Month: September 2011

Favourite Films on Friday: #14, Shaun of The Dead

I can remember when the concept of ‘bromance’ was a revelation to me. It’s warped into something ugly now, a word I can only bring myself to use contained safely between quotation marks. But I was young, and full of foolish innocence, and the word was a lightning rod. The relationship between two (mostly) straight men, it said, could be as beautiful and important as the love affairs most films dedicated themselves to. I wasn’t thinking of Ryan Reynolds and The Hangover and MTV. I was thinking of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. Shaun of the Dead, for all its high-concept romzomcom premise and delicate construction, is just about two blokes in love. Shaun and Ed. The kind of mates who’ve known each other since primary school, have intertwined lives and shared jokes that have being running since forever. Of course, there are women, and family, and all the types of love that come along with that too. But Shaun of the Dead presents nothing on a higher pedestal than what I’m sure Plato himself would have termed the bromantic love between the two. In the finest Twilight tradition, however, the path of their love does not run smooth. The painful truth, as various characters continually point out to Shaun, is that he’s just no good for him. Ed’s lazy and abrasive and selfish. But since when has that got in the way of a good romance? It’s the central conflict of the film. Sure, it looks like a romantic comedy (with zombies!, as the tagline so cheerily informs us) about a guy trying to win back his girl, but really the threat that drives the plot along – from the very first scene, long before the zombies arrive – is deciding whether his relationship with Ed is destructive. It’s all tangled up with Shaun’s need to sort his life out, but the relationship with Ed – and whether Shaun should dump him, and whether anyone will stand between these starcross’d mates – is where that conflict crystallises most clearly into actual narrative. This relationship between men is one of the key tenets on which all of Pegg, Frost, and Wright’s work is built, along with the oft-cited pop-cultural obsession and the symmetrical structures of callbacks and foreshadowing which we’ll be looking at in a future post. All three are fascinations of mine, and Shaun came along at so perfect a moment that I can’t separate the two, establish which came first. When I actually watched Shaun of the Dead, on my bedroom floor with my own BFF, did this all stand out? Did I know that I would ever try and mark pre- and post-? Of course not. I was too busy being entertained by a funny, thrilling, gory romp. Everything else came later: when you’re watching it for the seventeenth time; when you take selfsame friend to see Hot Fuzz for Valentine’s Day; when you’re trying to write about it…

Project 52, Week Five (Voodoo/Aquaman/i, Vampire/All-Star Western/Blackhawks/Flash)

