Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Matt Powell On...Lita Ford

Matt Powell is a library professional and Wizard alumni currently living and working in New Jersey. He is a smooth cat and expert on most things. These are his thoughts.

"I'm listening to Lita Ford's 'Kiss Me Deadly' right now. I forgot how hot she was back then."

Happy New Year from the Cool Kids Table!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Old School Art Attack: DCU 1994

Back when I was around 12-14, my family used to take "road trip" vacations out in the western United States, where we'd fly out, rent a car, and drive to various locations for a couple weeks. I had some good times on those vacations, but often found myself with long streatches of boredom spent in hotels, motels, etc. One thing I'd do to occupy my time was doodle away drawing DC and Marvel characters. My coup de grace in the summer of 1994 was this "beauty" depicting the post-Zero Hour DC Universe which I found when I was back home over the holidays...

Guy Gardner: Warrior! Darkstar Donna Troy! The full line-up of Extreme Justice! Fate! "Manhunter" Chase Lawler! Deathstroke the Hunted! Gunfire!!

In other words, all your favorites!

No idea why Azrael, Alan Scott and Deathstroke aren't colored. Guess I ran out of time and/or red and whatever color 'stroke's costume was back then.

I will say this: I still can't draw women all that well, but at least they don't all look like trannies now. Was that depiction of Wonder Woman 12-year old Ben's idealized vision of the female form? Yikes.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ben's First Minute Holiday Comics Spending Guide

Last Sunday, Kiel posted his Last Minute Christmas Comics Shopping Guide and gave a great selection of four color options to put under the Christmas tree come Thursday morning. I highly recommend you give it a look if you haven't already (which I'm kinda assuming you have, given that you clearly read our blog) as Kiel presented a great variety of comics for everybody, from indies to kids books and everything in between.

Now of course, the holidays have come and gone, but I'm sure you've found yourselves with a variety of gift cards to Amazon, Borders and the like and need some swag to buy. Never fear, CKT-ites, enter Ben Morse!

My list isn't as varied, but I make up for it by being non-denominational, what with my half-Jewish heritage and all. So here are some of my favorite comics of 2008...

John Rogers' two-or-so year solo run as the writer of Blue Beetle (ably artistically assisted most of the time by Rafael Albequerque), if there is justice in this world, will at the very least go down in comics' history as a cult favorite that was underappreciated in its time and gets fondly recalled down the line. It was such a shining example of the all-too-rare art of stringing together a highly enjoyable series of short stories that stand alone just fine, but read as a larger work kick all different kinds of ass. "Endgame" was where all the strands came together in a fantastic explosion of action and fun, with Rogers writing a Justice League International reunion that would make his buddy BB co-creator Keith Giffen proud, giving every member of the sprawling supporting cast a moment to shine, and showing why Jaime Reyes is the most endearing teenage character of this generation.

My buddy Geoff Johns is actually quite the funny fellow, but he doesn't always get a chance to put his sense of humor on display in his comic writing. For that reason, I got a real kick out of his 12 issues on Booster Gold, where, alongside co-writer Jeff Katz and rejuvenated artist of the year Dan Jurgens, he got to show off his comedic chops monthly while not sacrificing any of his other talents along the way. This collection of the back half of said run packs the bwa-ha-ha into a cool multiversal adventure with major stakes that highlights one of comics' greatest duos (Booster and Ted Kord, aka Blue Beetle) while also showcasing some of DC's underutilized greats (including Wild Dog!).

At its best, Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson's "let's poke some fun at super heroes in the most vulgar ways" joyride, The Boys, is actually a book with a lot of heart, and "Good for the Soul" was a story where that showed through. Wee Hughie, the genuine nice guy stuck in this seedy, over the top world of walking atom bombs without morals, is one of my favorite characters in comics, and his romance with Annie January, this story's primary focus, is so genuine you wonder why Ennis isn't writing romantic comedies (probably all the anal rape and sex with hampsters stuff). Oh, and there's punching and dirty jokes too.

Sometimes it seems like Ed Brubaker has been playing his own personal game of "Can You Top This" with extreme parameters on Captain America, and this year was no exception. After bringing back Bucky (gasp!) then killing off Steve Rogers (what?!) then somehow keeping the book going (and going strong) anyhow (huh?!), 2008 was the year Ed brewed those ingredients together and made Bucky a new Cap for a new more dangerous than ever America. "The Man Who Bought America" doubled as BuckyCap's trial by fire and the culmination to the Red Skull uber-plot Brubaker has been building since issue one. It's the transition of Captain America from the ensemble book it has been since Rogers' death back to a solo title, and as usual, Brubaker excels, with Steve Epting matching him on art. If you're looking for a top notch thriller that kicks the crap out of any Tom Clancy novel and also want to see some true comic book masters at work, you could do a lot worse than this bad boy.

I don't think I'm alone in feeling that Captain Britain and MI13 was one of 2008's most pleasant surprises. This initial arc was the most "Braveheart" of the Secret Invasion tie-ins, the type of story that really made you feel good and cheer the good guys regardless of the seemingly insurmountable odds. Paul Cornell was masterful in making career bit players like Pete Wisdom and Spitfire "our" characters, folks who seemed real, likable and the type of folks you'd want to follow into battle and/or get a beer with. This arc runs the gamut from epic big screen battle stuff to nice little character work, particularly with the Black Knight and Cornell and artist Leonard Kirk's new creation, Faiza.

Speaking of great culminations and huge blockbuster war stories, over in Fables this year, Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham had the daunting task of paying off their first 70 issues of build and did so with a story that played like "Apocalypse Now" starring Prince Charming and the Big Bad Wolf, and yes, that is as awesome as it sounds. Willingham times the beats perfectly and comes up with all the clever flourishes you'd expect from this series (the use of Sleeping Beauty as a WMD is particularly brilliant), but I also think Mr. Buckingham gets too often overlooked for managing a cast of thousands and making the little touches like panel borders fun month in and out. If you've ever been a fan of Fables, you owe it to yourself to check back in with this collection.

If you've got a group of friends you talk comics with regularly, there's a good chance you heard the following at some point this year: "I've never been a fan of Ghost Rider, but man, Jason Aaron's run is pretty rad!" (Ok, if you're not one of my friends sub out "rad" for a more sensible adjective) This first Aaron arc demonstrates why his take works so well: he doesn't try to write around the fact that Ghost Rider is basically a 70's grindhouse horror flick come to life (he's a guy with a flaming skull on a motorcycle, gang), he embraces it and invites you to hang on for the ride with cannibalistic cops, chainsaw-wielding zombies and ninja nurses as well as all the high octane chase scenes you can handle. It's campy, it's over-the-top, but most of all it's fun. Pick up this book, check the part of your brain that is whiny and critical at the door, and just enjoy.

I kinda see Guardians of the Galaxy as being the spiritual cousin to Captain Britain and MI13: another great team book launched in 2008 focused on a niche (sci fi here to MI13's magic concentration) that succeeded on the writers being smart and playing an eclectic cast and quirky mission statement to full potential. Too many team books launch with such nebulous purposes that something like "this is the sci fi team and they're policing the areas of the Marvel Universe beyond Earth" is gold in the right hands, and the hands of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning are definitely those. DnA from the word go took full advantage of the fact that they've got a massive canvas on which to paint (Marvel Universe is big, y'all) and built wonderfully complex and entertaining relationships among their band of misfits (Star-Lord's neurotic micomanagement of everybody, Adam Warlock and Gamora's frostiness towards one another, Drax's weird faux-fatherly treatment of Quasar, etc.). It certainly doesn't hurt that Paul Pelletier is perfectly built to draw space opera. Add all that together, stir in some intriguing mysteries, and you've got a decent soup analogy to describe a great book that you'll want to jump on from the start.

