Saturday, November 29, 2008

Paragraph Movie Reviews: In-Flight Triple Feature

The first and third of these were viewed on flights to and from Newark, New Jersey to Las Vegas, Nevada. The second I just watched at a theater in Vegas, but "Paragraph Movie Reviews: In-Flight Double Feature Plus a Movie I Saw in Vegas" was overly long.

Mamma Mia!
A mixed bag, this one. The musical scenes are wonderful. ABBA's songs are undoubtedly infectious and the folks belting 'em out have some great pipes on them (except Pierce Brosnan, but he's so earnest about trying anyways that it's endearing). However, on the other hand, the scenes without singing range from ok to awful. I don't blame the cast or even the writers, really, it's just a case where this traditional stage show was not translated (or could not be translated well) to film. So much of the comedy and pathos relies on over the top physicality which works when you're playing to an auditorium but comes off ridiculous on camera, and no real effort seemed made to curb that problem (unlike Chicago or other more successful translations). As for the cast, Meryl Streep is exquisite, but that's kinda a given. The male trio of Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard are probably the best non-singing actors of the group, but the trio suffers a bit after Pierce goes off to do more dramatic stuff. Julie Walters is ok and Christine Baranski is irritating and unfortunately they were on the hook for most of the "funny" scenes. Amanda Seyfried is adorable and wowed me here as she has in everything I've seen her in; and what a voice! Overall entertaining, but not one I'd watch again and again.

Four Christmases
Very disappointing, particularly considering the wealth of talented people in the cast. The movie has to live or die on the chemistry (or lack thereof) between Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon and while they make for a quick-witted pair in the comedic scenes, when it comes to the serious stuff, Vaughn checks out and leaves his partner hanging. Witherspoon pours all her earnest likeability into giving the plot some weight, but Vaughn is seriously just a walking punchline, doing his usual improv routines and one-liners but never once making you want to root for him. The rest is just formulaic "meet the family" junk; all the best bits were in the previews. And of the impressive supporting ensemble, only Kristen Chenoweth is able to use her meager screen time to make any sort of impression. Vince Vaughn should stick to being the kooky best friends, because romantic comedies ain't his thing. And why was everybody but the two main characters southern when they lived in California?

Journey to the Center of the Earth
What could have been (and sometimes is) a very by the numbers bit of family fare is elevated quite nicely by a fun but intelligent story and the presence of Brendan Fraser. It's been said before, but Fraser really possesses the perfect goofy charm and expertise at not taking himself seriously that makes him right for this type of movie. Josh Hutcherson is also quite a poised and witty young actor who has a great chemistry with Fraser (the scenes they're not onscreen together in are the weakest by far). Anita Briem rounds out a very sympathetic trio to guide us through neat special effects and cool stunts. I also liked that while there were the usual little "issues with my parents" subplots, they weren't hammered too hard. Not something I'd go too out of my way to see, but if you get it as your in-flight movie, a decent way to spend an hour and a half.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gone to Vegas!

I'm off to beautiful Las Vegas, Nevada tomorrow, as Megan and I will be flying out to spend Thanksgiving with her family, who live out there.

Rickey is off on an adventure to the wilds of New Hampshire with TJ "The Sweetest Thing" Dietsch and Kiel...well, who knows where Kiel will be (probably Detroit Rock City). So either this blog will see no activity for the next few days or we'll all get stuffed with turkey and somehow go on a posting spree.

Regardless, happy Thanksgiving from the Cool Kids Table!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sell American Gladiators to Me and Rickey

I don't know who owns the rights to the TV show American Gladiators, but they need to sell the rights to make a comic book out of it to me and Rickey.

We talked it over on the train this morning and we're reasonably certain we could take Gladiators and turn it into the most awesome licensed comic since Captain N: The Game Master. Here's the pitch:

It all starts when Nitro returns from a self-imposed exile to outer space (oh we'll get to why down the road...don't you worry...) to find the Gladiators have scattered to the four winds in his absence. Feeling abandoned by his friend and mentor, Turbo becomes a dark avenger, prowling the streets of Gotham City (we've got a Gotham City) preying on the criminal element. Can these two brown-haired bombshells become the World's Finest Team once more?

Meanwhile, with the original Laser having sacrificed his life to save Universal Studios during Crisis On Infinite Earths, so Hawk has taken his place, proving to be much more interesting and successful in the process (so we'll probably bring Laser in 20 years once everybody has gotten used to him).

On the other side of the planet (or something), Thunder has revealed himself to actually be Thor, banished to Earth by his father, Odin (jerk) to learn humility or whatever. He doesn't have Mjolnir, so instead he has two hammers, like the, the kind you use to bang nails into the wall and such.

And this whole time, the Martian Manhunter (hey, it's not like anybody else is using him) has been posing as Zap because he loooves having boobies (that was Rickey's idea).

We don't know what we're doing with Gemini yet because the dude certainly deserves his own series. The newly engaged Ryan Penagos is working overtime to think of something.

Of course while Nitro has been away and the Gladiators have been disbanded, a new team, led by the Incredible Hulk Hogan, has arisen in their place. Feared and hated by a world they've sworn to gladiate(?) in front of, these Gladiators have their own agenda, and that agenda isn't very nice!

And who knows what role the WMAC Masters will play--whose side are they on?!

So do the right thing, guy/girl/conglomerate who owns the rights to American Gladiators--pass 'em this way!


Holy crap, I can't believe I just wrote so many words on this. I am so sorry.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Vantage Point

The premise of showing the same attempted presidential assassination from five perspectives is a novel one ripe with potential but also with storytelling dangers; on the whole, this movie avoided the pratfalls and mined the good stuff. Of course not all the segments are equally engaging, so the flow is a bit uneven, but a nice job is done of carrying the throughpoint with great suspense (they cut away to the next character at the most frustrating time, which means they did their job). The hitch of not giving any character enough screentime for us to bond with them is dodged by nicely overlapping the stories and having a strong cast, highlighted by Forest Whitaker's nice guy tourist and Dennis Quaid's shellshocked but kickass Secret Service agent (Matthew Fox is way outside of his limited comfort range, but it's not a deal-breaker). It's not perfect, there are some predictable bits and a lot of coincidences, but for the most part, it's intense and intricate and then capped off with a fantastic car chase.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pimping My Stuff: Marvel Digital Holiday Special

So we've got a bunch of rad stuff coming up in the Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited section of and my boss, the great John Cerilli, just spoke to all about it.

Those fatcats fail to credit me as the writer of the surefire Eisner Award winner "Werewolf By Eve" (Cerilli assures me he gave them my name...hmm...), but they do show off this great art from the story by the rad Stephanie Buscema (click the pic, it's shoved over to the side)...

It's all my dreams made visual reality!!

Anyhow, more to come on "Werewolf By Eve," but be sure and check out that article, as there's plenty of cool tidbits, including the other Holiday Special stories by my boys Ryan Penagos and Jim McCann!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I'm a few weeks late for Halloween here, but that's appropriate since this wasn't a Halloween costume.