Part two of this, the final week of Project 52’s reviews of every single #1 in the DC’s New 52 initiative, brings our most surprisingly positive review yet, an angry inner dialogue on sexual politics, and what Bret has been teasing on Twitter as a “430 word bitch slap” straight to the face of the Fastest Man Alive. Voodoo #1Written by Ron MarzArt by Sami BasriReviewed by Alex Immediately before reading this comic, I did something potentially rather silly. After last week’s apparently rather pervy selection of comics, I read Laura Hudson’s piece on Catwoman and Starfire’s apparent ‘liberated sexuality’. It was a well considered, satisfying read which filled me with exactly the right type of righteous indignation. Then I did something much, much sillier: I read the comments. To quote one choice example: “Sorry PC Police!!! – The Perverts & Fan Boys are taking Back comics!! – just like in Video Games & Japanese Anime – You’re sorry ass Gender blurring B.S. doesn’t sell. NO One wants your Close-Minded “world view” and twisted social gender role restructuring. DC wants to get NEW readers and by New they mean one’s that are “Normal” and don’t hate Sex” So when I opened Voodoo, and was greeted by the sight of our heroine on all fours, displaying her cleavage to the reader, surrounded by dollar bills, I … it didn’t make me feel good about humanity. It turns out this ‘Voodoo’ (apparently DC’s first black female to get her own ongoing series) is a stripper with a mysterious past. And so it is that we’re treated to a page of her dancing and posing in her pants, before cutting away to the comic’s actual characters: two government agents – one woman, one man – watching the show. It is at this exact point that my mind splits in two. Alex #1 [reading page three]: Ah, okay. I see what they’re doing here: the guy’s not being played sympathetically. He’s got big reflective shades on. I’ve done enough Film Studies to know my audience metaphors: the shades hide his eyes, the way a screen or page removes us from the reality of pornography. He’s the Male Gaze, and he is not an attractive prospect. Alex #2: But what exactly is it that’s being reflected in those shades? A woman stripping, in comics’ classic far-as-we-can-go-without-being-softcore cheesecake fashion. And [page four] here’s a waitress encouraging him, also with a big rack and a top we can conveniently see down in every single panel. Alex #1 [page six]: Ah. Um… Hang on! Here’s the ballsy female agent. The one that straight up told the pervy audience metaphor he was a jackass and stormed out. And look! Her non-stripper presence has irked some underage gentlemen trying to get eyes-on with their first pair of titties. These men are definitely not sympathetic. They called her ‘lady’… Alex #2: …and then immediately accuse her of either “looking to party” or being a lesbian. Alex #1: Exactly! Unsympathetic! They’re That Guy from the comments thread. And [page eight] she just knocked them all out. Damn satisfying. Alex #2: I’ll concede that. Look I was about to make an argument about the problems with the Female Hardass archetype, but [page nine] we’ve cut to the strip joint’s dressing room. Where all the woman are conveniently in the process pulling their tops off. Alex #1: It certainly is all very Showgirls… with the standard ‘oh, we’re all doing it to pay for college/our kids’ clichés and bitching about the “balding fatty” clients. Um, is Showgirls feminist or misogynist? I forget. Alex #2 [page twelve]: Shhh, it’s time for another action scene. By which I of course mean stripping. Which goes on for … [page fifteen] four pages! Alex #1: (During which, to be fair, the sunglasses fall to the ground with a noise that, if you listen closely enough, sounds distinctly like ‘METAPHOR!’) [page sixteen] But that’s all okay because Hardass Lady Agent’s back and… Alex #2: …and she’s having sex with the male agent and wants him back so she won’t be alone tonight. [page seventeen] Before jumping back to more stripping! Alex #1: Yes. But stripping intercut with a one-panel moment of horrible surgical violence and [page eighteen] Voodoo’s transformation into a big scaly monster. Alex #2: A monster which is still wearing lacy pants and has its breasts covered by a few demure strands of hair. Alex #1: Thus turning both of those cheesecakey signifiers inside out, surely? Who’s turned on by the breasts of the Creature From The Black Lagoon? Alex #2: C’mon, Alex, you’ve been on Deviantart. Alex #1: Ick. But… [page nineteen] the violence! The blood! The return of the shades and the dead open eyes of the pervy audience-representative. This can’t be meant to turn anyone on, can it? Alex #2: Can it? And I can’t decide. This is either a clever satire which plays with your expectations by titillating, titillating, and then dropping a big boner-killing landmine in your lap, or a prime example of comics’ dodgy politics, which remembers on the last few pages it’s supposed to be a thrilling sci-fi story. Either way, it’s all told very competently, setting up three characters, killing one off and ending with a compelling thrust to the next issue. And, when it’s not focusing on improbable breasts, Sami Basri’s art is beautiful and complemented well by Jessica Kholinne’s colours. But at the end of the day how much I like this comic boils down to which Alex is right and so… Alex #1’s Rating: A-Alex #2’s Rating: E Aquaman #1 Written by Geoff JohnsArt by Ivan ReisReviewed by Tim Poor Aquaman can’t get no respect. He’s the ruler of 70% of the Earth’s surface, but to most people, he’s a cheap punchline, the guy who talks to fish, who rides a dolphin to emergencies and can’t help out unless the fight is taking place next to a convenient inlet, or possibly a fjord. Geoff Johns takes […]