Matt Sturges and his conspirators semi-quietly launched the (for my money) best new ongoing series out of Vertigo in years with House of Mystery. Aside from the central and continuing main horror/mystery/romantic plot of a strange quintet trapped inside an even stranger haunted house, House of Mystery also has a (again, for my money) brilliant set-up for its anthology portion: the fee at the House's bar (which the main characters run) is stories, so the guests provide tales of every genre, illustrated by an impressive stable of guest artists. Whether you dig the main course, the trimmings or both, you're getting a lot of bang for you buck with this series.

At some point this year, I'm pretty sure Incredible Hercules became my favorite ongoing comic book series. Not sure quite when, not sure quite how, but the answers could likely be found in this collection. Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente have blended humor, action and drama about as seamlessly as I've seen any writers do in quite some time. They've elevated not one but two characters in Hercules and Amadeus Cho from also-rans to legitimate main eventers and created a buddy duo that can hang with the Luke Cage/Iron Fist and Booster Gold/Blue Beetle pairings of the world, no problem. The high point of many over the past twelve months came when Herc and Cho launched into space alongside a grouping so random it's both comical and awesome (a team with Snowbird, Ajak and a dude who eats gods? Sign me up!) to fight the Skrull gods and prevent them from sealing the deal on Secret Invasion. You get the chuckles inherent to any Herc story, the pathos of the Lion of Olympus angsting over possibly not being able to protect another young charge, the glorious slugfests of the God Squad against Nightmare and the Skrulls, and SI's "Who Can You Trust?" mantra being as well-utilized as anywhere. Did I mention that artist Rafa Sanodval is a diamond in the rough? Love love love this comic!

Mark Millar's ode to the 80's wasn't universally-beloved in all quarters, but I really dug it and think those willing to give it a chance will have a lot of fun. The premise of super villains and super heroes showing up in the real world isn't a new one, but Millar knows how to manage the sense of wonder and play 1985 for the "Goonies"-like ride it should be, not needing to make any sort of big statement other than "I really love this shit and I'm having a good time with it!" Tommy Lee Edwards also brings it on art duties, offering truly unique takes on classic Marvel characters (his Lizard is dope) and giving the story an appropriately otherworldly feel. 1985 isn't a filet mignon, it's a juicy cheeseburger, and if you go in expecting that, your belly will be filled nicely.

It's an absolute pleasure to see my all-time favorite character not only continuing to star in his own ongoing series, but for said series to maintain the high quality that Nova has under Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning as well as artist Wellinton Alves. "Knowhere" is DnA's chance to expand Nova's world after taking him back to Earth and then miring him in Annihilation: Conquest, and they swing straight for the fences, bringing him to the hollowed-out head of a Celestial where he encounters a new interstellar super team and a telepathic Russian canine named Cosmo. Sound weird? It can be, but DnA make it magic. However, every other included issue aside, I have to recommend this collection if for no other reason than Nova Annual #1, which I have spoken on previously, as it gives the best capsule explanation of why Nova rocks so hard and why he is not just a Green Lantern knockoff ever.

Kiel gave some great recommendations on comics for kids in his last entry, but I'd add Teen Titans: Year One as a product not just great for kids, but for fans of all ages. TV veteran/comics rookie Amy Wolfram comes on like a pro and updates the original Titans' origin story with charm and energy. She does a great job at distilling down each Titan to their most engaging and outstanding characteristics and bringing them to life with a vigor that sets them miles apart from their Silver Age incarnations. And, of course, I'd be remiss in not mentioning the gorgeous work of Karl Kerschl, who delivers the best performance of an already-impressive career with his heroic Robin, cute-as-a-button Wonder Girl, inhuman Aqualad, etc.

I don't think any of us "in the know" really knew what to expect when Gerard Way from My Chemical Romance announced he'd be making inroads into comics, but I've encountered very few who read the initial volume of Umbrella Academy and were disappointed with what they got. It's out there, it's surreal, and its timeline is all over the place, but I had no problem following the story of "Apocalypse Suite" and dug the kooky voices Way gave his characters, the wild scenes of destruction, and Gabriel Ba's unique way of portraying it all. This is a case where it's tougher to describe why I liked it than to just say give it a shot and you won't be let down.

We close with the second part of my Jason Aaron two-fer, as he teams with artist Ron Garney to craft the type of Wolverine story I love to read. Following "Messiah CompleX," Cyclops sends Wolverine to track down Mystique by any means necessary, leading him on a wild chase through the middle east where Logan gets shot up, blown up and torn up as he pursues the type of femme fatale you can tell both creators relish working with. But while that's all well and good, the real meat of "Get Mystique!" is the ongoing flashback to Wolverine and Mystique's partnership from decades earlier when both ran on the wrong side of the law and teamed up for a good ol' fashioned bank caper that goes more than awry. As I believe I've said here before, I think many of Wolverine's best stories take place when he's away from the X-Men and dropped into a gritty genre tale like a western, a crime noir yarn or the martial arts brouhaha Mr. Aaron is currently weaving over in Wolverine: Manifest Destiny. "Get Mystique!" is that type of story, one that Aaron excels at, and with characters he clearly has a knack for playing with. Garney also turned in the best work he's done in years on this one and blew my mind in the process. I'd love a sequel to this sucker and am looking forward to the creative team reuniting with Wolvie in 2009 on Wolverine: Weapon X.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Paragraph Movie Reviews: The Wrestler

Not since the original "Rocky" have I seen a movie that doubles so well as an adrenaline rush sports story and flat out impressive piece of film as "The Wrestler." While it shares plenty thematically and in other places with "Rocky" and other works in the genre, there is no question "The Wrestler" stands on forcefully on its own as an amazing piece of work. The first twenty minutes or so are an intense and captivating look at the "so brutal you won't believe they didn't make this up" worl of professional wrestling. I was actually a bit concerned that if the whole movie was going to follow that I would enjoy it as a wrestling fan but it might not have a broader appeal, but from there it shifts to a second act with nary a bodyslam in sight in favor of some of the most emotional and wrenching character drama you will see anywhere. Without question and as you have probably read elsewhere, Mickey Rourke IS this movie, not only giving the performance of his career, but one that I'd hold up against some of the greats. His Randy "The Ram" Robinson is one of the most charming and endearing yet tragic characters I have seen brought to life in ages. Rourke inhabits the role so completely, physically and emotionally, and draws you into his world, making you care about this lovable loser (and never has the term been more appropriate) to an unbelievable degree. You don't just root for "The Ram" to overcome his past failures, you wince and get a genuine swell of concern in your heart that he never will. Marisa Tomei turns in a true acclaim-worthy performance (forget "My Cousin Vinny") and creates chemistry with Rourke as well as a character that perfectly complements Randy (though I confess having a little trouble believing the clients at the strip joint she danced at thought she was old and unappealing given the borderline excessive but smoking hot dance scenes); unlike some other movies I've seen of late, the love story is not a weak spot here. Evan Rachel Wood is fine, but honestly, it could have been any young female actress sitting across from Rourke as he carries every scene on his own. The cast of legitimate wrestlers who fill out the cast bring a realism both to the wrestling scenes as well as the somewhat sad commentary on a business that inspires such fanatic devotion from its young while eating away at its last generation. Lest I forget, there's no question that Darren Aranofsky's handiwork was all over his latest work in a very positive way. At first, I wondered if the continued first-person over the shoulder camera shots following Rourke would get excessive, but they turn out to be the perfect choice. Even if I didn't know from reading reports, I think I'd know how painstakingly Aranofsky researched his subject material for this film, as it shows all over. I could go on about how strongly "The Wrestler" hit me and how amazing Mickey Rourke was and how I wanted another hour and how brilliant the deli scene was, but I'll stop myself. Did I likely enjoy this movie slightly more than most might given my interest in the subject matter (not to mention the awesome 80's hair metal sound track)? Probably, but I'll still defy a non-wrestling fan to find much fault with "The Wrestler," because it's simply that good.

(And, again, as a wrestling fan, who once again saw what these men put their bodies through, particularly in the twilight of their lives, I have to wonder if there isn't a better way, and hope that there is)

Friday, December 26, 2008

How Werewolf By Night and I Saved Christmas

Hey there and happy holidays from beautiful Newton, Massachusetts. Hope you are all well.