No, one spring day when I was but a boy, I decided for whatever reason it was quite necessary for me to dress up as my favorite comic book character, the Flash...

Luckily, having an artist for a mom meant I was neither short on encouragement for creativity or art supplies. Thus, a pair of footie pajamas, a swim cap, some red paper and a few yellow pipe cleaners later, I was the fastest kid alive!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

AIM Adventures: The Doctors

The setup: Ben has just informed Rickey over AOL Instant Messenger that he may have Sinusitis...

Rickey: sinusitis sounds like a diagnosis you and I would give someone if we were posing as doctors while on the lam (for whatever reason) and got dragged into a room where a lady had nose problems.
Ben: Haha
Rickey: "Sounds like sinusitis to me. Do you concur, Dr. Morse?"
Rickey: "I concur"
Ben: "Absolutely. Sinusitis 100%. With a spot of Douchebagitis."
Rickey: "Perhaps even a touch of boogerlasticity"
Rickey: wow
Rickey: you'd call this lady a douchebag, too?
Rickey: that's over the line
Ben: No way, I'm just saying she might have Douchebagitis
Ben: That's completely different
Ben: If you disagree with my diagnosis, file a report with the hospital
Rickey: we're gonna get sued and caught if you start pulling this crap
Rickey: we gotta stick together
Ben: Look, maybe at first it was about not getting caught, but somewhere along the way, I fell in love...fell in love with medicine
Ben: And if that means diagnosing a woman with a severe case of Douchebagitis, whether you agree or not, by god, I'm going to do what's right
Rickey: fine
Rickey: i
Rickey: ...
Rickey: concur
Ben: Do you...mean it?
Rickey: you know what?
Rickey: i do
Ben: Thanks...partner
Ben: *scene*
Rickey: bow

Monday, November 17, 2008

Rock on, Dargo Ktor!

You know who rocks?


You know who rocks harder?

Dargo Ktor.

You know why?



That is all.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Essentials Extra: New Teen Titans Must Reads

A week ago, in the last installment of The Essentials, I talked up the superlative first 50 issues of the initial volume of New Teen Titans (Tales of the Teen Titans from issue #41 on) by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. In my humble opinion, that chunk of 50 issues (plus three Annuals, the original Tales of the Teen Titans mini, and a couple one-shots here and there) reads best as one complete thread. There may be a dull issue here or there, but there's so much good in between, and so many subplots running beneath the main stuff, that you won't feel cheated if you go for the full monty. However, there are parts of those magical 50+ issues that stand apart for my money, so as promised, here are the stories that make up my definitive New Teen Titans dream collection...

"Today...the Terminator" (NEW TEEN TITANS v1 #2)
While we meet the Titans in the first issue, it's not until the second issue that the larger super-story that will drive Wolfman and Perez' run really kicks into gear. It's in this issue that we first meet Deathstroke the Terminator, are introduced to the H.I.V.E., and the wheels are set in motion for both to be ongoing threats to the Titans. The first Ravager also makes his debut in this issue, and while the character himself doesn't have a particularly long-lasting role to play, his story is what motivates the Terminator's ultimate plan against the Titans and his legacy remains active in the DC Universe to this day. We also dive straight into the Titans' personal connections with one another in this issue, as they bond away from fighting aliens and demons with both relationships and animosities beginning to show.

"A Day in the Lives" (NEW TEEN TITANS v1 #8)
One of my very favorite single issue stories of all time, this is the story that really began to set NTT apart from other team books for me and probably, in my mind, blazed a trail for many titles that followed it on into the present. Following their fights against Trigon and the Fearsome Five, the Titans take a day off and go their separate ways, with us readers getting to follow each. Some of the side stories are more interesting than others (I found Raven's a bit dull and while I appreciate them taking a shot at making Kid Flash unique by showing his relationship with his folks, you could always tell he wasn't really wanted in the book by the creative team), but every character becomes at least a little bit more real to the reader (even Robin, who is there for about two pages before speeding off on his motorcycle back to the Batman books). Starfire's naivete is really endearing for the first time here in her bit with Donna Troy (which also introduces Donna's weirdo middle-aged love interest Terry Long...the less said about him the better...) and we can a nice view of Changeling's world, but Cyborg is really the breakout star here, as he becomes arguably the most interesting character of the book's second year. After Vic Stone gets dumped by his girlfriend, who is unable to deal with his new look, he mopes his way into a park and gets his day brightened by a group of handicapped kids who think a super hero whose power is essentially a bunch of artificial limbs is the coolest; it may sound corny, but Wolfman and Perez handle the Vic stuff with such genuine affection that his "civilian" subplots quickly became my favorite.

"Clash of the Titans" (NEW TEEN TITANS v1 #11-12)
NTT ends its first year with a two-parter that brings the three female Titans (Wonder Girl, Starfire and Raven) to Paradise Island where they get caught up in a literal war of gods. Wolfman has often talked about how the the three girls on the team were set up as a trinity, with WG as the moderate between Starfire's boundless displays of emotion and Raven's lack thereof (Robin was there to strike the same balance between Changeling and Cyborg on the boys' side, another reason Kid Flash always felt tacked on), and he plays with the relationship masterfully here. Wonder Girl is entranced by the Titan of Myth, Hyperion, into falling in love with him, but you can never quite tell how much is a spell and how much is real. Starfire and Raven's opposite reactions, with Kory being confused but hopeful while Rave is distrustful, again explores that spectrum that made this a great cast. These are just the little picture details though, as the big action stuff is the Titans of Myth battling the gods of Olympus, with the girls and the Amazons along for the ride, giving Perez the chance to flex his epic storytelling muscles in ways he hadn't gotten to up to that point.

"The Search for the Doom Patrol" (NEW TEEN TITANS v1 #13-15)
While the girls are doing their thing in the previous story, the boys (minus an injured Changeling) are searching for Changeling's father, former Doom Patrol member Mento, and end up finding his teammate Robotman instead. When all seven Titans reunite, alongside Robotman they have to first take on a delusional Mento, and then the DP's killers, Madame Rouge and General Zahl. In the final issue, the new Brotherhood of Evil (a revamped version of the Doom Patrol's archenemies) gets involved as well, establishing them as quintessential Titans baddies and showing off Perez' penchant for awesome costume design (Houngan's original look was da bomb). Not every second of this three-parter is gold, but it's definitely a watershed story for Changeling, with some really emotionally trying moments for the youngest Titan and the first step on his long journey towards adulthood that would just get rougher as the series went on.

"Beware the Wrath of...Brother Blood" (NEW TEEN TITANS v1 #21-22)
As I mentioned last time, I think what makes Brother Blood a unique and creepy villain (besides another timeless Perez costume design) is the way he exploits what we rely on as comfort in our times of crisis (faith) and perverts it. This very first Brother Blood story remains the best one for me, as Wolfman draws on his horror writing experience to play Blood as that eerily detached cult leader figure and also gives the Titans a personal stake by having Cyborg's old girlfriend as one of his followers and later his victim. You can really feel Vic's justified rage as he goes after the villain and the Titans' frustration at knowing even if they beat the bad guy here, he has already won in a way by gaining the trust of his flock.