Project 52, Week Five: Comparing Notes on… Green Lantern New Guardians

It’s the final week of DC’s New 52 wave of #1 issues, and the final week of Project 52. So in celebration/memorium, let’s play with the format a bit. Starting with Tim and Bret having the kind of verbal intercourse I can only have in my head. Green Lantern: New Guardians #1 – A Discussion, between Mssrs Timothy Maytom and Brettania Canny (Written by Tony BedardArt by Tyler Kirkham) Tim: What did you feel about this one? Bret: I…liked it. As I’ve said, I’m still new to the DC universe, but Green Lantern’s always been someone whose interested me. I like the idea of the power, but at the same time, I didn’t realise you could have more than one at the same time until I started reading these. Having now read Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps and been introduced to three of the four Lanterns, now there’s this new guy. And from the single issues that I’ve read, this guy’s actually my favourite. T: Kyle Rayner, from when I’ve read pre-reboot stuff, was always my favourite. The way that he replaced Hal Jordan, and then Hal came back, always reminded me of a story from the ’60s, when Stan Lee was writing Spider-Man. No matter what they did when writing Gwen Stacy, they couldn’t make her as interesting as Mary Jane, even though Gwen was meant to be Spidey’s true love. So in the end, they just gave up, and made Mary Jane the love of his life, and it feels like the opposite of that with Green Lanterns. Kyle Rayner is always the more interesting one, and yet they make Hal Jordan the main hero. B: He was there first, and it goes with DC’s love of their history and origin stories, which ties into the whole reboot thing. The beginnings are seen as more important than the journey the characters have been through. But having read New Guardians, I’m confused. In Justice League, we see Hal Jordan five years ago as an established hero. In Green Lantern Corps, we see John Stewart and Guy Gardner, look at me with the knowledge, head off to the Green Lantern planet and it’s all hunky dory. But in this issue, we go there, and everyone’s dead, and we have to assume it’s at the same time. T: There’s a bit later in the book that says “Present Day” but does that mean anything before it was in the past, or what? B: Yeah, page one, and everyone on Green Lantern Planet is dead, and the blue guy is saying “I’ll use the remains of my power to make this last ring” and unless you’ve killed off three Green Lanterns off-panel, it’s not really the last ring. And does Kyle Rayner live under a rock? Because when he gets his powers, the blue guy says, “Welcome to the Green Lantern Corps” and Kyle says, “Welcome to the what?” like he’s never heard of them. T: We establish in the issue that people know who they are; you have people saying, “I like the one with the brown hair” and stuff. B: They do seem to be tying it into other titles, like this Red Lantern with the bat wings appears in Red Lanterns, but she seemed like she was being set up as a major character there, and if she’s now being ported over to here, it makes me wonder if they’ve mucked [-keepin’ it clean ed] up their timeline already. T: Having not read any of the other Green Lantern titles, I quite liked this issue. I thought it did a good job of establishing Kyle Rayner; it introduced some of these other Lanterns, as this is the multi-Lantern title. It didn’t really explain why they were being brought together, but there’s the sense of a mystery beneath it all, what with the whole “everyone on GL Planet is dead”. B: This scratches that itch I have for collection, what with the “one of every colour” concept, and if I were going to read a Green Lantern title, it would probably be this one. T: Is that on the merits of this issue, or more to do with the concept behind it? B: Well, there are three factors. One: I liked Kyle Rayner. Two: I like the “there’s a different ring for each emotion” idea, and if I was going to write something in this universe, that’s the kind of book I’d write, that threw these characters together. And Three: I always appreciate a book that’s willing to say “I have a story to tell, rest of the universe be damned”, much like X-Factor does for Marvel, and I feel like this could have a similar attitude. T: It’s very much a set-up issue; not a lot happens. There’s a really nice splash of him saving a crane from falling down, which shows off why I like Kyle Rayner, as he really puts the whole “your ring can do anything” to use. In Justice League, we had Hal Jordan making jets, ‘cos he’s a pilot, and here you have giant ’40s workmen saving stuff, which I find cool. I’m not so sure it’s going to be one of these books where the writer has a story to tell and is just using the toys from the universe, but I get that it could be that. We have all these different characters forced together… B: And it’s not just that they’re different, they’re representing a lot of directly opposing concepts, which I think is cool. As a story on it’s own, it’s okay. The art is fine. T: Yeah, there were a couple of nice pages like that splash, but it’s mostly passable without being special. B: I’ve sort of accepted that most of DC’s first issues aren’t telling a complete story, which is a shame, because you could have done that here with some tweaking, but I also can’t think of many other actual origin stories, with a character […]

Favourite Films on Friday: #15, Monsters Inc

As someone who has long taken issue with the way certain childrens’ books (hint: rhymes with Larry Frotter) are not just acceptable but celebrated reading material for grownups, my love of kids’ films is maybe worth a little examination. They have to dumb down to the same common-denominator level, surely, to be understood by even the littlest of the littl’uns? And, if you’d put this question to me in person, I’d likely spend a lot of time humming and aahing, looking at my shuffling feet, before making a hurried mumble of apology (something about explosive diarrhea?) and fleeing from the room. But here we are on the internet, where I am master, and have infinite time to consider my answer. Which is (now) this: as a passive medium, cinema doesn’t have a prerequisite ‘you must be this tall to enjoy’ barrier to enjoyment. In a children’s book, even one aimed at an audience older than Monsters Inc, the level of vocabulary and technique available to the author is limited by the reader’s understanding. The same logic applies to game for children, which have to be reasonably simple to interact with. Pixar are able to bring all sorts to complex cinematic technique to bear. Just look at the comedy outtakes that run over the credits: try something like that in a book, and the extra layer of fictional reality introduced could be alienating. But in Monsters Inc, that just slips over you without being an issue, even when it slips back into the original reality with Mike & Sully’s ‘Put That Thing Back Or So Help Me’ musical. Or… well, it could be that I just don’t really dig on Harry Potter (I’ve tactfully avoided making any reference to Pullman’s Dark Materials stuff or my lack of interest in the HP films, both of which would totally sink my argument) whereas Monsters Inc is an undeniably brilliant film, equally capable of making me laugh, cry, go awhhhh, marvel at its prettiness, get caught in the action, cry again, and totally not care about any kinds of adult/child divides. But, shhh. That would totally invalidate this post, wouldn’t it?