Now that you've weathered the rush of friends, families and festivities and are kicking back enjoying left over turkey, allow me to ask you a question: have you taken a look at the FREE Marvel Digital Holiday Special featuring Werewolf By Night in "Werewolf By Eve" by myself and Stephanie Buscema yet? Even if you have, allow me a quick story...

Three-year-old Jack Gregorio of Haverhill, Massachusetts has had a horrible fear of wolves all his life (which is of course rare, since most people are completely comfortable with wolves). Fortunately, his mother, the lovely and talented Tara Gregorio, works with my father, Abraham "Ned" Morse, who mentioned to her that his son had just written a touching story of Christmas cheer featuring comics' most famous werewolf.

Young Jack (Gregorio, not Russell) read "Werewolf By Eve" and has thought wolves are the coolest ever since (true story).

So if you've got a young person you care about with a crippling fear of wolves or just think they'd appreciate quality fiction, do them a favor and give them the Marvel Digital Holiday Special as a belated gift.

You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Holidays from the Cool Kids!

(Rickey is cut off, so click the pic!)

We'll be back soon. Have a safe and healthy one!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Books Without Pictures: The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Inside the Flap: For Sixty years Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. The Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. But now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their is coming to an end.
Homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. And in the cheap hotel where Landsman has washed up, someone has just committed a murder--right under his nose. When he begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy, word comes down from on high that is the case to be dropped immediately, and Landsman finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.

I found this to be a somewhat disappointing offering from a fella I consider one of my favorite contemporary fiction writers, Michael Chabon (and no, not just because it lacked the comic book connection of "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay").

The premise and the set-up are solid bits of business. Chabon does a nice job utilizing the tool of an alternate history without making it so overwhelming you feel like you're reading forced science fiction. The twist is nothing so drastic as Hitler conquering America or anything like that, simply that Jews were forced to relocate to North America en masse and placed in a sort of polite ghetto to make their way. The sense that the residents of Sitka are on borrowed time place a ticking clock over their collective head that heightens the sense of urgency, always a good thing in a mystery, and only intensifies as the novel goes on.

Chabon also gets to do some decent world-building in creating that "vibrant and complex frontier city" described up top, something he's very good at. He makes sure we get a full tour of Sitka, from the shambling area Landsman calls home to the kingdom built on crime where the Verbovers dwell and all places in between. The different sub-locales each feel distinct, but with a unifying tone of people sleepwalking through a temporary existence. It certainly seems like the skies are always grey in Sitka, and you can visualize it through Chabon's description, another area in which he has traditionally excelled from a writing standpoint.

And yet Chabon's greatest strengths also seem to be his most glaring weaknesses in this book.

Chabon abuses his tremendous gift for description. Each new character, setting or even item of clothing gets at least a full paragraph devoted to its unpacking. Chabon certainly creates a vivid picture of what you're "seeing," but it's distracting. Advances of the plot or exchanges of dialogue are often broken up by huge blocks of text just describing the room or a way a characters carries himself. At first, it's a pleasure and adds to what Chabon is trying to achieve, but gradually the overabundance of description causes a reader such as myself not possessed of infinite patience to begin glazing over passages. Chabon fails to adhere to that old "show don't tell" chestnut in a way I feel he didn't have a problem with in "Kavalier & Clay."

Also, while I stand by my earlier praise of Chabon's fully-realized Sitka, I do think, particularly in the later chapters, he goes a bit overboard shuttling characters from place to place with little in the way of explanation aside from the literary equivalent of jump cuts. Trying to figure how Landsman got from point A to point D and then how the other characters followed him is another distraction from the good stuff. It screws with the solid pacing that Chabon sets up early on and makes time seem too fluid.

The strongest aspect of this novel, in my opinion, is definitely the mystery that Landsman is attempting to solve. It is engaging, complex and tough to figure out; that last part can make it hard to follow at times, but the first two parts are strong enough that you don't mind. Chabon skillfully hitches on issues of faith and destiny to what could be a simple street level homicide puzzle and does so in a manner that keeps their importance ambiguous. Are they actual clues or are they distractions? You'll be guessing to the end.

Because the central mystery is so good, it's a bit frustrating when Chabon veers off in many different directions along the way. I understand the need to pepper a romantic subplot and other running B-stores throughout a plot like this, but I'm convinced they could have been worked in less clumsily in this case. Landsman's relationship with his ex-wife is definitely a compelling thread I want to see given service, but it gets dropped in at the most awkward times, then forgotten about for too long, and then brought back in with changes seemingly having taken place "off stage." Landsman's thorny family tree is also intriguing, but similarly ping ponged in and out of the story at inopportune times. The death of Landsman's sister before the start of the novel is a perfect example of a plot point brought up at the beginning of the book and then forgotten for nearly 300 pages before it comes roaring back with a vengeance.

As far as the characters go, I liked them, but I didn't fall in love with them. Landsman is the classic "damaged goods" cop that usually stars in a story like this; Chabon's writing puts him a slight notch above the norm, but he's not so much anything special. Berko and Bina, Landsman's cousin/partner and ex-wife/boss respectively, are far more interesting, one a semi-gentle giant struggling with identity issues derived from a mixed Jewish/Indian heritage plus major daddy issues, the other a strong-willed female cop who outshines her former spouse in just about every way and displays an endearing willfulness. The rest of the assorted rogues and heavies, with a sympathetic face sprinkled in every now and again for good measure, are interesting enough, though tough to keep track of without a scorecard. Perhaps the most interesting character of all proves to be the murdered party, who, via flashback, we see to be a unique mix of eccentric and would-be messiah.

However, it's the collective "voice" of this book's characters that proved one of the biggest stumbling blocks for me. Chabon takes the tried and true gritty sarcasm of classic crime noir and overdoses to the point where it becomes overconfidence and a general dismissive tone. A pet peeve of mine when reading comic books is when characters are so quippy or alternately world weary that they project a sense of general apathy towards every threat they face. In most cases, this the writer trying to make their character seem cool and charismatic, but the end result for me is a reduction of stakes and my interest in said characters. I'd say Chabon is definitely guilty of this here, as Landsman brushes aside every challenge, injury or intimidating presence with a smarmy remark. It's one thing for his life to be so shitty he feels he has nothing to lose, but another for me as a reader to feel that way about him; if he's already at rock bottom and afraid of nothing, why should I care if he's put in harm's way? I should care about his ostensible quest for redemption, but if he's on one (which is questionable), I don't. Some of the other characters show flashes of emotion, but it's Landsman's eyes through which we view the world, and ultimately it makes for a ride that's bland in many places.

I guess my final quibble would be with the way Chabon employs Jewish and Yiddish linguistics, but that's not really a fair bone to pick; if I pick up a book called "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" with the foreknowledge that I don't know Yiddish or get most Jewish slang, I've only myself to blame when this lack of familiarity becomes annoying.

In final analysis, "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" is a novel I find many flaws with, but one I concede I found for the most part engaging in spite of them. I kept coming back for more, so obviously something was being done right. If anything, I'd say the book is entertaining if not well-crafted, which is disappointing because it's Michael Chabon and he's capable of delivering both. Am I being harsher on the book because it's Chabon? Probably, but that's the price ou pay for winning a Pulitzer, I suppose.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Kiel's Last Minute Christmas Comics Shopping Guide

If you're like me, you're starting your Christmas shopping on Monday. If you're even more like me, you spend a lot of your Christmas bucks buying things that interest you in an attempt to give your family members something to talk to you about for the next 12 months that isn't whether or not your making ends meat. If you're super duper like me, you're a giant nerd and you're reading a comics blog over Christmas break. So let's combine all the things into one segment with a targeted list of comics you can pawn off on your loved ones on Thursday morning!

