Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Art Attack: June 2012's Coolest Covers

-Remember how we all spent years thinking Black Manta looked kind of ridiculous? Like how we all thought Aquaman was lame? The reward for our callous behavior is that Geoff Johns goes out of his way to write Aquaman bad ass and now Ivan Reis puts equal effort into making Manta look kick ass. Snark triumphs again!

-Loosely continuing the "back in the day" theme I've got going here, back in the day when the Phoenix Force was first introduced, guys like Dave Cockrum and John Byrne made it look cool enough, but they only had so many tools at their disposal. Today, with state of the art rendering and coloring techniques, the folks drawing and coloring variations of the Phoenix across AvX get to go all out and ramp this cosmic bad boy up to 11. Alan Davis uses great perspective and shading on Secret Avengers while Jim Cheung just brings the intensity on Avengers Vs. X-Men. Man, I never knew I needed a Phoenix bursting out of Captain America's chest until I saw it, but yeah, needed it.

-I like a lot about that Batman, Inc. cover by Chris Burnham, can't narrow it down. Is that Halo and Looker?

-Words on a cover can easily make things too busy, but Phil Noto really nailed their use on his Buffy cover this month. The placement and the juxtaposition against the image draws me in rather than scaring me away; skills.

-Good month for Buffy covers. That Drusilla one by Georges Jeanty is striking. Great use of white space and moving the action to the bottom of the page.

-Great layers to DC Universe Presents by Ryan Sook. Each bleeds into the next.

-Deadpool #56 by Dave Johnson is my current computer desktop background at work.

-Terry Dodson draws a fantastic Black Cat. I mean, he draws many characters well, but something about this one in particular really brings out his A-game. It's that mischievous smile and the glimmer in her eyes. Glad to see him taking her on again.

-Adam Hughes can draw dudes too.

-That's one crazy wolf by Simon Bisley on the Hellblazer cover.

-Dale Eaglesham doing something very different on Hulk, very outside the box. Cool to see since he's dynamite as a classic super hero artist, but he's a clever designer as well.

-I don't talk enough about Stephanie Hans' Journey Into Mystery covers (tremendous book, by the by). The more characters she puts on, the better. Beautiful colors.

-Jerome Opena and Dean White on Uncanny X-Force are simply a dream team. Rad to see them getting cover duty.

-Chris Samnee, what are you doing on these Wolverine covers? I love it.

ACTION COMICS #10 by Rags Morales
ALABASTER #3 by Greg Ruth
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #687 by Stefano Caselli
AQUAMAN #10 by Ivan Reis
AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #5 by Jim Cheung
BATMAN, INC. #2 by Chris Burnham
BATWOMAN #10 by J.H. Williams III
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON 9 #10 variant by Georges Jeanty
DAREDEVIL #14 by Paolo Rivera
DEADPOOL #56 by Dave Johnson
DEFENDERS #7 by Terry Dodson
DIAL H #2 by Brian Bolland
DOROTHY & THE WIZARD IN OZ #8 by Skottie Young
FAIREST #4 by Adam Hughes
FURY MAX #3 by Dave Johnson
HELLBLAZER #292 by Simon Bisley
HULK #53 by Dale Eaglesham
I, VAMPIRE #10 by Clayton Crain
INCREDIBLE HULK #9 by Michael Komarck
JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #639 by Stephanie Hans
MORNING GLORIES #21 by Rodin Esquejo
NEW DEADWARDIANS #4 by Ian Culbard
THE PUNISHER #12 by Marco Checchetto
SAGA #4 by Fiona Staples
SCARLET SPIDER #6 by Ryan Stegman
SECRET AVENGERS #28 by Alan Davis
THE SHADE #9 by Tony Harris
SMALLVILLE SEASON 11 #2 by Cat Staggs
UNCANNY X-FORCE #26 by Jerome Opena
WINTER SOLDIER #6 by Steve Epting
WOLVERINE #308 by Chris Samnee