Wolfman and Perez take the Titans into outer space and throw everything and the interstellar kitchen sink into the widescreen sci fi blowout they've clearly been itching to do since the first issue. This arc is very much about world-building, particularly for Wolfman, who shines the spotlight on guest stars the Omega Men, whose series he went on to launch, and fleshing out the Vega system, where that series is set (and which has become a timeless DC locale). Starfire's evil sister, Blackfire, also makes her first appearance, and immediately presents herself as a force to be reckoned with (why hasn't Blackfire been used in a Titans book lately, come to think of it? She didn't die in the Rann/Thanagar War, did she?). The highlights here are mostly the big explosions and space battle, drawn with enthusiastic aplomb by Perez, but it's also a nice (excuse the wordplay) star turn for Starfire, who for once gets to be the character most in the know, guiding her friends through a foreign environment, as opposed to being the stranger in a strange land. This story combined with Kory's Tales of the Teen Titans spotlight adds tremendous depth to her inner strength and plays nicely against and in concert with her typical more bubbly persona.

"Runaways" (NEW TEEN TITANS v1 #26-27)
And in an impressive 180 swing, Wolfman and Perez go from the no limits space opera of the previous story to this very serious, "real world" two-parter about teenage runaways, drug addiction and other very heavy stuff. We get the unusual and interesting pairing of Cyborg and Raven as the leads, with Vic exposing Rave to horrors very different from the demonic ones she's used to on the streets of New York City and the two bonding as a result. This story also brings Roy Harper, the former Speedy, back into the Titans' lives, in a relevant and suitable role as liaison between the federal and local authorities targeting the drug trade; Roy would show up several more times over the course of NTT as one of the very best guest stars. We also get our first glimpse at "vigilante" D.A. Adrian Chase, who would play a big role in Robin's maturation process before going onto his own solo series, and of course Terra. Much like with the Brother Blood story, the Titans learn tough lessons here about losing even when you "win."

"Who Killed Trident?" (NEW TEEN TITANS v1 #33)
A very neat one-off murder mystery that has both the neat hitch of the team's resident detective, Robin, being M.I.A., so the other Titans need to solve the case themselves, and a very inventine resolution that I won't spoil. We also get Terra fully integrated into the team and bonding with her teammates an issue before she breaks our hearts, and a funny scene where Starfire meets Jason Todd.

"Who is Donna Troy?" (NEW TEEN TITANS v1 #38)
Another great one-and-done that is unlike most other comics you would have seen at the time and even today. The whole issue is Dick Grayson, out of costume, piecing together the mismatched puzzle pieces of Donna Troy's past, as a wedding present to her and Terry. Wolfman shows tremendous restraint in his pacing and the ability to keep you totally tuned into the story without big action or bright costumes, while Perez really starts to experiment with his use of borders, shading, and other bedrock elements of storytelling. It's not only an enthralling story with an emotional payoff, it was also the type of continuity doctoring that Geoff Johns has since become famous for, but which was unheard of in 1984 (of course none of it makes sense anymore after a half dozen more reboots to the character, but details...). Wolfman, Perez and countless Titans fans have all pointed to this issue as a favorite.

"Crossroads" (NEW TEEN TITANS v1 #39)
This issue is probably better known for its oft-imitated iconic cover than what's inside, and it's hardly the most essential issue of the run, but it's an important checkpoint that sets the table for "The Judas Contract" and gives us a chance to observe how far the cast has come, individually and as a unit, over the course of 39+ issues. There's also some interesting meta commentary as Kid Flash muses about never having really felt a part of the team and how they're all much more broken up about Robin's departure than his. The tender moments between KF and Terra are probably Wally's greatest contribution to the series though, as his affection for his young teammate and her faux reciprocation is the final twist of the knife needed before her big betrayal.

The mother of all Titans stories, this is the mega-arc that Wolfman and Perez have been building since issue #2, stirring in extra elements like Terra, Dick Grayson's identity crisis and more along the way. This four-parter crams in more cool stuff than we get in most 7-issue event minis these days, as we learn the Terminator's full origin, meet his family (including pivotal son Joey, aka Jericho), witness Robin's transformation into Nightwing, see the final fate of Terra, and the culmination of everything else we've been waiting four years for. Each chapter stands alone as a unique masterpiece in its own right as well, with the first basically being all prologue and character work, the second providing another showcase for Dick Grayson's detective skills as he figures out how Terra and the Terminator took out the Titans CSI-style, the third giving the spotlight more or less completely to Terminator, and the final part providing the all-out action finale and heartbreaking climax. "Judas Contract" is the all-you-can-eat buffet of comics goodness, providing the most bang for your buck you'll find and doing it well. There is plenty written around the 'net and elsewhere praising this bad boy, but I highly suggest you experience it for yourself (and it's one of the most readily-available trade collections of NTT, so you've got no excuse).

"We Are Gathered Here Today..." (TALES OF THE TEEN TITANS v1 #50)
Marv Wolfman and George Perez put a bow on their initial run as a creative team not with a big fight, but with a wedding, as Donna Troy and (ugh) Terry Long tie the knot in an extra-sized issue that gives Perez an excuse to draw the entire DC Universe in formalware and Wolfman cause to dig up every Titans-related Easter egg he can find, from Duela Dent to naming wedding guests after longtime Titans fans. It's a gorgeous, touching love letter to the characters these creators spent five years bringing together, without a super villain or disaster in sight. "We Are Gathered Here Today..." remains the gold standard for comic book wedding issues and is a wonderfully upbeat sendoff to the first Wolfman/Perez Titans age (until they came back together a few months later to launc a second volume of the book in ghastly dark fashion with the scariest Trigon story ever...but that's another post).

This trip down memory lane is deeply indebted to the awesome, which you should do yourself a favor and check out ASAP.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Wristcutters

Pizzeria Kamikaze was one of (if not the) first books Rickey gave me as part of my Indy Odyssey. I really dug it, and it was adapted from the same short story this movie is based on, so I've been looking forward to seeing this for awhile and was not disappointed. In fact, given the general rushed/low quality of lesser known stuff I like being translated to film, I'd say this actually exceded my expectations quite nicely. The premise (a love story/buddy story/exploration of faith/etc. set in what is ostensibly purgatory) is a great one and director Goran Dukic (who is quite fascinating in the "Making Of" extra on the DVD) is quite thoughtful when it comes to creating the world of the film, muting all the colors, having every set and prop appear appropriately ramshackle (great word) and reassembled, and challenging his cast to convey emotion while not smiling. Speaking of the cast, I was a bit let down by Patrick Fugit at first, but he grows into his role nicely (honestly, I think I'm more frustrated that he never became a huge star after "Almost Famous" and take it out on him by nitpicking every performance I've seen him give since). He does have excellent chemistry with Shannyn Sossamon, and since that relationship is really the driving force of the story, that's all you can really ask for. Sossamon herself wasn't a revelation or anything, but she's cute enough and pulls off what is asked of her. Shea Whigham, playing the Russian rocker Eugene (my favorite character in both book and movie) is the real gem, as he brings awesome delivery and comic timing that helps really elevate the black humor quotient. As for the rest of the cast, it's a bunch of awesome character actors you recognize more by face than by name, Tom Waits in a perfect part for him, plus decent extended cameos by Will Arnett and Leslie Bibb. Being the sappy romantic I am, I love some of the things Dukic changed towards the end (no outright spoilers) and overall would certainly recommend this delightfully different movie.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Earth's Mightiest Sketch Blog Extra: GREEN Hulk

So Rickey got bored at work today and used Photoshop to color my Hulk sketch for kicks. Here it is...