All of these are either new releases or relatively new enough that you should be able to find them with minimal snooping in any big box bookstore near the mall in you area (might I suggest shopping at Borders so they don't go out of business in 2009, screwing over so many good comic companies in the process?) And Ben should have a similar list up in the next day or so...get pumped for that!

Comic for anyone you can't think of anything else for and it's Christmas Eve and you're at the mall and "FUCK! Just check me out right now!!!":

Bone by Jeff Smith

I've yet to find any intelligent person from any walk of life who can't find something to enjoy in Jeff Smith's funny animal fantasy epic, so it's a safe bet that buying this last minute isn't a total waste of money regardless of who you end up giving it to. It's probably best to start with the first volume of the Scholastic edition rather than shelling out for the Bible-sized one volume edition, but really anything will do in a pinch, even a later trade from the series. It's that good.

Comic for anyone in your family that prides themselves on being a know-it-all:

Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Honestly, when Zack Snyder's film adaptation hits theaters in March there are going to be about ten million ass hats walking out the theater with really pretentious voices going, "You see, in the original graphic novel..." Even if you've got such observations about the film, don't be one of those people. Hold your nerd nit picks for the car ride home. BUT...if you've got a member of the family who always acts like this anyway, buying them an edition of Watchmen to read in advance of what is going to be the mega film of 2009 is a no brainer move. It'll make them feel good, and it's a bit of insider knowledge you can hold over them the next time they get in your face about some bullshit. If you can't find this comic for sale this week, you are legally blind.

Comic for an adult type person who really dug one of the past year's two good superhero movies:

Invincible Iron Man Vol. 1 by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca


Batman: Lovers and Madmen by Michael Green and Denys Cowan

A whole hell of a lot of people saw Robert Downey, Jr. ham up the screen in Marvel's insanely entertaining "Iron Man" this summer, and even my mom saw the blockbuster of the decade that was "The Dark Knight," but even with these characters operating in the public consciousness at an all-time high, there aren't a lot of people flocking to check out their comic origins. Still, if you've got a family member who tells you, "Hey, those comic things seem pretty damn all right" every time a movie like this comes out, here's another two suggestions on what you might buy for them. For Iron Man, Matt Fraction's recent relaunch of the character's flagship title is pretty much a no brainer as the story arc reprinted in the "Five Nightmares" hardcover essentially serves as a sequel to the movie. Like, seriously. I'd have a hard time believing Marvel didn't plan this out if precognition wasn't a superpower that I assume Fraction carries in his arsenal.

For "The Dark Knight" things get a bit tougher as there are about 10,000 times as many Batman comics out there in all forms as Iron Man comics. The obvious go-to books to tie into director Chris Nolan's take on the bat-mythos in general includes anything by Frank Miller and in specific terms of this movie, DC has been pushing Alan Moore and Brian Bolland's The Killing Joke as well as the more recent Joker hardcover from Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo. But because the three of you reading this blog are already probably really familiar with superheroes in general as well as the first two Batman examples and because I heard the third one wasn't too hot, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest you pick up Lovers and Madmen -- a Joker origin story written by Michael Green (a "Heroes" writer who left to start his own show after season 2) that I pretty much dug when I read it in single issue form. I'm sure plenty of you will take issue with this pick for some dumb reason, but I don't want to hear it. I've already spent too much time on fanboy stuff on this list. Let's cleanse the pallet with...

Comic for any kid who you think might like to draw, and you want to encourage to draw comics instead of death metal tattoos:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Do-It-Yourself Book by Jeff Kinney

There's a good chance that any 6 to 12-year-old in your family who likes to read in general is already somewhat familiar with Jeff Kinney's New York Times best-selling book series. While the third volume isn't in stores until mid-January and purchase of the first two volumes may end up being book shelf redundancies for your kid in question, this neat comics/sketchbook/diary hybrid is a pretty solid pick. Even if they've already read it or if they don't care for the comics themselves, there are plenty of blank pages within for your young family members to write and draw their observations about how you're a weirdo.

Comic for your middle school aged niece who likes things like Twilight and the Jonas Brothers and who you have a hard time keeping up a conversation with when it doesn't contain the phrase "So how's school?":

Chiggers by Hope Larson

At face value, it's pretty hard to tell if a lot of media for pre-teen and younger teenage girls represents an honest and thoughtful attempt to create something they can relate to or something snarky and hollow that will help them place a greater amount of importance on lip gloss than self-worth. Rather than buy they tweener girl in your family a giant button with Donny or whoever on it (No, I'm kidding...I know Jordan is the cute one), I highly suggest you seeking out a copy of Hope Larson's charming summer camp tale. Aside from respecting the taste and intelligence of her intended audience (not always a given in YA lit), Larson crafts a really subtle and sweet story packed with killer art and plenty of relatable characters and situations. I really haven't checked around bookstores lately to see if this volume is as easy to find as I hope it is, so as an added incentive, here's where you can find it on Amazon.

Comic for the teen in your family who already likes manga and you want to seem cool and knowledgeable to:

BECK by Harold Sakuishi


Nana by Ai Yazawa

I might be the only person out there worried about this, but I can't shake a feeling of dread as to what will happen if the legions of young teens currently sitting Indian style in the manga aisles of Borders and Barnes & Noble decide in the next three years or so that they'd rather play video games or start rock bands or attempt to become sexually active. I'm not sure there's much we can do about this possible turn of events, but just in case you know a kid who's been devouring Naruto or Fruit's Baskets volumes the past two or three years and are rapidly approaching high school age, here are two Japanese comics series that I think serve as a great bridge to a bit more sophisticated material. Sakuishi's BECK relates the standard "young teenage boys start a rockin' band" narrative in high style with rafts of fun plot turns and hip music references. Perfect for any teen just discovering punk. Yazawa's Nana delivers a similar narrative from a female perspective but with more complicated plot twists and a bit more intense romantic content. I'm not super deep into either series, so I can't decide which I like better, but both are good and will make you look cool if you care about that thing (and we all know you do).

Comic for the person in your family who really likes Wes Anderson movies and/or absurdism and/or getting high:

The Amazing Remarkable Monsieur Leotard by Eddie Campbell and Dan Best

The funniest comic book I read all year. And while I readily admit that Campbell and Best's tale of a second generation circus performer who fails upwards through history isn't for everyone, its bizarre narrative and frequency of totally absurd jokes will appeal perfectly to the person in your family who quoted Monty Python sketches constantly throughout their teen years (or maybe still today?). Yes, get it for that person, and they'll love you forever.

Comic for the person you respect but who thinks comics are just for kids and who you already bought Maus for some other time:

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

To my mind, this extremely literate comics memoir is well on its way to replacing Art Spiegelman's masterpiece as the go-to "introduce a non-believer to the comics form" comic, and for a few reasons. For one, it's probably much cheaper a buy than snagging up the two Maus hardcovers or scouring your area trying to find the one volume edition (and if you haven't figured it out by the rest of the picks on my list...I'm all about saving cash). Secondly, without making a qualitative comparison, what I like about Fun Home as opposed to Maus is that it doesn't have the easy to point to elements that scream "See...this is a serious comic!" (i.e. It won the Pulitzer! The Jews are mice and the Nazis are cats!). Fun Home presents a direct yet challenging piece of literature in the comics form that is generally a much better picture of what the waves of great graphic novels that appeal to non-comics readers these days are all about. Plus, in terms of this being a Christmas list...buying someone a Holocaust book for the holiday can be kind of fucking depressing, you know? Not that Fun Home screams happy go-lucky yucks on every page, but it's a bit more appropriate even in terms of sobering personal narratives.

