lot of potential, and he does have those personal ties to Spider-Man as well, considering his mother. And again, he presents a potential opponent for multiple Avengers with his Iron Man-like armor and Captain America-esque patriotic trappings.

So Sabretooth is out of the running at the moment as the potential anti-Wolverine here, and Daken just did this gig, so I went with the underrated and underutilized Lady Deathstrike, who makes for a cunning and ruthless element added to the mix. The Lady actually has a thing or two in common with Baron Zemo, with both having a peculiar code of honor, so that could be interesting.

Two of my favorite somewhat obscure Marvel cosmic characters, as they’re kind of Kree second draft attempts at Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel, which makes them perfect to match up against Carol Danvers and Noh-Varr.

When last we saw Jazinda, she was She-Hulk’s Skrull buddy, but getting a little frustrated with the xenophobic attitude of humans towards her in the wake of Secret Invasion. Given then Jen Walters seemingly abandoned her at some point, maybe the daughter of the original Super-Skrull joins up with Zemo and uses Spider-Woman as a punching bag to sort out some of her racial issues.

I don’t think Bullseye makes a good fit here, nor would I really want to drag him away from the events of Shadowland—if he can even be dragged at this point—plus Jim McCann is doing nice work making Crossfire a potent nemesis for Hawkeye over in the book he shares with Mockingbird, so let’s go this way.

I’m not suggesting reverting the current Steel Phoenix to villainy, since Davos has had a nice arc over the past several years and deserves a little longer going for redemption at my eyes, but since the Immortal Weapons are all about lineage, if he’s not getting the job done, let’s see his powers-that-be empower a new Steel Serpent to be Iron Fist’s dark mirror.

Remember the cyborg mastermind behind Secret War? She hasn’t been seen since her initial defeat and, as I recall, came real close to killing Luke Cage, causing Jessica Jones no small stress in the offing. Another real power player too.

She’s the female Ultron with the brain patterns of Mockingbird; she adds one of the Avengers’ deadliest and most terrifying foes to the Masters of Evil line-up and screws with Bobbi Morse to boot. She’s also nuts.

Ben Grimm’s old girlfriend, Sharon Ventura—aka the second Ms. Marvel—was last seen as an Initiative hero, but she has prone susceptible to rage and manipulation before, so it could happen again. With The Thing now a full-fledged Avenger, you’ve got to have a Master of Evil who can make it personal for him. Zemo could also give her back her good looks if he really wanted to stick it to Grimm.

So there you have it: My Masters of Evil. Not a bad line-up if I do say so myself, and I didn’t even have to use the Wrecking Crew.