Sunday, March 25, 2012

(Long) Paragraph Movie Reviews: The Hunger Games

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

Having a read the books fairly recently, it was tough for me not to be watching this movie with an eye to what was changed, how they did it, and whether or not it worked, so certainly I think my experience and opinion varied from somebody who went in "blind." In some respects, I feel like the transition was strongly handled. In particular, Gary Ross and company did a nice job boiling down a nearly 400-page book into a briskly moving two and a half hour film where plot exclusions made to keep the pace going never felt to me like they hurt the end product and in most cases seemed to help it. What I had trouble with was the loss of Katniss' inner monologue and how much it changed the character and the events unfolding around her in my estimation; this is a book where the main character is alone for its majority and thus the exposition takes place chiefly in her head, so more so than most adaptations it had a mighty hill to climb. I appreciate the paths they tried in order to get around this obstacle, like bulking up the character of Seneca Crane and cutting to his TV command center during the Games so we could see what was going on rather than Katniss telling us, but I think some key stuff still got unavoidably lost. The chief casualty to me was the development of the relationship between Katniss and Peeta, in many ways the bedrock of the entire story; in the book, it's a complex emotional journey that hinges largely on knowing she is playing to the camera a lot when she seems to be falling in love with him, but I don't feel like that came across in the movie, and that hurt it. Can I think of ways problems like this could have been handled? I can't; again, I think it was a particularly hard story to adapt and, while not perfect, they did a pretty good job since I did like it ultimately, but from a critical perspective, I find there are hole hard to ignore. On the acting side, Jennifer Lawrence may have been handed an even greater challenge, being robbed of essentially more than half her "lines" without an inner narrative, having therefore to portray so much through her actions, while also already playing the difficult character of Katniss, a girl we're supposed to root for, like, and buy other people liking despite how rough around the edges she is; she stumbled now and again, but given the immensity of the task I just outlined, I think she did a pretty impressive job. I wasn't as won over by Josh Hutcherson as Peeta; he had his moments, but to me he came off too weak, which is part of the character to be sure, but I didn't also get the charisma he's supposed to display that draws Katniss in. The supporting cast of more experienced actors was particularly strong, led by Woody Allen totally in his element alternating between ornery and charming as Haymitch, Stanley Tucci sending up the host archetype with aplomb as Caesar and Elizabeth Banks transforming herself completely to become the monstrously unaware and proper Effie; high marks for all. Wes Bentley also did a nice job as Seneca when, as noted, his primary function was to explain the unspoken stuff. Donald Sutherland and Liam Hemsworth did solid work as President Snow and Gale respectively, but obviously they'll have their time to shine in the sequels. Even though their moments were few, the crop of young Tributes conveyed an appropriately unsettling ruthlessness and joy with their Lord of the Rings vibe, Isabelle Fuhrman and Amandla Stenberg on opposite poles as ruthless and sweet in particular. This was a film where I really took notice of the make-up and costumes, from how unrecognizable Banks was as Effie to the way the population of the Capitol exhibited wealth and excess in such an unconventional way. The other technical aspects stood out as well, from the tendency to use off center close-ups of the person listening rather than speaking to the sound going out when Katniss gets overwhelmed on stage talking to Caesar. Did the larger commentary the nature of entertainment and audience complicity come across? Maybe. Again, it's a tough movie to wrap your head around, because there are so many beautiful elements on both the acting and production sides, but the enormity of the task in terms of adaptation casts a large shadow and the confusing or overlooked stuff adds up. I enjoyed it as a viewer but had issues with it when evaluating it as a piece of art; I'm curious to hear more from people who did not read the books.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Comics Nepotism: Quicksilver & Hector Hall

Nepotism is an ingrained part of just about every facet of society, but it’s not always a bad thing. It’s the bedrock of great family businesses and parents being able to pass something down to their children beyond male pattern baldness or color blindness. Sure you’ll get some slackers getting promoted ahead of you despite your hard work just because of their last name, but nepotism also creates a healthy class of folks especially dedicated to their craft out of appreciation for what they’ve been given who end up being the best they can be.

Looking at pro wrestling (and it’s a blog post by me, so we’re going to), there are all the horror stories about promoters’ kids getting pushed too hard and too fast, but stretching back to the Von Erichs, Curt Hennig, etc. and through today to Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes and the eight billion other legacy competitors throughout WWE and beyond, you find some of the most talented and hardworking guys and girls in the business.

In short, the word “nepotism” seems to always have negative connotations, but it shouldn’t; we get some of our best and brightest because one generation instills in the next their tutelage as well as their sense of respect for what they’ve been born into. Comics has gotten some of our greatest talents because they followed in footsteps, from John Romita Jr., to the Kuberts, to Stephanie Buscema and so on.