Project 52: Week Four

This is the disembodied voice of Alex, being broadcast atcha from the Lagoa region of Portugal. Yup, I’m on holiday. Which means lots of food, lots of drink, but no comics or blogging for me. So, it’s my pleasure to introduce renowned playwright, occasional blogger and all round good guy Mr Michael “Meckett” Eckett. With a bit of luck, he won’t show me up too badly. So kick back and enjoy the reviews. Batman #1Written by Scott SnyderArt by Greg CapulloReviewed by Michael I love a good writing device. Particularly in a single issue comic it allows an easy structure to present itself, juxtapose images and explore different world views without it feeling forced. Scott Snyder’s decision to base the narrative of Batman around completing the sentence of “Gotham is…” using three words or less introduces us to the world inhabited by Batman and also brings Gotham to the forefront as a character in its own right. Gotham is a city so tainted that it corrupts and destroys everything and everyone within it; even one of Gotham’s better police officers can be worn down by the vices the city perpetuates. So in a city this bad, the good men, like Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon are extraordinary. Batman #1 plays with all the toys that make Batman great; detective work, big ideas in the form of Wayne tech and badass fighting. It opens with Batman against a breakout at Arkham; villains old and new are deftly handled by the caped crusader in a frenetic yet clear fight scene. If you recognise all the villains, you understand the stakes whilst new readers get a fun introduction. Capullo’s Batman in the opening is all gritted teeth and cloaked in shadow framed by a jagged Gotham, covered in grafitti and detailed decay before we see his Batcave, something expansive and reassuring. The iconic trophies are all there alongside Batmobiles of the ages alongside a brooding Bruce Wayne. Out of the mask Bruce heads to a party with Dick, Damien and Drake; and we see the other side of Capullo’s Gotham, a bright warm area for the rich, lacking in detail, ignoring the harshness outside. Instead we focus on the facial expressions and postures of Gotham’s elite, Damien’s sneers, easy going Dick Grayson’s slouches and playboy Bruce Wayne charming a room. Capullo’s cartoony style makes these moments even more charming. I really like Snyder pushing Bruce Wayne as a force of positivity as a philanthropist and not only a crimefighter; Bruce has realised he needs to fix Gotham itself and that he can’t rely on Batman, Gordon and his Robins who have thus far survived being tarnished by Gotham. But the cliffhanger suggests at least one of them might not have escaped the city’s clutches. Batman #1 is a really fun, well crafted comic and as an introduction it’s fantastic. If the run lives up to the promise shown here we could be in for a real treat because it really is everything I want out of a Batman comic. Rating: A Birds of Prey #1Written by Duane SwierczynskiArt by Jesus SaizReviewed by Tim Fighting! Spying! Car chases! Explosions! Birds Of Prey has it all, and doesn’t really put a foot wrong. It’s a great example of a first issue done really well. Like Justice League, we’re only introduced to a portion of the cast in this issue, but unlike Justice League, there’s a definite sense of intentional team-building going on, with Black Canary out to put together a team, trying to recruit Batgirl (in a nice nod to the old Birds Of Prey series) and dealing with a snooping reporter and some stealth-suited assassins. Swierczynski gives Black Canary, Starling and Charlie Keen, the reporter, individual voices and enough characterisation to make them pop off the page, and the plot, while simple, has enough promise. As a new season of American television starts up and some promising pilot episodes start to appear, it’s reminded me of what I look for in a first issue – the plot doesn’t matter as much as the character dynamics do, and Birds Of Prey makes enough of an impression to make me feel confident in where it’s headed. The art by Jesus Saiz is great, atmospheric and polished, with really smooth action sequences full of movement. The only thing I’m not so keen on is the cover, which makes the character designs look a little clumsy, whereas in the book they feel appropriate and stylish. It’s also gratifying, after yesterday’s comics, to see a comic book full of women drawn with realistic bodies who aren’t sexualised so much I feel like I’ve opened an issue of Nuts. Birds Of Prey doesn’t do anything extraordinary – it doesn’t rewrite the rulebook or mess around with format, aside from some well deployed flashbacks, but it gives us a super-polished first issue that makes none of the mistakes that have plagued a few of DC’s other titles. Instead, it creates a promising foundation for a superhero action-thriller that doesn’t feel rushed or cluttered with exposition. It has the kind of simplicity of purpose and drive that all of DC’s first issues should have had. Rating: A Blue Beetle #1Written by Tony BedardArt by Ig GuaraReviewed by Bret After having just read the end of Blue Beetle #1 I can sum it up in one word, one noise and then a lengthy complainy sentence. So here goes… the word is “disappointment”, the noise is “AAARRRRGHGGHG” and the complainy sentence begins “WHAT THE HELL?! YOU CAN’T LEAVE IT LIKE THAT!!! I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!!! YOU BUILD UP THAT SORT OF AN INTRO AND YOU DON’T EVEN LET ME SEE THOSE DICKS GET PUNCHED IN THE FACE?!!?!!” Blue Beetle was very good and ticks a lot of boxes for me, and as always, SPOILERS AHEAD. The back story is explained in a short prologue so you don’t feel like you’ve skipped a beat when you start reading. The characters are introduced naturally […]