Personally, I love it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Earth's Mightiest Sketch Blog: The Hulk

I was very nervous about drawing the Hulk. Unlike Ant-Man, who has a weird helmet, neat costume and other little doodads I could use to distract from any major flaws in my work, Hulk is really just a jacked up guy wearing barely any clothes. There aren't any real bells and whistles in the Hulk's look, you just need to have a good grasp of anatomy, shadowing, and all the stuff I don't think I'm great at. I also remember trying to draw the Hulk as a kid and the face always looking ridiculous because when I tried to make it look like he was angry, he just crazy/constipated.

Given all this, I leaned on reference art more heavily here than I did last time. I mostly just used the reference to get the shadows and musculature right. For the face and the basic outline, I did it mostly on my own, and pleasantly surprised myself.

I was going to run the Bryan Hitch image I used for my main reference, but unfortunately the site I was looking at it on seems to have pulled it down. Bummer.

Anyways, here's mine...

Given my expectations, I'm very happy with the final results. I don't think I'd want to ever draw the Hulk on a regular basis (just figuring out where the shadows fall on his muscles would drive me insane), but I had a lot of fun with this. A big part of that was realizing along the way that nothing is too ridiculous when it comes to the Hulk's physique. Want to make his arm the size of Ant-Man's waist and then some? Sure! Feel like he could use a few more veins? Makes sense! Good times.

Speaking of good times, I totally spent a few minutes grimacing in front of my bathroom mirror trying to figure out how to draw the Hulk's face. Megan was probably pretty concerned about me, but ultimately I just ended up drawing heavily on that classic Joe Jusko painted close-up image, so it was all for naught I suppose. I still enjoyed it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Essentials: New Teen Titans v1 #1-40/Tales of the Teen Titans #41-50

My last Essentials post was about a book I read and enjoyed mostly as a kid, so it was chock full of childish recollection and glee as well as no real interest in whether the work had stood the test of time (I think it has, but that's not important). My praise of that material came from a "Holy crap Cannonball is the coolest!" place of young enthusiasm recalled that you can only get from something you liked when you were little. Conversely, the body of work I'm going to discuss today is one that I didn't read until college, and that I feel really changed the way I look at comics forever.

I don't remember the exact circumstances of how I came to purchase my first back issue of New Teen Titans, a book whose heyday had begun two years before I was born and was starting to wind down before I was even five. I can't even recall what the first issue I read was. I'm fairly certain that I was just rummaging through the long boxes at Sarge's Comics in New London, Connecticut. My second golden age of comic collecting began during college in large part because I found friends who were interested in getting back into the game themselves, but I'm fairly certain none of us would have had that itch to scratch if we hadn't had Sarge's, to this day the biggest and best comic shop I've ever been to, a 10-minute drive away from the hallowed halls of Connecticut College.

But I digress.

When me and my buddies first went down to Sarge's during my freshman year (200-2001), it was to catch up on X-Men comics, but gradually, as I scanned the rest of the walls, I started to pick up whatever random stuff looked appealing. This led me into largely uncharted territory: DC Comics. I had collected a lot of Superman and Justice League when I was younger, plus the odd issue of Green Lantern and Flash, and had the first 25 issues or so of Superboy, but I'd never connected with any of those characters the way I did with the X-Men, so most of it was foreign to me. Still, since I had always found the visuals of Flash appealing, and because at this time the covers of the series were being drawn by the amazing Brian Bolland, I picked up a few issues and loved it. Seeing that the writer was some guy named Geoff Johns, I looked for what else he worked on and ended up getting hooked on JSA.

Wow, this is sure a roundabout way of getting back to New Teen Titans...

Long story short, I already knew a ton about Marvel from when I had collected as a kid, so the idea that there was this whole other universe out there for me to discover as an adult excited the crap out of me. So whenever I went down to Sarge's to grab new books, I'd also make it a point to scan the DC back issues and pick up stuff that looked cool or significant in an effort to familiarize myself with the characters and their histories. At some point, I bought an issue of NTT (I'm gonna go ahead and say I think it was #4, where they fought the Justice League, as that seems to be the type of thing that would have gotten my attention) and it blew my mind.

The "random DC back issues" I had been getting on my trips quickly became "every issue of New Teen Titans I could find," and before long, I had a pretty respectable chunk of Marv Wolfman and George Perez' first run on the title. I still remember very clearly nearly four years later when visiting my friend Val in Amherst, Massachusetts, she took me to a comic store near her (entirely for my benefit, not hers) and I triumphantly discovered Tales of the Teen Titans #41, the final issue I needed to complete a collection that had been culled from Connecticut, England, and all points in between.

Because I was reading NTT at age 19 as opposed to at age 9, as much as I loved the big fights and gorgeous splash pages, I also really came to appreciate the mechanics being applied, particularly when it came to the writing. The thing I'll always cite as my favorite part of NTT is that over the course of those first 50 issues, it literally covers just about every genre that comic books have to offer (ok, I guess it didn't have a war story or a western) and succeeds at each. This grew out of the fact that when Wolfman and Perez were building the team, not only did they take the risk of mixing in three completely new characters, they took the opportunity to differentiate those characters in such a way that they had incredibly fertile starting points for a wealth of stories.

For my money, there may be no cooler pound-for-pound roster than the team that kicks off New Teen Titans. First off, you've got your three mainstays from the old group, but even with them Wolfman and Perez wash away the cookie cutter DC Silver Age sameness that permeated the team books of the 60's and give each their own role: you've got your straight super hero in Kid Flash, your detective in Robin, and then your mythological link with Wonder Girl. From there they added Changeling for both comic relief and the more bizarre Doom Patrol element, and created Cyborg as the street level guy, Starfire as the alien princess who could rocket the series into sci fi territory, and Raven as the mystical glue holding it all together.

So if you take a look at that roster, you've got seven distinct genres right there: straight super hero, detective/crime noir, epic myth, oddball adventure, "real world" stories, space-based sci fi and magic/mysticism. On the surface, it's brilliance because like I said, you've got all these jumping off points; but at the same time, the creators are faced with the challenge of meshing seven incredibly different young people into a unit you wanted to read about. This isn't the case of mixing three super heroes with a robot and a witch or balancing the dynamic of the Fantastic Four; these are seven characters none of whom have anything in common to the untrained eye and writing a monthly comic with them.