It is also highly possible I’ve misused the word “nepotism” thus far, so long story short I think kids getting a shot because of their parents can be a good thing, and now with three at least semi-serious paragraphs out of the way explaining my feelings, I’m ready to talk about fictional characters.

I got on this train of thought yesterday because I was editing some stories about The Scarlet Witch and Avengers Vs. X-Men for Marvel.com, tagging related characters, placing Quicksilver in there because he’s her brother and getting a real “one of these things is not like the other” vibe.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Quicksilver. He’s both a jerk and a super speedster, so to say he’s in my wheelhouse would be an understatement. Loved him as an Avenger, loved him in X-Factor, love him in Avengers Academy. Peter David’s use of him to exposit why people with super speed are often obnoxious in the classic X-Factor issue drawn by Joe Quesada where they have the session with Doc Samson (oh you know the one) is one of the great character pieces of all-time; his squabbles with Magneto, his overprotective stance toward Wanda and his ability to spice up any team dynamic make him an invaluable denizen of the Marvel Universe. Also, I feel for the dude since he got mixed up with that harpy, Crystal.

However, at the end of the day, Pietro Maximoff is a guy whose dad controls one of the primal forces of natures and whose sister manipulates reality itself while he runs really fast. He is by far the underachiever of his family; he makes up for it in bluster, but it’s always interesting to me how Quicksilver ends up at the center of stuff that seems a bit above his pay grade powers-wise because of who he’s related to. If there is an example of nepotism on the fictional side of comic books, I think Quicksilver would be it.

House of M would of course be the major example, as Quicksilver gets The Scarlet Witch to restructure the entire world and becomes the force behind Magneto’s power in order to protect his family as best he can. It’s an interesting bit, actually, because the nature of comics generally dictate that the most powerful characters are at the center of stories like that simply because they’re the only ones who can hang in the big world-shaking rumbles (Superman is the only one physically capable of punching the Anti-Monitor to death, only Thor can survive an up close battle with an out-of-control Sentry, etc.), but Pietro bucks that hierarchy and pushes his way to where he needs to be motivated purely by character stuff; the fact that he can crack the sound barrier barely plays a role in House of M.

In this case, it’s another argument for nepotism (after a fashion, and I may still be using the word wrong, so this post is basically a flimsy house of cards), as it allows a character who wouldn’t be a prime time player from a power perspective crack the tired A-list and forces creators to drive their stories on why and how deeply some players care as opposed to how hard they hit.

My counterpoint—who may prove to actually be more supplementary or complimentary or something—over at DC would be Hector Hall, aka The Silver Scarab, aka The Sandman, aka Doctor Fate, aka probably the new Americommando or something someday. Hector gets into the hero business because his parents were Hawkman and Hawkgirl; initially, they don’t let him in the Justice Society, so it’s kind of anti-nepotism (ok, I’m definitely using this word wrong, but I don’t feel like using a dictionary and/or thesaurus right now), but he gathers up all the other JSA sons and daughter and forms Infinity, Inc., the ultimate “we’re super heroes because our folks are” group, so there you go.

Hector is actually pretty awful at being a super hero, but every time he fails horribly, keeps coming back, basically because he’s got nothing else; despite being some sort of scientific genius, wanting to follow in his mom and dad’s footsteps totally consumes him. He turned evil as Silver Scarab and his teammates had to kill him. He got played by the Dreaming as The Sandman and eventually got booted from the realm back to death by Morpheus. He came back again and had a pretty respectable run as Doctor Fate, but ultimately got beaten near to death and ditched his physical body to live back in the Dreaming with his wife and son.

Once again, the fact that a major facet of Hector Hall was his desire to prove himself to his family and that he continued getting shots to do so beyond the point of your average also-ran added layers to him and made him more interesting. Once again, the advantages he got by being linked to existing heroes were a benefit and not an annoyance, at least to me as a fan.

The silly point I guess I can wrap by making is that in real life we sometimes get aggravated at seeing nepotism in action even if it the beneficiary is best-qualified for their job because we’re human and we feel jealousy. In fiction, nepotism is actually a plus because it can build a character instantly and help them stand out by making their personal ties more important than their power set.