The Trip, Part Two/Dva/Két/Dvě

LAST TIME ON THE TRIP:Alex “Dash” Spencer and Dominic “Party Pants” Parsons began their sweep across South-East Europe, encountering artery-killing food, wrestling Russians, and Western European Guilt. But with three destinations down, there were still eight countries to visit, drain dry of their chocolatiest resources, and write about at length. Their adventures continue in this, the second thrilling installment of The Trip. Because what more magical time is there than 5am? The walk from the station, as the sun began to happen, took us past what would remain my favourite sight in all of Zagreb: the long wall of graffiti. It was (officially-sanctioned) street art at its finest, blank stretch of urban space and transforming it into something playful. To be honest, it’s something Zagreb could have done with more of. It’s handsome city, well-kept and just the right size, but it felt a little like a blank slate. In the blistering heat of first day, heavily punctuated by naps, putting our own stamp on it just felt like far too much effort. It took until the next day, jumping from bar to bar drinking irresponsibly and with veracity, for it all to click. Dom choked down an accidentally ordered ‘Amaro’; in a moment of conciliation, I burnt away a few throat cells with some ‘Stock’. (The exact nature of both spirits remains a mystery.) Everything just worked, landing us in Kaptolska klet for the largest mixed-grill-to-share ever encountered by humankind. Train 4: Zagreb –> BudapestBy now, we’d settled into a rhythm. Not full-on ADVENTURE!, not the mind-losing boredom of Train 2. Just a peaceful seven hours spent keeping to ourselves, until the train was invaded by a load of post-festival local tweens with no respect for personal space. Never have I become so quickly acquainted with a young lady’s feet! And without socks! I say! For our shortest stay of the trip (approximately 18 hours, including a lengthy and much-needed sleep), I felt strangely done with Budapest by the time we left. We were masters of time and our own fate… or just lucked out a bit. Picking a route to and from dinner (Trofea Grill, uncontested king of surprisingly classy all-u-can-eat-and-drink meat and wine) through the Városliget park is probably the reason for this. Coming back along its north edge at twilight exposed us to Vajdahunyad Castle, beautifully lit, and along the Andrássy Út boulevard. Delightful! Train 5: Budapest –> PragueTwo trains in two days. 14 hours out of 48. Travelling shouldn’t have been this much of a pleasure. But the novelty of modern, air conditioned trains, plenty of food and drink, and a cabin to ourselves? This was the Interrail experience we’d dreamed of. The first stop I – in fact, both of us – had visited before, three years earlier, on the holiday that served as a blueprint for this journey. The entire city was overlaid with half-memories – is this where…? didn’t we…? – and expectations. And of course we landed, completely by accident, in the same cocktail bar we’d behaved disgracefully in three years prior (Harley’s, Dlouhá 18, complete with slightly dodgy Jack Daniels rock theme, graffitied walls and inexplicably ice-filled urinals). One reasonably priced Long Island Iced Tea later, and it wasn’t hard to remember why. Many cocktails later, it was hard to remember how we’d even gotten there. In the meantime, the city had hit that weird hour where bars were just getting lively, but all the restaurants were closing. And so we ended up in La Casa Blů (Kozí 857/15), a tapas bar, eating a Czech interpretation of everyone’s favourite pick-&-mix Spanish food. Cue the next morning, more half-memories and a day of wandering the city feeling hazy and homeless. The hangover landed us in some tourist trap restaurant (Hotel Prague Inn, 28. října 378/15), looking to repent for the tapas and get a solid, honest, ‘Polish’. On this front it delivered: well-cooked meat, slightly sweet cabbage and dumplings galore (my moravský vrabec) and a touch of the strange in Dom’s svíčková na smetaně, beef served with whipped cream. But then the accumulated hidden/semi-hidden charges and apparently compulsory tip kicked in, as is a tourist trap tradition. The feeling of disparity and being cheated (and homeless) knocked us off balance for a few hours until we found another centre in Petrin Hill. We were chasing an ambiguous road sign promising a possibly non-existent maze, but a steep climb to the top yielded great, if tree-obscured, views and a sense of smug self-satisfaction from watching people get on and off the funicular. Homeless or not, we were empirically better than them, and what greater holiday feeling is there? (Additional photos over on the Dirty Mistress Tumblr)