Wolfman and Perez (and I list both of them even though Marv was the writer because if you talk to either, and I've had the pleasure of talking to both, they'll say they were both steering the ship) accomplished the goal of making these Titans work by portraying their bonding process as realistically as you could with a team that counts an orange-skinned alien bombshell, a half-robot black kid with a chip on his shoulder and a half demon mystic babe among their numbers. They did not bond instantly, but instead stuck together mostly because they had nowhere else to go, and then became close because events made them that way organically. As in all the great super hero team books, there was always animosity and arguing amongst the Titans, but they overcame it. I would say that Legion of Super-Heroes was probably the first DC book to really feature a team that bickered (it certainly wasn't Justice League of America or anything else from the Silver Age), but with the Titans, ultimately, they became friends, and having experienced their growth with them, you felt like a part of it.

(As an aside, I think one of the reasons the last few Titans books that have attempted to reunite the original team have been somewhat lackluster is because you can't recreate that slow, natural bonding process; it has already happened and now that they're all friends from the start, there's a warm nostalgia to seeing them together, but not that sense of excitement from the old days).

With their cast in place, one of the other things Wolfman and Perez did so well with NTT was making the stories both closely tied to the team while at the same time epic and beyond their scope. The very first arc is about the Titans' war with Trigon, a demon lord so powerful he can easily defeat the Justice League with a snap of his finger, making the stakes incredibly high, but he's also Raven's father, so there's a very personal stake involved. A battle royal with the gods of Olympus is also a battle to save Wonder Girl's people. An interstellar war between alien races is also about Starfire trying to go home again.

They were also great at bouncing around not only from genre to genre, but from large scale to smaller scale, and making every story seem equally important. The "Runaways" two-parter about Cyborg leading the team to save a group of street kids feels no less dire than trying to rescue Robin from the brainwashing of Brother Blood and ostensibly stopping the coming of the Anti-Christ (more or less). There was no niche for NTT, because Wolfman and Perez did everything, and they did it all well.

And then of course there were the bad guys. Deathstroke (who after his first appearance was never really called "Deathstroke" for the remainder of the Wolfman/Perez tenure, simply "The Terminator") is the best remembered for many reasons. He had (and has) a great costume design courtesy of Perez. He had that twisted but resolute code of honor the best villains have. And what I think made the Terminator really unique was his motivation: he never really wanted to kill the Titans, but his son took on a contract to do so (against his advice) and died in the process, meaning he was honor bound to finish the job. That sense that this was all just a job to Deathstroke, and that it was one he'd honestly prefer not to do but that he was so good at made him a great foil. The fact that he routinely kicked the Titans' asses also made you love to hate him.

But beyond Deathstroke was a wealth of awesome baddies. The foppish Dr. Light and the ever-bickering Fearsome Five, with their constant battle over leadership trumping any success, was always a trainwreck you loved to watch. Trigon was one scary bastard and was smartly used sparingly. Brother Blood was equally creepy, in large part because he perverted something you wanted to take comfort in (religion/faith); he also had a terrific Perez costume and benefitted greatly fro the horror chops Wolfman had honed on Tomb of Dracula. And of course the Titans had their riffs on the classics, with the Gordanians being their token scary aliens and H.I.V.E. working as the perfunctory faceless organization of spooks. Even one-offs like the Disruptor or Trident were fleshed out with panache.

And then there was Terra.

NTT was a bold series in many ways. It explored sex in a mature and intelligent way with the relationship between Robin and Starfire (that Starfire was from a race of people where sex was no big deal and Robin was just a kid with this super hot girlfriend who he had to physically restrain from jumping his bones was certainly a different kind of relationship). It addressed issues of race and class with Cyborg's background and his attempts at an interracial relationship with Sarah Simms. But perhaps none of that heavy stuff was as gutsy as what Wolfman and Perez did with Terra.

During the early 80's, the top two selling series in comics were NTT and Uncanny X-Men. Over in Uncanny, Chris Claremont had created a character who served as both the POV entrance point for many young readers and the first crush for teenage boys (who would grow up to become Marvel Comics editors) everywhere in cute, perky teenager Kitty Pryde. When Wolfman and Perez brought the equally perky, equally cute Terra into the Titans as they rounded the corner on their second year, most fans assumed they simply wanted a Kitty Pryde of their own.

How wrong they were.

Not only did Terra turn out to be a bad guy and a traitor, she turned out to be a completely insane sociopath. It would be months before readers learned her true nature and then after that many more issues during which they'd have to endure watching the team trust the wolf in their midst, screaming fruitlessly at Changeling not to fall for her (she's having sex with Deathstroke!) or for somebody to figure it out (where are those detective skills now, Robin?) to no avail. When the betrayal finally came during the seminal "Judas Contract" saga that served as perhaps the last great hurrah for the Wolfman/Perez glory days, it cut deep. They could have alienated so many fans, but they took the risk, knowing they had a great story and trusting their readers to see that, and the gamble paid off.

Now I write all this putting myself in the shoes of a reader who was actually surprised by the Terra stuff, but truthfully, it's not that hard. Going into reading "Judas Contract" and the stuff leading up to it 20 years after it was written, I knew full well where Terra's story ended, but the work was of such high quality that it still wrenched my heart every step of the way. Terra's death in the "Judas Contract" finale, where she completely loses it and lashes out at these people who have only ever tried to be good to her only to bury herself under an avalanche of her own rage, is one of the most haunting scenes I have ever read.

The story of Terra is probably as good as I can think of to some up why those first 50 magical issues of NTT were so amazing. It was a risky story that worked because you cared about everybody involved. That was the standard operating procedure for the Wolfman/Perez Titans. Every story was gold.

I've babbled enough at this point about what I think is simply of the best comics of all time (and one that I will argue stands the test of time), but I think later in the week I'll bust out some of my favorite arcs from the Wolfman/Perez run to hopefully further illustrate my point to the two or three of you who made it this far in the post. In the mean time, might I recommend you visit the absolutely awesome Titans Tower web site, maintained by the brilliant Bill Walko, where you can learn just about everything about every iteration of the Titans as well as read great interviews with the creators who have worked on them, check out incredible original art and much much more.