Did I seriously just spend all that time to make the assertion that we view fake people differently than real people? And how many times did I botch the use of the word nepotism?

Both Quicksilver and Hector Hall have white hair; hopefully that revelation makes up for any of your time you feel I may have wasted.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pimping My Stuff: Dear Teen Me

I always hate doing the "sorry for the lack of posts lately post, but...sorry for the lack of posts lately. I've been hit by the killer combo of two totally positive but very time-consuming things in some exciting new projects at Marvel plus the ramp-up to WonderCon as well as a move from Saddle Brook, New Jersey a half hour south to Edison in order to accommodate my lovely bride's new job as a nurse at St. Peter's Hospital in New Brunswick.

While things will keep going hard and heavy at Marvel (and I wouldn't have it any other way), now that I'm getting gradually settled in my swank new two-floor townhouse (it's pretty huge, but I'm a nurse's trophy husband now, so I deserve it), I'm hoping to get back to blogging a bit more regularly.

Or you'll get another sorry for the lack of posts post in a couple weeks.

In the mean time, I had the great pleasure of doing a guest spot over at Dear Teen Me, a blog run in part by my old co-editor-in-chief at my college paper (and not my same-named sister) Emily Morse. I wrote a letter to my teenage self that covered everything from my career to my relationship hits and misses to my health issues to my astonishment that Smallville lasted 10 years and more. It's a deeply personal piece and I'm quite proud of how it turned out, so if you follow this blog at all for me and not just the Adam-X pics, I think it's worth a look.

Gotta go unpack, but once I'm through these boxes, more posting! I hope! Maybe!

(That's my kneeling in the nWo Wolfpac shirt in the pic off top, by the way)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Definitives: Hawkeye

Tom Brevoort once told me that Hawkeye was “the Wolverine of his day” (he was actually talking more about The Thing and using Hawkeye as a supplementary, but as said supplementary example better serves this post, that’s what I’ll be going with). Basically what he meant is that when the Avengers weren’t far from their founding and Marvel hadn’t gone too long into the Silver Age, Hawkeye was the rebellious voice questioning Captain America’s more conservative values in the same way Wolverine would later chafe against Cyclops and so on as this is a dynamic you’ll find in just about every super hero team past the Justice League from the 60’s.

Like Wolverine, Hawkeye was the loose cannon who did what he wanted despite the rules and did so with a brash tone, loud mouth and often disregard for the safety of himself and the property around him (he’s always been pretty good about shielding teammates and civilians though). Also like Wolverine, Hawkeye became pretty popular as a result of this; not three or four ongoing solo series at once popular (he’s had his books here and there, but I’d say general consensus is the character works better with others to play off of in a team setting), but he did ok.

Unlike Wolverine and his more modern ilk, Hawkeye was the bad boy of a more traditional time, so he talked a big game, but he still adhered to a relatively traditional moral code that excluded killing and extreme violence; in the recent past, some writers have had him walk the line of violating that, and an argument could be made that his experiences have led him that way, but I believe deep down Clint Barton still finds murder to be anathema, regardless of the reason why.

I think the combination of Hawkeye’s similarities to the loose cannon characters he’s something of the godfather to with the contrast against those that came later is why I like him so much. I’ve always been partial to the wisecracking smartass super hero, but I also like the swashbuckling romantic vibe of years gone by; Clint Barton combines the best of both worlds on that score. He will always speak his mind, he falls in love too easily and he’s far from fully matured emotionally, but he’ll also do the right thing when the chips are down, and even though he’ll drive Captain America nuts, he’ll also be the first to come to his defense when anybody else does it.

Gotta love the guy.

I should offer the disclaimer that I was not an avid Solo Avengers or West Coast Avengers reader growing up and have never really caught up on either, so I’ve got a pretty sizable Hawkeye blind spot (though I have read Hawkeye: Blind Spot), but here are my favorite stories featuring the Avenging Archer that I’d recommend to anybody looking to learn more about that dude with the bow and arrow who Jeremy Renner is playing.

A classic to be sure, as Hawkeye heads back to his old carnival stomping grounds and clashes with Taskmaster, who’s holding the show hostage, leading to the seminal shrunken Ant-Man on an arrow routine. It’s a fun story, and I’m a fan, but I think it’s actually a better Ant-Man and even Taskmaster yarn, not quite capturing the essential Hawkeye.