Favourite Films on Friday: #16, Apocalypse Now

You know when you go back to a film you love, especially one considered a classic, after a few years? Your memory tends to get fuzzy, and so you kind of wait for the moments that have settled in your mind. It’s often those ‘classic’ big moments, the bits you see talking heads remembering for you on endless Channel4 Top 100s. Ride of the Valkyries, napalm in the morning, the horror the horror, etc. But I was surprised to find what’d truly stuck from Apocalypse Now was something else entirely; an unusual moment three-quarters into the film. It comes as the boat carrying Captain Willard reaches Do Lung Bridge. Night has fallen, and the bridge is chaos, smoke and sparks everywhere. Like the rest of the film, it makes beautiful use of light and dark, silhouettes and explosions of blurry colour. Flares fall lazily from the sky, leaving trails that are reflected in the ripples of the water. It’s probably the single biggest bit of spectacle in the film. As the boat pulls up to the bridge, Lance announces he’s just dropped his final tab of acid. “It’s beautiful … far out”. And it is – the whole scene is a light show – but it’s hellish too. “You’re in the asshole of the world, Captain!” The soundtrack is broken circus music and the incoherence of dying soldiers. The space between flashes of light gets longer, and we’re left in darkness between moments of piercing brightness. Just to underscore all that, into the most dangerous space we’ve been yet, Lance brings his newly-acquired puppy. The scene signifies a crossing into the out-and-out strangeness of the last half an hour, which is fitting given it’s a gate, a threshold between ‘here’ (Vietnam, warring against Charlie) and ‘there’ (Cambodia, hunting down one of your own). The film is one long stream of insanity, of various stripes and colours, but there’s a coolness to what comes before, that doesn’t have much place in the uneasy remainder. This is the bit where the film starts to turn nasty. On top of all that, above everything else, it’s presented like another world; more sci-fi than war film. Willard and Lance moving through the trenches in silhouette could be men on the moon. Among the churning soundtrack, I swear I can hear laser fire. That’s Apocalypse Now: an exploration of a world outside of our laws. It might as well be a fantasy world: it’s certainly far richer than the world of any fantasy film I could name. The Lord of The Rings? Pfft, this comes with its own language too – equal parts acronym (FNGs, ETAs, LZs), French, and insults – one which filled me like asbestos when first I saw it as a teenager, coloured my vision of festival fields, and is still with me today, laughing uncontrollably in the backseat as Dom throws his car round a sharp corner while Ride of the Valkyries blasts in my ears.

Project 52, Week Three (Mr Terrific/Demon Knights/Deathstroke/Suicide Squad/Legion Lost/Superboy/Grifter)

Grifter #1Written by Nathan EdmonsonArt by CafuReviewed by Alex A few years back, there was this TV programme called Lost. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it; apparently DC haven’t, given that the logo for Legion Lost (reviewed below by Tim) looks like this: And it’s fine that DC have never seen, nor heard of, this moderately successful TV programme. Some would argue, after that ending, that it’s actually for the best for them. But you’d think they’d at least have a researcher with his eye on these popular TV things, in case something like Grifter ever happened. Okay, so Grifter stars a ever-so-slightly-Southern conman with long blonde hair and swarthy good looks. I’m not great at visual description, so in case you need help, he looks roughly like this: …oops, sorry, I meant like this… I’m being unfair, aren’t I? I pulled the oldest trick in the book there, switching the pictures round for a cheap laugh. It was beneath me and I apologise. And I’m led to believe that Grifter is a pre-existing character (and frankly, looking at that costume, he could only be a product of the ’90s). However, what I’m saying is: if you have a character who is really rather similar to another character so embedded in the collective pop-culture consciousness, it might not be all that wise to open your first issue on an aeroplane. And as the weird stuff on that aeroplane starts to mount, and you make dark references to mysteries not yet of the reader’s ken, it might not be the best idea to start revealing that by flashing back to the character’s life before things got all weird. And then proceeds onto several shocking reveals, including a ‘messing with your sense of time’ twist. (Admittedly, there are aliens or some such. Which Lost didn’t have. However, which existing Lost-ripoff The Event did have. On an aeroplane. With someone pulling something out from under their skin, in a slightly gross way, as also happens here.) I mean no disrespect to Nathan Edmonson here. I’ve heard Who is Jake Ellis? is a fine comic book, but this issue seriously reads like he got the call from DC, found out he’d pulled the short straw labelled ‘Grifter’, and decided to spend his advance getting bombed in his flat in the company of a couple of boxsets. Which, being fair, is exactly what I’d do too. LAD. Rating: E Mister Terrific #1Written by Eric WallaceArt by Gianluca GugliottaReviewed by Tim A character called ‘Mister Terrific’ is always going to have his work cut out for him. For someone who is presented as the third smartest man in the world, as well as a billionaire businessman, you’d have thought he would have invested in some market research first. It’s been interesting reading the second- and third-tier titles of this new DC Universe for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that each has been establishing their particular corner of the world. Men of War’s primary strip showed us war in a super-powered world, Stormwatch took us into the renegade black-ops weirdness just under the surface of traditional superhero antics, and Resurrection Man began exploring the cosmology and metaphysical roots of the New 52. As well as establishing a tone for the title, they also stake out a boundary in this new, different world. War is like this, angels work like this; while the big names tell their stories in the centre of the universe, the smaller titles are out at the fringes, marking territory. Mister Terrific seems set to do this for the realm of super-science in the new DCU. Having finished the comic, I took some time to think about science-based heroes in the DCU, and realised there are remarkably few. In the Marvel world, you can’t move without tripping over a scientist-hero (Iron Man, half of the Fantastic Four, Bruce Banner, whatever Hank Pym’s calling himself nowadays…) whereas in DC comics, there’s Steel, the Atom and Mister Terrific, and that’s about it. Sure, Batman is supposed to be a scientific genius, but that’s not how he’s framed by stories, and that’s not the world he inhabits. Maybe it’s that so many of the characters were devised in the ’30s, when there was less of sense of scientific exploration, and a lingering resentment towards the big business figures who’d let the Great Depression happen. Who knows? But it’s clear that there’s a vacancy for a scientific figurehead in the DC universe, and Mister Terrific aims to fill it. You’ll notice that I haven’t actually said anything about the comic itself yet, and that’s mainly because it left very little impression. It was fine as an opening slice of superhero action. Eric Wallace establishes the character, his supporting cast and his little corner of the world well enough, and Gianluca Gugliotta’s art tells the story with the minimum of fuss and enough spark to keep it moderately interesting; but both as a character and as a first issue, Mister Terrific has very little to make him pop. His origins feel so entirely generic that they give the character no real definition, and the story we’re presented with, while competent, has none of the sense of wonder or exploration that science heroes should inspire, and never truly breaks out any of the weird and impossible technology or concepts that the book could support. There’s nothing especially wrong with the issue, but it feels like superheroes-by-numbers, and the opportunity that these first issues present to reinvigorate characters shouldn’t be squandered on such generic fare.Rating: C- Demon Knights #1Written by Paul CornellArt by Diógenes NevesReviewed by Alex I want to like this comic, I do. There’s a lot to like about it (okay, here be spoilers). An exploding possessed baby which, continuing the trend of the DC New 52 embracing the horror genre, is genuinely creepy. The love triangle between Xanadu, the demon fella you see to the right there, Etrigan, and his human […]