Thanks to Jim McCann for pointing this out.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Role Models

With "Wet Hot American Summer" being one of my favorite movies and Paul Rudd being one of my favorite actors, I've often been plagued by two unanswered questions: could the crew behind "Wet Hot" create a successful mainstream comedy outside of their quirky niche and and can Rudd play a credible comedic leading man as opposed to just the funny best friend? This movie provides a satisfying "Hellz Yeah" to both those queries. The story sacrifices none of the ridiculous humor of David Wain and company yet also manages to be, dare I say it, heartwarming. Rudd is completely unselfish, willing to let his more outlandish co-stars have some of the real zingers so he can do the (reasonably) heavy lifting dramatic stuff necessary to move the plot along while still giving every funny line his pitch perfect delivery. As a result, Seann William Scott has to do minimal of the aforementioned meaty stuff and can be off to the side, contributing more by his great chemistry with Rudd and with young Bobb'e J. Thompson, who is unquestionably the breakout star as the foulmouthed pre-teen. Jane Lynch is also hysterical and Christopher Mintz-Plasse actually really impressed me by not doing a complete 180 from his "McLovin" character, but showing he can deviate from that one role. The fact that Rudd and Scott's characters start the movie as SUCH assholes (Rudd's in particular) makes their ultimate redemption more applause-worthy, and you don't mind that yeah, sure, maybe it happened a little too quickly. All in all, throw in the running KISS gags, the cast of "The State" playing just about every supporting role and Rudd once again being romantically paired with "Wet Hot" makeout buddy the delightful Elizabeth Banks, and this is my favorite movie in quite some time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A few words on the guy who won last night (and the guy who lost too)

I know I've said in the past that politics will not be a frequent topic of discussion here at the CKT, and I don't see that changing too drastically anytime soon, but given the enormity of last night's events, I did want to share a few thoughts (of course the fact that I do have thoughts to share makes that easier).

Disclosure first: I'm a registered independent, but generally liberal in my values, and I voted for Barack Obama.

Upon hearing the official news last night that Obama had won the presidency, honestly, I felt weird. The guy I had voted for and who I felt would be the best choice of the two available to be our next president had won and everybody was going crazy. Yet I wasn't over the moon excited. Truth be told, I felt nervous, almost uneasy. My thoughts were along the lines of, "Everybody is celebrating because we have elected our first black president, because the democrats are back in power after eight years...but will it make a difference? Will this just be a historic moment that ultimately doesn't change the fate of our country?"

All through this election I saw Obama as certainly a better choice than John McCain and as a candidate who seemed qualified enough, but I never felt any real magic. The debates just seemed like two guys talking in circles. I didn't have that moment where it all clicked and I knew everything was going to be ok if only we elected one candidate or the other. This carried into last night and as the celebration began around me, I felt oddly empty.

Then came the speeches.

First, John McCain delivered his concession speech. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was moved by McCain's words (if not his audience). Unlike the other concession speeches from past elections that I barely remembered, this one felt important. It was classy and dignified; McCain acquitted himself well. I was reminded that this was not a bad man, and that before the last 12 months, he seemed like a reasonable choice to be president. Somewhere along the way, it felt like he lost the real John McCain, but last night, I think he returned. But more importantly than that, I was moved by the confidence McCain demonstrated towards the man he had just lost to and the support he pledged him. It seemed genuine and dedicated and me stop and think, "Wow, if John McCain believes Barack Obama will be a good president, that's really something."

But of course it was Obama's acceptance speech that was the real main event of the evening. And for me, it was where the magic finally happened.

While McCain's words moved me, Obama's inspired me. I felt like for the first time I saw what those around me saw about what made this man so special. His poise was incredible. His words perfectly selected and delivered. I commented to Megan as we watched that I felt like for the first time in 16 years, I felt like a responsible adult was running our country. I mean, I thought Bill Clinton was great, but he always seemed like a cool uncle; and don't get me started on the other guy. Barack Obama felt like the real deal.

Listening to Obama speak and seeing the reaction he elicited from his supporters, so many not much older or indeed younger than me, was a sight to behold. My father mentioned to me when we spoke today that he hasn't seen young people so inspired by a president since John F. Kennedy. But on the other hand, an experienced and respected veteran like John McCain also expressed his support. That was the magic. Barack Obama may be inexperienced, untested, etc., but what he brings to the table is that he inspires the young and the old. People believe in him. They are willing to follow him. They trust him. And after last night, so do I.

One man isn't going to save this country. It's going to take Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, the young and the old. We must be a house united, and I believe Barack Obama can build that house.

After Obama's speech ended, my emptiness was gone and filled with a sense of pride and faith in this country I haven't bothered to feel in sometime. With those feelings came the appreciation of the historical moment. That we have elected a black president is a truly remarkable, amazing and long overdue accomplishment; but that we have elected a president who could be great, who can bring this country together, is what we should be celebrating.

It was a longer road for me than some, but I'm glad I walked it, and happy to be here.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Earth's Mightiest Sketch Blog: Ant-Man

As I mentioned not too long ago, friend of the blog TJ Dietsch kicked off the Society Pages, his sketch blog devoted to the Justice Society of America. Today, I follow suit with the first installment of Earth's Mightiest Sketch Blog, my attempt to create semi-credible images of every member of the Avengers, beginning with Hank Pym, aka the original Ant-Man.

Hank Pym is actually one of my least favorite Marvel characters, based more or less on a childhood bias rooted in not being able to understand why this blond guy in a red vest was on the same team as Iron Man and Hawkeye (he was in his particularly lame Dr. Pym identity at the time). Conversely, Hank Pym is Keith Giffen's favorite Marvel character, so there's a difference between Keith and I (also, he's a highly successful comic book writer and artist).

Anyhow, my personal feelings for the character aside, not counting the aforementioned red vest, Pym has had some rad costumes over the years, so I was glad to start my series with him...

Rather than go with Pym's current Yellowjacket get up, I chose to draw him in his original Ant-Man costume. I like this outfit, a Jack Kirby design (you can rarely go wrong with those), because it's simple but funky and has a kooky helmet I knew I'd have some fun with. At the same time, I was a bit worried I'd screw up the helmet, but I think I pulled it off nicely. Admittedly I cheatd a bit, adding that conveniently shaped hill type thingy so I wouldn't have to draw feet (I hate to draw feet), but I'm gonna try and stand up to that challenge in the future.

Overall, this sketch could have perhaps been a bit more dynamic, but I'm happy with it as my first effort having used very little reference material outside of refreshing my memory on the costume specifics.

Ben's Indy Odyssey: Super Spy

Earlier this year, lifelong super hero comic enthusiast Ben Morse asked some of his more indy comic-savvy friends to begin recommending him stuff he should read outside of his typical comfort zone. These are the chronicles of his adventures.

Man, there sure is a lot to like about this one, and I can see why it's so fondly regarded.

First and foremost, Matt Kindt's interest in and love for the genre he's working in shines through in the material without question. The guy clearly digs espionage and it's pretty clear putting together a project like this one is a dream come true for him. His passion is evident in how finely he details every story with if not realism then at least the sense that, "Yeah, if somebody were to hypothetically do that, it could certainly work." He seems to have really thought through every one of his stories, and I find his dedication to be admirable and his enjoyment of the work to be infectious.

I'm also impressed by the diversity of material. There are a lot of stories that share common elements, but no two are exactly alike and there are more than a few that are utterly unique. The reinvention of what you're reading every few pages definitely keeps things fresh and allows Kindt to really stretch both his writing and his art.

At the same time, I'll confess that I found what I just listed as a strength to also be a weakness in some ways. This could be a personal thing for me, but whenever you've got a collection of shorter stories, you risk losing my interest as a reader simply because it's easier for me to put the book down and not get back to it for a few days because I'm not so invested in what happens next. This really shouldn't be too much of a concern for any writer, Kindt here in particular, both because I'm a target audience of one and also because even if I didn't feel the need to read Super Spy every night, I knew I was gonna come back to it because even without cliffhangers the material was strong enough to keep me hooked.