Comic for any young reader without any of my goofy qualifiers:

A subscription to one of the many age-appropriate monthly comic books still published in America

When I was in elementary school, my grandma bought me multiple subscriptions to a variety of random Marvel and DC comic books every year, and I can't think of any gift I ended up loving more, regardless of the fact that I probably never thanked her enough. While I was already a fully fledged comics addict by that age and was getting titles like X-Men Classics, Aquaman, Spider-Man 2099 and Batman, which I had from the age of 12 until about two years ago and am seriously considering signing back up for in the new year, there are plenty of great options for younger boys and girls who've never picked up a comic that you can get by following the links below, including:

Archie Comics

Yeah, yeah...I know. Archie Comics are silly and vapid and present a totally unrealistic picture of American youth. But you know what? I still find them charming. I read Archies on and off as a kid, and while they never left a major impression on me the way some of the Disney kids comics did, I associate a lot of positive feelings with them and think plenty of other younger readers will too. Plus, Archie publishes some of the few kids comics specifically geared towards girls that you can actually find and buy. I know that's faint praise, but these things really are pretty cute.

DC Comics

For my money, DC publishes the best kids comics (generally branded "Johnny DC" books) released in the pamphlet format out there. There's a fair amount of variety available between the Cartoon Network specific books, the action-oriented boys books that anchor the whole Johnny DC imprint and editor Jann Jones' recent expansion into action-oriented comics for even younger kids. If you ask me, the best of the bunch right now is Mike Kunkel's Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam, but there are plenty of other options that any kid mildly into superheroes would dig. And if you're buying for someone who's a bit older and could handle one of DC's main line, there are plenty of solid options. Two years ago, I got my 12-year-old brother a subscription to All-Star Superman, and that went off pretty well. Today, I'd say Flash: Rebirth would turn a 6th grader's wheels.

Marvel Comics

Marvel similarly offers a nice mix of kid-friendly comics and their mainline titles at a cheaper rate. That kid-centric "Marvel Adventures" line doesn't quite have the variety or visual flair of DC's offerings (mostly the books look exactly like what you'd expect from the description "Marvel Universe light"), but some books have delivered the fun in a big way, particularly the Jeff Parker or Paul Tobin issues of Marvel Adventures Avengers. As an added bonus, Marvel is great about offering comics starring the characters of their most recent movies, so young Iron Man or Hulk fans are well taken care of. For slightly older readers, take a look at anything with First Class in the title, and for teens, Runaways can't be beat.

Nickelodeon Magazine

I really love the comics section that editors Chris Duffy and Dave Roman put together for this general interest kids publication put out in conjunction with the name brand children's network. If you're ever thinking about getting something worthwhile for a kid you know to read, and you don't think they're going to latch on to a comics-specific gift for some reason, this is a perfect gateway drug. It sounds dirty when I say it like that, doesn't it? Ah, well.

Friday, December 19, 2008

AIM Adventures: Misleading Title

TJ is about to tell Ben about what sounds like an awesome new TV show...

TJ: have you seen the commercials for this Bromance show?
Ben: NO
Ben: What?
TJ: it's that Brody Jenner kid
TJ: who showed up on 2 different reality shows on 2 different networks
TJ: (Keeping Up with the Kardashians and The Hills)
TJ: apparently he's so lame he needs a reality show to get him a friend
TJ: it looks awful
TJ: it also brings the grand total of Laguna Beach spinoffs to 3
Ben: Fuck that
Ben: You taunt me with an awesome show title like Bromance and then hand me a Hills spinoff?
Ben: Cold, even for you
TJ: haha
TJ: blame MTV
Ben: I blame you
Ben: You could have said, "Hey, you hear about the new Hills spinoff?" and I could have said "Don't care"
Ben: But you drew me in, like a spider to its web
TJ: i saw the preview while watching a made about a fat kid who wants to do a triathalon
TJ: that's how i roll
Ben: This conversation is going on my blog. The world is going to see you for what you are.
TJ: i'm gonna be famous!
Ben: At least 12 people will know who you are
TJ: you get 12 readers? i'm jealous

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Pimping My Stuff: Marvel Holiday Special Now Live!

Thanks to Marvel's spirit of Christmas, John "Santa" Cerilli, and his stalwart crew of digital elfs, the Marvel Digital Holiday Special is now live and FREE!

That's right ladies and gents, head on over to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited and enjoy some early holiday merriment! "Werewolf By Eve" starring Werewolf By Night by me and Stephanie Buscema! The X-Men celebrate their first holiday season in San Francisco courtesy of Jim McCann and Todd Nauck! Ryan Penagos and Juan Doe present a creepy Secret Invasion aftermath! And last but not least, Brian Reed and Val Semeiks pit the Illuminati against Santa Claus! It's all Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited and enjoy right here!

On a personal note for me, it was an incredible thrill for me to get to do this and a remarkable honor to have my rinky dink one-page story made awesome by no less than the granddaughter of the legendary John Buscema, one of my all-time favorite artists. Even better was getting to share these pages with good buddies of mine like Ryan, Jim, Todd and Juan.

So check out the comic and happy holidays!

By the way, for anybody checking out the digicomic, it IS free. When it offers your the chance to subscribe after a few pages, if you don't want to, just click no and it will take you back to the comic.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Subway: The Fall of An Empire?

It took my father and I 14 years and the glorious limb-destroying sport of amatuer wrestling to realize that basketball was simply not for me. However, the highlight of those many Satudays mornings spent at the West Suburban YMCA in Newton, Massachusetts trying to shoot jump shots from under the overhanging track was--aside from quality time with my dad--trips to the Subway sandwich shop down the street for a well-earned lunch.

In those days before I had my own car, fast food was a commodity, not a thing of regularity, and Subway was definitely my sandwich purveyor of choice. While Highlands Pizza was tops for all things Italian, somehow their meatball subs could still not match up to the majesty of Subway. There was just something about the way the "sandwich artists" of West Newton put just the right amount of marinara on the meatballs, perfectly applied the American cheese, and spoiled me with black olives that added up to culinary heaven.

But without question the secret weapon of Subway was the one-of-a-kind "Subway cut" used to slice their warm, fluffy Italian rolls. Whereas the conventional sandwich maker slices down the middle on one side from one end of a roll to the other and then opens it up horizontally, Subway employees were taught to cut from above, remove a middle strip from the top of the bread, stuff the toppings inside, and then reapply the displaced cap creating something was really more of a sandwich/calzone hybrid than merely a sub. Nobody could touch the "Subway cut."

During my counselor years at Camp Frank A. Day, nightly sojourns to the Leicester Subway made for a more steady diet of the good stuff than I'd had in my childhood years, but this was still a place where magic happened. Besides joining in the neverending game of trying to get the phone numbers of the girls working behind the counter (and winning more than once, I don't mind saying), I also expanded my horizons beyond the meatball sub, adding the Subway steak and cheese to my repetoire. I was really still too young to fully understand vegetables as anything more than the stuff off to the side of your plate, but the Subway steak and cheese gave me new appreciation for lettuce, tomatos, cucumbers and the occasional onion. But it was the thin-sliced, delectable steak piled high--along with the "Subway cut," of course--that made the sandwich.

While in college, my friend Jordan Geary and I would celebrate Wednesday, the greatest day of the week, by heading into New London for the first two parts of our personal holy trinity of purchasing new comics at Sarge's and paying a visit to the local Subway before heading back to school to take in the afternoon rerun of Melrose Place on E! If I recall correctly, Jordan favored the chicken parm, while I stuck to my meatball/steak and cheese rotation with a dedicated fervor.

However, at some point during my late college years, something went horribly wrong.

It began with Jared. You know Jared: the guy who lost all the weight eating Subway from the commercials. Now I had no problem knowing that Subway wasn't going to kill me, but this was my semi-guilty pleasure; I didn't want to be told it was GOOD for me. And just the fact that Subway now had a national commercial campaign (and lame "Eat Fresh" slogan) stripped away the mystique of my favorite eatery.

But that was only the first of the awful changes to come. The next was a blanket switch of meats that led to the replacement of thin-sliced steak with ghastly steak chunks! And they needed to be microwaved! I gave the "new" steak and cheese the old college try, but once was enough to see it was dead to me. At least I still had my beloved meatball.

Then...the unthinkable happened.