Project 52, Week Three (Green Lantern/Batwoman/Resurrection Man/Frankenstein/Batman & Robin/Red Lanterns)

Welcome to week three of the new DC Universe, and week three of Project 52. In this edition we’re playing with one of my favourite things in the world: symmetry. We’re starting out with the star of this summer’s most high-profile flop, Mr G. Lantern, before moving over to Batman. The wonderful centrepiece is provided by Tim, with two of the smaller-name titles of the New 52 launch. And then it’s back to the Batverse, and out with the naughty Red Lanterns. Green Lantern #1Written by Geoff JohnsArt by Doug MahnkeReviewed by Bret This is complicated for me. Having just read Green Lantern #1, I want to write two very different reviews. The first would say that it’s been refreshing to read a book from DC’s New 52 starring one of their main characters that actually turned out to be quite good. From other mainstream stories I’ve read I’ve come under the impression that it’s only DC’s more obscure or wacky line-up that can deliver the goods, whereas their main characters haven’t moved far past simple four-colour stories of amazing powers, with no real depth. However, I’m happy to report that Green Lantern tells an interesting tale of how longtime Green Lantern villain, Sinestro, has been given a green power ring that gives him amazing abilities, whilst long time hero, Hal Jordan, has lost his ring and now has to adjust to a life full of bad dates and eviction notices. It’s an interesting read seeing Jordan fail on every level while, in contrast, Sinestro has been given power and tasked to take down the former members of his Yellow Lanterns. The pacing is good, and they manage to introduce the characters without large chunks of text to wade through. Even the art is nice AND we’re treated to an action sequence or two which actually feel plot relevant. All good, you might think? Well yes, but then there is that other review sneaking around in the back of my mind. The one that says “Hey, you only know who these guys are from ‘cos you’re geekier than your average Joe. And isn’t this a first issue? Aimed at people who haven’t been uber-geeks since before the Spice Girls were famous? Yes everyone knows who the Spice Girls are now, but that’s my point dude! Stop changing subject! Green Lantern TOTALLY assumes that you know who Sinestro is and who the Sinestro Corps are. It even expects you to know where Hal Jordan has been for the past few years, why he hasn’t been on earth AND how he lost his ring. That to me sounds like a lot of assuming to be made. Especially if this book is aimed at first-time readers.” I’m not saying it’s a bad thing for this comic to have history. It’s clearly left them to tell an interesting tale. But wasn’t the point of “The New 52” to be just that? “New”? And having read Green Lantern #1, I feel a little cheated. Like I now need to go back to the comic shop and say “Hey, are you sure this is issue 1? ‘Cos I need to read something to bring me up to speed on exactly what’s happening with these guys. And also, you remember the Spice Girlsm right?” but then I suppose that’s what Wikipedia is for. Filling in the holes left by lazy writers. A decent story makes Green Lantern a B. The fact that if I didn’t already know what was going on I wouldn’t have enjoyed it makes it an F. So we’ll go half way and say…Rating: C- Batwoman #1Written by W. Haden Blackman & J.H. Williams IIIArt by J.H. Williams IIIReviewed by Alex I hadn’t read Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams’ acclaimed Batwoman run on Detective Comics, nor had I read the #0 issue last year. So please excuse me for saying some things that will be stupidly obvious to anyone who did. This is an incredibly good-looking book. It’s the girl at the party with everyone’s eyes on her, as J.H. Williams does his usual shtick of mixing painterly wobbly-framed segments with more traditional inked art. When it comes to comics’ combination of words and pictures, my interest tends to fall firmly on the textual side. But what sticks about my two dips into this issue is how it looked. It’s reminiscing the next morning about talking to that girl, the alcoholic haze not dimming your memory of the way she moved, but not remembering a word she said. Your friend suggest, uncharitably, that she must be empty-headed. And that’s not fair: Batwoman’s story is interesting enough, it’s just that the memories of how it’s told keep getting in the way. The page that lays out all the exposition around its edges, in a series of images that suggest a dozen artists illustrating Batwoman’s past. The skull-faced baddie wearing a suit, with a pink novelty tie. The panel borders shaped into logos and thunderbolts… There’s something to be said about how Batwoman isn’t interested in this relaunch. It wasn’t born of the New 52 – that last #0 issue was nearly a full year ago and this issue was scheduled months earlier. It’s a straight continuation of the Detective Comics story. But it still works as a #1, lays out everything you need to know effortlessly. Or, at least, I think it does. I just keep thinking about that art… Rating: B+ Resurrection Man #1Written by Dan Abnett & Andy LanningArt by Fernando DagninoReviewed by Tim Resurrection Man, one of the lower-tier titles in DC’s relaunch, poses an interesting question. When your hero’s power is coming back from the dead, how do you put him in peril? This series answer seems to be: get metaphysical on his ass, as the issue quickly establishes that Resurrection Man is somehow involved in a struggle between Heaven and Hell (albeit hidden behind references to “Upstairs” and the “Basement Office”). The whole Jesus parallel has yet to be raised, […]