Another thing somewhat linked to the previous point that also went both ways for me as far as enjoyment was the way that many (all?) of the stories were linked in some way, but not arranged in order. This is pretty cool, because it's definitely neat to see characters popping up who you vaguely remember from several chapters earlier and then figuring out how the larger narrative fits together. It also pulls off the trick of creating memorable characters in the context of an anthology without breaking your structure ("The Shark," Super Spy, etc.). On the other hand, it did frustrate me a bit to have to keep flipping back to figure out where I remembered certain things from without any real roadmap to help me. Again, this is a personal to me thing, and it's in no way a knock on the book, more on me for being a a lazy reader.

Honestly, the "negatives" I listed here really came out of me analyzing Super Spy from a critical perspective and wanting to write something aside from "this book rocked." They're there to be certain, but they didn't impact me as much as I'm maybe making it seem like they did, and I don't think they'd hinder really anybody from enjoying this book. It's a good read.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Costume Update

2008. Flint & Lady Jaye

Jami and I had a little too much fun dressing up as G.I. Joe's cutest couple this year. But aside from thanking my older brother for the loan of the beret that I'm pretty sure has been to Iraq and back, I thought I'd offer these without comment.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Wizard Features that Never Were: Best of the Best

Back in the halycon days of 2006, when Ryan Penagos and myself both still worked at Wizard Magazine, we had an idea for a fairly ambitious feature we gave the working title "Best of the Best," named for (in my mind at least) the Eric Roberts martial arts flick of the same name. The idea grew out of our meeting and getting to hang out with professional wrestler, giant comics nerd and cool guy extraordinaire "Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels at the Wizard World Los Angeles show. We had been trying to get something going involving spotlighting Chris in Wizard and kicked around a few ideas. Intitially we had been cooking up something called "World's Toughest Geek," pitting Chris against fellow superfan and Ultimate Fighter Nate "Rock" Quarry in comic book trivia, but that didn't pan out (which could be another post for another time). Considering alternatives, Ryan and I talked a lot about badasses and comics and where the two intersected, which is where "Best of the Best" emanated.

At the time, I was Wizard's official contact for DC Comics while Ryan held the same position in regards to Marvel, meaning we got to sit in on planning and pitch meetings for the content of upcoming issues. Taking all the stuff we had been chatting about, we proposed the idea of taking the old "Last Man Standing" concept that was a Wizard mainstay for years to the next level and doing a big ol' tournament ala the NCAA's March Madness, taking the toughest characters in comics from Marvel, DC, etc. and matching them up in a 64-person bracket, ultimately determining who was the toughest dude (or lady) in comics.

"Best of the Best" had several levels to it and would have potentially involved a great deal of fan interaction. Wizard's web site had just received the first of several revamps and we wanted to utilize the feature to allow fans who were starting to frequent the message boards to interact with the print magazine. While we never got far enough to determine the exact details, either via polls or simply threads on the boards, we were gonna try and have the Wizard fans' votes make up at least some portion of the deciding factor in who won the tournament. Whether that meant they'd get to vote all the way through, only in the opening rounds or potentially decide an "alternate" brackets that we'd print the results of after the "real" tourney, we never got a chance to decide (all those options were on the table).

Other stuff we wanted to do involved getting creators involved to break down certain "highlight" matchups and, of course, somehow getting Chris Daniels involved as our "fight doctor," laying down the tale of the tape for our final match. How exactly we were going to determine the opening rounds, whether they would be decided by the Wizard staff, creator "experts," the aforementioned fans, or some combination of all or some of the above was a major stumbling block.

Another thing we had trouble figuring out was who would and wouldn't meet our criteria as far as participants. Initially Ryan and I pitched doing only unpowered fighters, as we figured having guys like Superman involved in the tourney would make it less interesting, but it was tough nailing down exactly what "unpowered" meant.

You know how you'll sit around with your buddies and talk comics and spend hours debating stuff like whether Wolverine's claws could slice through Captain America's shield? That's often what these Wizard pitch meetings would become for significant periods at a time, and it was times like that when you'd sit back and think, "It is so awesome that this is my job." Well, the meetings to discuss "Best of the Best" as you could imagine featured a lot of that type of stuff. I remember major sticking points as far as who could be part of the tournament included whether or not Captain America technically had powers due to the super soldier serum, if Deathstroke's abilities were "superhuman," and if the Punisher could only be in there is he went hand-to-hand and tossed his guns aside. I also remember lengthy discourse about us badly wanting Iron Fist in there but feeling like his who "I can make my fist a thing as unto iron" gig disqualified him. Honestly, it was all good fun and I was pretty psyched for months more of it.

One thing I unequivocably recall is that Ryan and I wanted the finals to come down to a DC vs Marvel showdown between Richard Dragon and Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu. We envisioned it as a straight up old school "Last Man Standing" and were pretty insistent that it had to be drawn by Scott McDaniel. Seriously, how f'n cool would that have been?!

Anyways, obviously "Best of the Best" never came to fruition. I can't remember all the reasons why, but as with most Wizard features that didn't pan out, it was a combination of things as opposed to just one. Definitely a big factor was that then-Wizard Editor-In-Chief Pat McCallum ended up being let go in November of that year. I have nothing but nice things to say about Pat, who was not only a great professional mentor but a guy whose office I loved to go and hang out at after work and jaw about comics, toys, pro wrestling, etc. Pat was huge into just about everything that went into "Best of the Best" (he loved "Last Man Standing" and fantasy tournament type deals) and was a big supporter of pushing it through, so when he left, the feature definitely lost some momentum, both because we lost his enthusiasm and because it felt a bit wrong to go forward without him. Ryan also left for Marvel around the same time, so take wat I just said about Pat and multiply it since he was the guy who co-conceived the whole thing with me. Beyond that, though, it was obviously a major period of transition for Wizard and a big ass feature like "Best of the Best" understandably had to take a backseat to other priorities.

At the end of the day, I can't help but think maybe if I had pushed a little harder, I still could have made "Best of the Best" happen, but ultimately, you need to pick your battles, and while I think it would have been a really cool feature, it wasn't something particularly pressing or topical and thus it slipped through the cracks.

Ryan did end up doing a Q&A with Chris for that served as the launch for the Fightin' Fanboys column we have since continued. Still, I can't help but think fondly on what could have been...maybe someday...

Trading Card Depot: 21 Jump Street

My relationship with trading cards in general is an epic one, while my relationship with "non-sport" trading cards is a goofy one. I'm gonna start posting select cards I've got sitting around the house so you can all enjoy them, too.