I love this series on the whole, and every character gets their time in the sun, but really Hawkeye’s story is my favorite part. Joe Casey really nails how the bulk of the early Avengers were good guys (and one girl), but thrown together by circumstance as a team and in many cases only acting as heroes because an accident led them to their situation (Iron Man and his shrapnel, Thor and his exile, Hulk and his…being The Hulk); even Captain America became an Avenger mostly because they found him and he needed guidance in a strange world. Hawkeye’s the one guy who actively seeks to become an Avenger, because even though he started as a villain, it’s never what he wanted. Casey’s story captures the driven desire of Clint Barton to do the right thing even when conventional wisdom stacks the odds against him, plus there’s an excellent relationship between him and Jarvis, and Scott Kolins draws one of my favorite Hawkeyes.

Hawkeye gets tossed off the Avengers by Henry Peter Gyrich in order to fill a government quota (also, Gyrich doesn’t really like Hawkeye since the first time they met Clint tied him up, thinking he was an intruder in Avengers Mansion), but rather than mope for too long, he decides to show them it’s their loss. He swoops into Cross Technological Enterprises and auditions for their Head of Security gig by foiling their current system. Clint kicks back and looks forward to a relatively easy new occupation, only for Shi’ar super villain Deathbird to show up looking for trouble. Hawkeye is totally outclassed against a cosmic-level threat like Deathbird, but that’s when he’s at his best, using his wits to get through the situation, smiling as he does it and then stealing a kiss from the alien cutie when he’s done. This issue is basically a capsule bio for everything cool about Hawkeye (plus great John Byrne art).

HAWKEYE (1983)
The first true solo Hawkeye adventure, both written and drawn by the late, great Mark Gruenwald, who it turns out was a heck of an artist! Uncovering corruption at CTE, Clint investigates alongside former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Mockingbird and runs afoul of the dude who would become his archenemy, Crossfire. It’s a fun caper that packs tons of action into only four issues and allows Gruenwald to widen Hawkeye’s range a bit, playing him as devil-may-care adventurer and hothead, but also delving into his deeper emotions and giving him a deep romantic subplot. Speaking of which, the chemistry between Hawkeye and Mockingbird is dynamite right from the start; you’re rooting for them from the get-go, and the end result doesn’t disappoint.

When Kurt Busiek and George Perez brought Avengers back from Heroes Reborn, establishing Hawkeye as a key member of the team was clearly a top priority. When everybody gets mind wiped and sent to Morgan le Fay’s crazy Camelot world, Clint is the first guy Captain America “wakes up” because he recognizes that Hawkeye is the heart of the Avengers. During the roster-building issue, you get the great thread of Hawkeye taking Firestar and Justice under his wing, and then doing the double take when Cap messes with him by offering them his spot on the team. And from there, the Avenging Archer departs in pretty rapid fashion, shuttled over to Thunderbolts by Busiek, where he did more great stuff with him and stayed true to another core element of the character: he goes where he is needed, not necessarily where he wants to be. Busiek and Perez reunited years later on JLA/Avengers and made this fan smile by having Hawkeye and Flash (not Wally West, but still) be the guys to pull the classic against all odds save when all seems lost.

I don’t feel it’s favoritism at all to put my buddy Jim McCann’s series on here, because his passion for the character of Hawkeye (and of Mockingbird) in my mind created a fun arc that will hold up nicely in an evergreen sense, and the best thing is it was born out of love. You won’t meet a bigger Hawkeye fan than Jim, and his desire to do right by the character, not only telling the kinds of stories he loved but that can spread the appeal to a new generation, went a long way in my book. It’s a nice bookend to Mark Gruenwald’s series, with lots of callbacks, plus several love letters to the Marvel Universe along the way. It also doesn’t hurt that artist David Lopez is a gem and that Mockingbird’s brother’s name is Ben Morse; a great easy-to-acquire gateway to Hawkeye.

Hawkeye’s video game debut! Super fun, tons of characters, rad graphics, and the suspension of disbelief that Hawkeye’s bow when held horizontal is an equally powerful protector to Captain America’s shield, Iron Man’s armor and the Vision’s intangibility. Also: sky sleds!