An edict came down from somewhere on high (from Jared? Figurehead or puppet master? We may never know) banning the "Subway cut"! The one thing that separated Subway from all other peddlers of sandwich goods, that which lifted them up where they belonged (much as love does), was gone. I could see the dignity begin stripped from my beloved sandwich artists as they were forced to eschew their hard-practiced skills for the simple clean cut traditional method. For a time, I was able to coerce some traditionalists to continue cutting "old school" for me, but these stalwarts were quickly wiped out and deprogrammed.

The summer of 2004, following my graduation from college, I relocated several days a week to East Brookfield, MA and Camp Frank A. Day, where I did grunt work setting up the camp before the staff or campers got there. Without companionship, I attempted to rekindle my passion for Subway with mixed results. I could never truly enjoy a meatball sub or steak and cheese again with the knowledge of what I'd so recently lost fresh in my mind, but I opened myself up to new options such as the Subway Club, which I could experience without any tainted memories of superior product. Nonetheless, it was hard to watch these wet behind the ears pups who had never learned the true way to produce a Subway sandwich stumbling behind the counter of my former shrine to tasty goodness.

After moving to New York, I would frequent the Subway along Route 17 semi-regularly, generally purchasing the Subway Club and remembering better days. The chicken/bacon/ranch melt provided a brief renaissance, but could not hold my interest.

And that brings us to the present, and my residence in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, pearl of the East. There is a Subway down the street from us and I make frequent use of it. For a good while, the lack of the Subway I remembered was offset by the presence of a kindly man with a wonderful moustache who worked nearly every night and who always wore a smile. His expertise and dedication to the Subway Club, Italian BMT and even the meatball sub was a rare shining moment in a regime that had long since fallen from its glory days.

Sadly, my friend at Subway disappeared a few months ago, leaving my sandwiches in the hands of a generation who probably wouldn't understand the "Subway cut" if I drew them a diagram. I had a Subway Club tonight that I was actually enjoying until I became disgusted with how low my standards have become.

So this is my challenge to you, Subway workers of America: look to your past to build your future. $5 Footlongs are not the answer; the answer is seeking out those pioneers who built your proud franchise in the lean days and learning all you can from them. They were exemplary in a time when the words "mediocrity" and "Subway" simply did not go together under any circumstances. Lean "the cut." Bring back the good steak. I beg you to restore your empire to glory.

Otherwise, I'm going to Quizno's.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ben's Indy Odyssey: The Mourning Star

Firstly, I was not aware that this was only part one of whatever, and thus was expecting shit to be resolved by the time I got to the end and was greatly disappointed when it was not. As Rickey was drunk when he gave me this, I lay the blame 100% on the shoulders of David Paggi for misling me.

Secondly, I read about two thirds of this in one sitting and then finished a few days later; this was a mistake as I see now it would have read better all at once.

Those points aside, I did have fun with this, though I wouldn't place it in the pantheon of the best indy stuff I've read. At times, I felt like I was on a really cool roadtrip where there was a lot of neat stuff to see, but I didn't have a map and thus was a bit too preoccupied with getting lost to fully enjoy what I was taking in. I guess that's a metaphoricaly way for me to say that the splintered narrative through me a bit, especially in the beginning. Once I got a hang of things, I actually appreciated the shifting focus between the two main stories, but at first, it was too rickety as I still couldn't keep track of the first set of characters and then had a second dumped on me.

The stuff I really enjoyed was the world-building parts. I like all the thought and backstory that Strzepek put into the landscape and the mythology of it all. I liked learning bits of culture like how the different races regarded each other and also dug the half-explained stuff like the Mr. Hanky thing eating people's dreams by going in their mouths when they were asleep. Bits like that were just fun. I also got an inexplicable amount of glee about there being some caste of feared warrior called a "Snipper Sniper" and it's some guy who fights with a pair of scissors as his weapons. I enjoyed this stuff, the fights and the banter far more than the love story, which, for whatever reason; I get that it's kinda a must for this genre of storytelling to have a quest revolving around a lost lover, but it was my least favorite part.

The art was perfectly servicable in some places and really cool in others. The battle scenes and just the designs of the different species were pretty dope.

Overall, didn't rock my world, but made me fer sure want to read the next part and find out what happens (particularly to that father and son in the beginning who I was waiting for them to circle back around to the entire time).

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Rasslin' Ramblings: WWE Armageddon

Continuing the "Weekend of Content You Don't Care About" that I kicked off with my Golden Globes post, today it's time to talk pro wrestling!

I've been a fan of pro wrestling fan since I was about eight years old, during the times it was cool to be and when it was not. I remember the first pay-per-view event I ever watched was the World Wrestling Federation's Survivor Series show on Thanksgiving night in 1990. My dad ordered it and watched it with me and my little sister. The Undertaker made his first appearance and I got to see my favorite wrestler, "Texas Tornado" Kerry Von Erich, get pinned by Mr. Perfect. About a year and a half later, I got suspended from third grade for fighting and my parents stopped letting me watch wrestling (but I still did anyways on a tiny TV with a screen about six inches squared in my walk-in closet; sorry, Mom and Dad).

After a few years off, I started watching wrestling again in junior high with my buddies during the height of the "Monday Night Wars" between the WWF and World Championship Wrestling. Me and my boys in the "Newton World Order" (we lived in Newton, Massachusetts and were awesome) would watch Raw (or Nitro) every Monday and go to live events. We dressed up as the Right to Censor for a Smackdown taping. We even ad our own Newton South Hardcore title, a toy WWF belt we bought and then could win from one another via pinfall at any time, 24/7 (this led to brawls in the cafeteria, me pinning my buddy Alex on the hood of his mom's car, and many more similar incidents).

In college, the WWF bought WCW and wrestling became a lot less cool, but I'd still head over to my buddy Jay's apartment off campus to watch Raw (and mostly make fun of it). I also started writing for 411mania and later Inside Pulse, which actually, eventually, led me to my job at Wizard which led me to my job at Marvel--so thanks, wrestling!

Today, I still DVR wrestling and watch it on the weekends when Megan is doing something else. Maybe it's my comfort food, I dunno. Regardless, I can't really foresee a day that I'm not a wrestling fan.

So today on my blog (that I share with two other people who don't know/care about a wristlock from a wristwatch), we're gonna talk wrestling. Specifically, we (meaning me) are gonna talk about my picks for tomorrow's WWE Armageddon show...

John Cena (c) vs Chris Jericho for the World Championship
I'm a big Cena fan because he's a hard worker, has crazy charisma, is from the Boston area and is, by all indications, a legit good guy outside of the ring (I hope that Matt Damon will star in a biopic about his life in the near future). However, he's just dull as dishwater as World champion. I know from a business standpoint it makes sense for WWE to keep him on top because he sells a shit ton of merchandise and does good ratings, but the period this summer when he wasn't in the title picture and was just feuding with JBL was the most interesting he's been since 2005. In a perfect world, Chris Jericho (who I'm also a huge fan of) would get the strap back here and they'd build to the title vs career match he and Shawn Michaels should main event Wrestlemania XV with. Unfortunately, that awesome feud has lost too much steam with Michaels being more or less inconsequential the last couple months and I'm afraid that despite his having completely reinvented himself as the best pure heel in the business, this will be the closest Jericho gets to the title for the near future. On the bright side, these two always have great matches together.
Winner: John Cena

Triple Threat Match: Edge (c) vs Triple H vs Jeff Hardy for the WWE Championship
Winner isn't hard to call here as Edge seems earmaked as the heel who will carry a World title into Wrestlemania and lose it to whoever is going to be Smackdown's top babyface of 2009; the question is: who will that be? The fans have spoken and they want it to be Jeff Hardy. An Edge-Hardy title match at 'Mania would be awesome and Jeff winning the big belt would be the kind of feel good moment WWE fans have not had enough of in recent years. On the flipside, Triple H is still eliciting a decent reaction, but his act as a babyface has gotten stale. He needs to turn heel again, which is where he does his best work. Unfortunately, given Jeff's "personal demons," no matter how much they want it and the people want it, WWE may never commit to pulling the trigger with him. Regardless, the loser of this match will be more telling than the winner: whoever gets pinned is probably headed to the big show while the guy not involved in the fall will get a lame duck title shot next month at the Royal Rumble (I'd also like to see some sort of rationale behind the Edge-Vickie Guerrero reconciliation, but I'm not gonna hold my breath).
Winner: Edge