First up is a card sent to me by Jesse Thompson. Jesse's maybe one of the top two people I've met in my life, and he's living in Tennessee now with his dope wife Allison. Jesse says all the crap no one wants to buy in America eventually ends up in the thrift stores in Tennessee. Luckily, he shares this crap with me. And he sent me a pack of 21 Jump Street cards from 1987 based on the show about young-looking narcs and their adventures infiltrating high schools. Here's my favorite:

Ah, Johnny Depp. I dunno if "teen patrol" is a verb here or if it's what he calls his gang with Peter DeLuise, but it all looks sweet. ALL the cards are stickers and can be peeled at the sides:

I can't even imagine how many Trapper Keepers were covered in these. There are something like 50 cards in this set and supposedly Jonah Hill of "Super Bad" fame is writing a film version of the TV series for 2010. Depp has kinda turned into a doofus lately, but he played a radical guy on the show. And the chorus of the theme song was as mind-blowingly pop-catchy as the chorus of the intro to Rescue Rangers.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Paragraph Movie Reviews Double Feature

Chaos Theory
I am thoroughly in awe of Ryan Reynolds. He has managed to maintain all the pretty boy charm he started his career with while evolving into a powerful actor who is a master of both using the spoken word and brilliant physical performance. I think I can honestly enjoy any movie he is in at least to some degree just to watch him at work. That said, Reynolds' performance is the only good thing about this clunker. It's a fairly blah premise (efficiency expert's life falls apart so he does crazy shit as he tries to get it back together) that yields a few emotionally shocking moments contained in a very weak framework. It veers wildly between black comedy and "tug at the heartstrings" drama with little consistency and much of the script is just cringe-inducing. It's worth noting that Reynolds once again does a great job establishing a precious father-daughter dynamic as he did in "Definitely, Maybe," so he's definitely got an even brighter future as he continues to age. It's also worth noting that if they had subbed hilarious Sarah Chalke, who gets a bit part, with dull Emily Mortimer, who gets the female lead, this movie may have had a shot, but no go.

Josh Brolin's George W. Bush strikes me as the type of charmingly idiotic sort who I'd honestly go back to see in a franchise of romantic comedies were he a fictional character, and that thought pretty much encompasses the strengths of as well as the problems with this film. Taken strictly as a movie, I found it to be a rivetting story that kept my attention for all two hours-plus. The father and son relationship between W. and Bush Sr. (played by James Cromwell in another strong performance) that was at the story's heart was very compelling with plenty of great subplots surrounding it. The cast, led by Brolin's dead-on W., was remarkably strong, without a weak link among the bunch and with Richard Dreyfuss, Toby Jones and Thandie Newton in particular delivering knockout portrayals. However, if you try and qualify "W." as a biopic, it becomes a little more vexing. For one thing, once you acknowledge the events of the movie as reality it certainly becomes a lot less entertaining, but for another, even a card-carrying liberal such as myself has to wonder if Oliver Stone's almost super villain-level portrayals of Dick Cheney and friends wasn't a tad over the top, and that distracts greatly. Also, while I kinda get leaving 9/11 out of the movie given how overwhelming it may have been, it would have been nice to have seen some time devoted to the 2000 election, not to mention that Laura Bush seems to get a lobotomy at some point around the hour and a half mark and we never see why. Given that this is Oliver Stone, a guy who makes four hour movies, I don't see why he could have crammed a few more crucial scenes in. Still, at the end of the day, an entertaining movie (and highly depressing indictment of the guy who was somehow elected our 43rd president).

Five Comics Worth Reading, 10/22/08 pt. 5

And so we come to the conclusion of our five day odyssey a day late, not because I was being lazy, but because I thought it appropriate to let Kiel's Halloween opus fly high at the top of the blog for all of October 31.

In spreading this out over five days, I've learned that I much more enjoy writing about one comic a day as opposed to trying to cram my thoughts on five separate books into one massive post over the course of a Sunday afternoon. However, I also don't like having capsule reviews of comics by me cluttering up the blog and clipping its diversity. So I've got to figure out a different way to format my thoughts on the week's comics (if indeed I want to keep sharing them regularly), but that's something I'll ruminate on. For now...



I greatly enjoyed Jason Aaron's brief run on the primary Wolverine title earier this year. I'm also a big fan of old school martial arts flicks like "Enter the Dragon" and its brethren. Thus, by simple calculus and/or algebra, this limited series about Wolverine having a kung fu adventure in San Francisco's Chinatown written by Jason Aaron is right up my alley.

First, a word on Wolverine.

Books like this and many of the other one-shots we at Marvel have produced over the last year or so (because as assistant editor of I play an integral role in the production of Wolverine one-shots*) such as Wolverine: Roar and the badass Wolverine: Saudade (which I refuse to pronounce any other way except for "Wolverine Saw-Daddy" in a southern accent) have given me a new affection for a character I hadn't had much spark for in many years. That is to say that while I still appreciate and enjoy Wolverine's place on the X-Men, I think he works far better these days as a Clint Eastwood or David Carradine type wading into the middle of genre fare and playing the central tough guy of neat little self-contained stories.

This is that type of story, though not completely self-contained, as it centers around the X-Men moving to San Francisco--giving Aaron the opportunity to do a fun little scene with Nightcrawler--and Wolverine having to deal with some old issues from his past before he can get settled. Seems Logan was involved in some nasty business back around the turn of the last century in Chinatown (we only get scattered details) and now he's gotta square old debts and fight a whole bunch of kung fu masters as well as reckoning with an old girlfriend. This first issue also sets up that the area is not exactly a nice place run by nice people and Wolverine may have to do something to rectify that over the next three chapters.

When Wolverine got all his memories back a few years ago, it didn't immediately have much of a strong impact, but the long run benefit is that we get to see stories like this (and like Jason Aaron's last go around, "Get Mystique"), where Logan is given more depth via the exploration of his past sins and current attempts at reparations. The old "My life sucks because it's all a lie" Wolverine got played out pretty thoroughly sometime circa the 90's, so I find this less emo, more soul-searching version of the character to be far more appealing and much closer to the guy everybody fell in love with during the glory days.

Aaron's story set up is all classic tough guys action movie cliche, complete with the spunky but obnoxious street urchin cheering our hero on, the stock army of eccentric bad guys, and the spurned lover out for revenge, but it all works and comes off fun rather than lame because of its self-awareness. This stuff has worked for years in other mediums for a reason and Aaron knows ow to translate it successfully to comics.

There is also much to be said for artist Stephen Segovia, who I predict is going to be a big deal much sooner rather than later. I noticed the guy, who is like a cross between Leinil Francis Yu and Chris Bachalo with his own flair for action scenes and splash pages, back when he was doing the Eclipso back-ups in that Countdown to Mystery book last year and even there you could see a raw energy that was ready to explode. Here, on a book totaly suitd to his style, he just does beautiful work. Big things.

I also love the inclusion of the Sons of the Tiger, among my favorite comic characters I've never actually seen featured in any stories but have always wanted to because they sound dope. If Aaron can somehow weave Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu, who is my holy grail of guys I want to see my completely irrational faith in justified via an awesome guest appearance, he will have truly created a book that caters to me in every way except somehow featuring a gratuitous Nova cameo.

I hope he reads this blog.