Favourite Films on Friday, #17: Aliens

Perhaps you already know this, but it’s nearly a full hour into Aliens before the first appearance by any, you know, aliens. It’s a pretty ballsy move, and one that helps make the action sequences in the second half really sing. But there’s an even more important late introduction, at the 45 minute mark. It looks like it’s going to be the aliens. The motion tracker bleeps promisingly, teasingly. Guns are raised. That blip turns into a blur streaking across the foreground. Of course, it’s a fakeout. It was a little girl. Newt. Newt changes the film. Putting kids and dogs in danger is a cliché; it’s an easy way to up the stakes, but it works. (Alien had a cat, which has nearly the same effect except that cats are rubbish). Part of this is the execution – Newt’s never overplayed, she’s not a cutesy or annoying character, Cameron can build tension like an absolute melonfarmer – but more important is that the Ripley/Newt relationship is the key to the film’s main theme. If Alien was about the fear of pregnancy, Aliens is about something much more terrifying: what happens next. You survived the body horror of giving birth to something red and fleshy; now you’ve got a small vulnerable creature to care for. When I occasionally wonder about parenthood, I’m paralysed by two terrifying realisations: A) it’s very easy, to paraphrase that filthy-mouthed Philip Larkin, screw your child up; B) you’ve got something extra to be scared of, all the time. You know how much more worried you are about being mugged when you’ve got a couple of hundred quid in your pocket? But, like, times a million. This is the feeling Aliens works on, and then builds a constant plot-based tension around it. The survivors get narrowed down, and maybe you’ll jump a couple of times, but it’s only when it comes to Ripley and Newt that it really hits bone. People remember the ‘cool’ stuff of Aliens: the firing of plasma rifles and the casually-dropped quotables. But as is usually the case, that’s not very accurate. While the two hours zip past, the film’s light on set-pieces or any extended action. Instead, it practically rubs the motherhood stuff in your face. It felt weird, watching the Theatrical Release, not having the scene where we – and Ripley – discover her daughter grew old and died while Ripley enjoyed her 57 years of hypersleep. It foregrounds her relationship with Newt even more, but the film still hardly goes light on the theme stuff. After all, Aliens is a film that climaxes with a fight between a queen alien protecting her brood of eggs and the woman whose surrogate child she stole. And afterwards Newt clutches the victorious Ripley tight and calls her “mommy”. Was there really ever any doubt what it was all about?