Batista vs Randy Orton
Speaking of guys with stale acts in need of a heel turn (or just...something), I give you Batista. Back in 2005, this guy was the absolute coolest mofo in the business, and I was right there with everybody else hanging off his every word or action, but somewhere along the way from there to here, the luster wore off. He's actually putting on better matches these days than he has in awhile, but as a character, he's going through the motions. On the other hand, Randy Orton has been totally reinvigorated since coming back from injury and aside from Jeff Hardy may be the most over guy in WWE (because whether the reaction is positive or negative, if it's loud, you're over). As to the match quality, these guys know each other well enough in the ring and have enough complementary intensity and movesets that it should be servicable at worst, something special at best. I'd look for Orton to win under screwy circumstances involving his second gen buddies to earn him a shot at Cena next month, and Batista to get frustrated in preparation for a heel (or at least tweener) turn so he and Cena can main event Wrestlemania.
Winner: Randy Orton

C.M. Punk vs Rey Mysterio (Winner gets an Intercontinental title shot)
First off, very cool that they're taking the time to build up the importance of the IC title with this tournament; it doesn't bother me that the week after they will go back to D-Lo Brown getting a shot after not having been on TV for months, the credibility boost will hopefully outlast that. I'm actually pretty pumped for this match (not enough that I would actually order this or any pay-per-view other than the Royal Rumble, but I am pumped to see it on WWE 24/7 in a few months) because it's rare these days that Rey Mysterio really gets a chance to showcase his skills. Years of risks and injuries have really reduced Rey's in-ring work dramatically, but to compound that, he's usually in there with guys much bigger than him who he can't get any (realistic) offense in on. Punk is a perfect opponent for him since, besides being damn skilled himself, he can get let Rey toss him around a bit without the match losing credibility. It's cool to see two guys who are ostensibly cruiserweights able to wrestle each other for stakes this high (and cool to see two former World champs going at it for a shot at the IC belt, which really elevates it). Rey seems headed into a feud with Mike Knox while current IC champ William Regal has already shown an interest in Punk, so the smart money here would be on Punk (but you never know).
Winner: C.M. Punk

Matt Hardy vs Vladimir Kozlov
Matt's ECW title isn't on the line here, but Kozlov's undefeated streak is, so that pretty much forecasts the result. I almost feel bad for big Vlad, as he's got the right look, the right demeanor and the right work ethic to be a monster heel, but there's something about him that's just bland. Oh well. I'm actually looking forward to seeing Matt defend his belt against the rapidly improving Jack Swagger, so hopefully this doesn't kick off a prolonged feud.
Winner: Vladimir Kozlov

Belfast Brawl: Finlay vs Mark Henry
Really can't be bothered to care, as despite both guys working hard and fitting nicely into their respective grooves on ECW lately, this match just doesn't seem like it matters. It seems like they're setting up (of all things) a face turn for Tony Atlas, so I'm guessing he'll inadvertently cost Henry the match here.
Winner: Finlay

Santa's Little Helper Match: Michelle McCool, Mickie James, Maria & Kelly Kelly vs Victoria, Natalya, Maryse & Jillian
An excuse to get the girls on the card and make my boss, former Head of Divas Operatons John Cerilli, happy. Michelle and Maria are kinda feuding, so they'll probably butt heads and screw things up for their team.
Winners: The team on the right (our right, not their right)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Awards Season: Picking the Golden Globes

Earlier this week, the nominations for the 2009 Golden Globes were announced. To use a food analogy, the Golden Globes are like the appetizer platter of award season. To use a baseball analogy, they're like the Chicago Cubs. Mixing those metaphors is a polite way to say that the Golden Globes are a delightful sampling of what's to come, but in the end they're not that crucial.

The good news is that despite not having gotten to actually most of the nominated films I want to yet (limited release and Saddle Brook, New Jersey do not make good bedfellows), I can make my Golden Globes picks based on irrationality and whims to get it out of my system before Oscars time!

The stuff I want to win in italics (if I care yet) and the stuff I think will win in bold (if they're one and the same, bold italics baby!)

(And let me say again: I seriously have little to no idea what I'm talking about in a lot of these categories. I will in a few months, but not yet. And I'm skipping foreign language stuff, songs, TV mini-series and anything else I have not only no idea about but no interest in)

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"
"The Reader"
"Revolutionary Road"
"Slumdog Millionaire"
(Haven't seen any of these yet, but hope to see all except maybe "The Reader" soon enough. If I were to pick a sentimental favorite just based on what I've read, it would be "Slumdog Millionaire")

Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire")
Stephen Daldry ("The Reader")
David Fincher ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button")
Ron Howard ("Frost/Nixon")
Sam Mendes ("Revolutionary Road")

Leonardo DiCaprio ("Revolutionary Road")
Frank Langella ("Frost/Nixon")
Sean Penn ("Milk")
Brad Pitt ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button")
Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler")
(There is no movie I'm more excited about to see in the coming weeks than "The Wrestler." I feel like Penn and Langella both have a shot here, but the sheer force of Rourke seems nigh unstoppable)

Anne Hathaway ("Rachel Getting Married")
Angelina Jolie ("The Changeling")
Meryl Streep ("Doubt")
Kristin Scott Thomas ("I've Loved You So Long")
Kate Winslet ("Revolutionary Road")
(I'm rooting for Hathaway based on her SNL hosting--is that wrong?)

"Burn After Reading"
"Happy Go Lucky"
"In Bruges"
"Mamma Mia"
"Vicky Cristina Barcelona"
(Man, I really did not enjoy "Burn After Reading" and from the previews "In Bruges" looked awful. What happened here?)

Javier Bardem ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona")
Colin Farrell ("In Bruges")
James Franco ("Pineapple Express")
Brendan Gleeson ("In Bruges")
Dustin Hoffman ("Last Chance Harvey")
(Haven't seen "Pineapple Express," so didn't feel right giving Franco a vote, even though I kinda wanted to)

Rebecca Hall ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona")
Sally Hawkins ("Happy Go Lucky")
Frances McDormand ("Burn After Reading")
Meryl Streep ("Mamma Mia")
Emma Thompson ("Last Chance Harvey")
(I liked "Mamma Mia" well enough, but not one actor in it was award-winning good. McDormand was the best thing about "Burn After Reading," but that's not saying much)

Tom Cruise ("Tropic Thunder")
Robert Downey Jr. ("Tropic Thunder")
Ralph Fiennes ("The Duchess")
Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Doubt")
Heath Ledger ("The Dark Knight")
(Yeah, like the rest of the geek world, I want Ledger to win...but Downey was soooooo good)

Amy Adams ("Doubt")
Penelope Cruz ("Vicky Cristina Barcelona")
Viola Davis ("Doubt")
Marisa Tomei ("The Wrestler")
Kate Winslet ("The Reader")

"Kung Fu Panda"
(All my friends say "WALL-E" was good)

Simon Beaufoy ("Slumdog Millionaire")
David Hare ("The Reader")
Peter Morgan ("Frost/Nixon")
Eric Roth ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button")
John Patrick Shanley ("Doubt")

"In Treatment"
"Mad Men"
"True Blood"
(Again, friends)

Gabriel Byrne ("In Treatment")
Michael C. Hall ("Dexter")
Jon Hamm ("Mad Men")
Hugh Laurie ("House")
Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("The Tudors")

Sally Field ("Brothers & Sisters")
Mariska Hargitay ("Law and Order: Special Victims Unit")
January Jones ("Mad Men")
Anna Paquin ("True Blood")
Kyra Sedgwick ("The Closer")
(Sally Field should win this every year until she feels like retiring. I sound like a 40-year old gay man)

"30 Rock"
"The Office"

Alec Baldwin ("30 Rock")
Steve Carell ("The Office")
Kevin Connolly ("Entourage")
David Duchovny ("Californication")
Tony Shalhoub ("The Monk")

Christina Applegate ("Samantha Who?")
America Ferrera ("Ugly Betty")
Tina Fey ("30 Rock")
Debra Messing ("The Starter Wife")
Mary Louise Parker ("Weeds")

Neil Patrick Harris ("How I Met Your Mother")
Denis Leary ("Recount")
Jeremy Piven ("Entourage")
Blair Underwood ("In Treatment")
Tom Wilkinson ("John Adams")

Eileen Atkins ("Cranford")
Laura Dern ("Recount")
Melissa George ("In Treatment")
Rachel Griffiths ("Brothers & Sisters")
Dianne Wiest ("In Treatment")

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I didn't like Hellboy II: The Golden Army


I thought Luke Goss played a great bad guy (whys is he not in more shit?!), but in a movie about a guy called Hellboy and his team of supernatural investigators from a visually creative guy like del Toro, I wanted more than singing and cat jokes and lessons about being accepted and Hellboy being such an extreme dick to everybody that he went from entertaining to hostile.

So, with that in mind, here are the 10 things I'd have rather seen Hellboy and the BPRD do in this film instead of "fighting" a revolution from the Fairie World (which actually turned out to just be an unimpressive brother and sister act, but I digress).

1. Traveling to Mars and punching giant worm creatures.

2. Bouncing around time after falling into a portal and having to punch demon-possessed ex-Presidents.

3. Warding off an invasion of vampires as thick as plague locusts.

4. Facing off with that crew in the first trade paperback who guard the Old Ones.

5. Being shrunk down into thumb tack-sized versions of themselves and having to escape the dangers an ordinary front yard can present.

6. Orgy. Under water.

7. Trapped under a small Arizona town in an underground prison that holds the worst villains they've ever had to bring in. During a power outage.

8. Sparring in Antarctica with a suddenly unfrozen army of 300 Spartans who, legend has it, are the best fighters the world has ever seen, and who were frozen there when they took a right instead of a left during one of their raids hundreds of years ago, and who were foretold to return on this/that very night.

9. Being in a movie written by Grant Morrison.

10 in the exact same film, but only if it were an animated feature in THIS style:

Skip it and reread the trades. I'm doing it right now thanks to TJ.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Overlooked Importance of Marvels

On the train yesterday morning, Rickey and I got to talking about the first issue of Marvels: Eye of the Camera, which came out last week, which segued into a discussion about the original Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross. I guess we had never really talked about the book at length before as he was a bit surprised by just how highly I regard it (and when it comes to comics, he knows me pretty well). His reaction was actually kinda fitting, because in general I think Marvels is one of the most underappreciated yet seminal comics of all time.

That's not to say Marvels is not appreciated at all. It's generally held in pretty high esteem and I've never heard it panned, but you don't often hear it mentioned in the same breath as the big guns. A big part of that may be the period during which it came out (the dreaded mid-90's), but I think Marvels was in many ways the start of comics turning things around after those dark ages.

For those not familiar with Marvels, here's the abbreviated version: over the course of four issues, we witness the Golden Age and Silver Age of the Marvel Universe through the eyes of everyman photographer Phil Sheldon. As Phil ages, he witnesses and chronicles events like the birth of the Human Torch, the rise of anti-mutant intolerance, the coming of Galactus, the death of Gwen Stacy and much more. Via the incredible painted art of Alex Ross, we literally see the Marvel U and all its early players come to life.

Marvels was a game-changer because it came at a time when comics were all about style over substance and events over characterization. Marvels had incredible heart and brought the characters and that sense of awe back to the the forefront. In an era where seemingly everything about comics had become commonplace, Marvels reminded you through a combination of great writing and amazing visuals that holy crap super heroes look cool! If Giant Man walked over the city it would look insane! If Galactus came to New York it would be terrifying! It was unlike anything else on the stands at the times and hearkened back to a time and a feeling that comics desperately needed.

See, the thing isn't just that Marvels was good, it was that it was important, which is pretty much the point I was trying to make in the last paragraph. When Wizard was doing their "Most Important Comics of the Wizard Years" last year for issue #200 and I was asked my opinion by my former colleagues in an unofficial capacity, I said Marvels should not be underestimated because so much of the good stuff we got out of the late 90's on into the present sprang out of it.

Marvels wasn't the first series to do the whole "man on the street" perspective thing, but in 1994, it was the first to do it and do it well in quite some time. Nowadays, you see that all the time. And as I said, 1994 was a time when most super hero stories were bleak and mired in Generation X cynicism. Marvels made it cool to like super heroes again. Something like Grant Morrison's JLA, where super heroes were awesome, was the natural progression of what Marvels started. Also at the time, the Marvel Universe in particular was a very fragmented place, with Spider-Man doing his own thing, the X-Men not interacting with the Avengers, the Fantastic Four being off on their own, etc. Marvels reminded everybody how rad the Marvel Universe was as a shared concept, and all the best stories since have played off that strength.

But of course the series most people think of when they think of what Marvels begat is Kingdom Come, it's spiritual sequel over at DC with which it shares Alex Ross and an average man of the people doing the narration. I love Kingdom Come too, but I think a big reason Marvels remains so overlooked is because of all the accolades KC has received, which has led many to label it the unquestionably superior of the two. I disagree. It's an apples-to-oranges comparison. The quality of Kingdom Come in no way diminishes Marvels because they are two very different stories. If anything, they're two sides of the same coin.

Where Marvels is about the common man discovering and embracing the incredible, Kingdom Come is about the incredible becoming commonplace and the superman needing to rediscover his humanity. They are excellent bookends, but they are not two stories telling the same thing. For all its trappings of wonder, Marvels is about a normal world struggling to adjust to the bizarre incursion of the fantastic. Even when Galactus is creating a doomsday machine, Marvels remains a very street-level tale. Kingdom Come is a larger-than-life parable with big explosions and shiny costumes where it's the normal guy who seems out of place.

Most of the first issue of Marvels is devoted to just how crazy it is to see a man on fire running down the street and then how crazy turned up to the next level it is for him to be fighting a naked sea king. Seriously, that one Torch vs Namor fight is the only thing like it that the people of Marvel's New York have ever and it blows their collective mind. By way of contrast, there are super-powered miscreants fighting literally in the backgrounds of every issue of Kingdom Come and passerbys pay them little mind because that's just the way things are; it's business as usual.

You can certainly compare and contrast the shared element of Alex Ross' work in Marvels vs his work in Kingdom Come, and KC is likely to win, because he was a bit older, wiser and more talented. However, making any sort of claim that Kingdom Come does everything Marvels does but better or vice versa is silly to me. Both are awesome, but for reasons as different as the stories they are telling.

I am that rare breed who probably loves the DC and Marvel Universes about as equally as you can (rarer when you consider who signs my paychecks), but I love them for completely different reasons that are actually embodied pretty well in Kingdom Come and in Marvels. I love the DC Universe because it's an amazing place where everything is larger than life and just when you think the scale of things can't get any larger, it does. I dig that the general DC populace is fairly accepting of the crazy world they live in, flying aliens, giant robots and all; it would be a pretty awesome place to live, bordering on utopian. On the other hand, I love the Marvel Universe because when done right, like in Marvels, it can seem like right outside your window but, hey, what if there were flying aliens and giant robots outside your window! It would probably be pretty scary and not everybody would be terribly welcoming to the martians, but it sure is fun to read about.

And that's as good a place as any to end, because as much as I feel like Marvels is an important piece of work, it's also just a comic that I really enjoy. I feel like if you want a pure injection of why the Marvel Universe is fun at its finest, Marvels is a good place to start.