Thursday, June 27, 2013

At the Movies: Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim

Henry Cavill as Superman in Warner Bros.' Man of Steel.
I pretty much only get to see movies I am writing about these days, so it's a good thing a lot of those are movies of interest. Here are some notes on my summer blockbuster viewings so far, including Man of Steel, Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim.

I saw Man of Steel a few days before it was publicly released, as I wrote an article on the VFX in the movie for Animation Magazine. (It'll be in the issue out at Comic-Con, as well as online, but more about CCI in a moment).

There was a lot I liked about the movie. And, honestly, I'm surprised it's generated as much debate as it has. My first reaction was that the movie was really good. I very much liked the new take on Superman that Christopher Nolan, David Goyer and Zack Snyder had come up with. I liked Henry Cavill as Superman and Amy Adams was a terrific Lois Lane. Those are all very hard things to do. If I had one complaint, it was that the fights could have been trimmed back as the destruction becomes a bit overwhelming even though it's done incredibly well. I particularly liked one shot in the final fight between Zod and Superman where Zod punches him through four or five buildings, with the interior workings of each building exposed in incredible detail.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Catching Up with the X-Men, Part 2

It's interesting that X-Force, once the most laughably unnecessary re-launches in X-Men history, has become surprisingly fertile ground for the franchise in the past five or six years. Beginning with the Craig Kyle and Chris Yost revamp of the team as a covert operations unit for the X-Men, X-Force has been a consistently good and interesting read. (I will exempt the X-Force: Sex and Violence series, which painfully included not-so-subtle scenes of Domino offering — and giving – oral sex to Wolverine.) 

Marvel Now! turns X-Force into a franchise with the franchise, splitting the idea into two books: Cable and X-Force and the second series of Uncanny X-Force.

Starting with Uncanny X-Force, the covert ops concept mostly continues here, though with a mostly new cast including Storm, Spiral, Cluster and Puck along with returning mainstay Psylocke. This is a pretty messed up bunch of characters, with Psylocke having serious issues with Spiral over that whole blinding and bionic eyes episode way way back somewhen in the character's Marvel UK days. And then Cluster is a clone of Fantomex — and is in some way romantically involved with him.

Writer Sam Humphries does a nice job keeping things fun and action packed, but what I liked the most was the dominant role for Storm. I've said before that the character has seemed frequently lost since Chris Claremont left the X-Men in 1991, but reading Humphries version, it's almost like she never left. I do have reservations about Puck, a character I always liked best when Byrne wrote him in the original Alpha Flight run. I really despised the ridiculous origin Bill Mantlo came up with for the character, where he sacrificed his full size body to keep a demon genie trapped inside himself. Mantlo's run on Alpha Flight remains atop my list of Most Destructive and Regrettable Runs.

But, I digress. I like that Humphries makes Puck fun again, but I'm seeing near enough "eh's" in his dialog. Also, I don't recall him ever being quite so cosmopolitan, or even being from Saskatchewan. I always thought he was from Toronto, but whatever.

Oh, and Bishop is in the book, too.

The art is very solid and nice looking, with the vastly underrated Ron Garney on the first batch and the last couple of issues by Adrian Alphona of Runaways fame. I also like the redesigns on the costumes, with Psylocke in particular getting a nice full-body redesign that finally gets her out of the purple bathing suit Jim Lee designed in 1990. Overall, this is an entertaining and solid book, although I wouldn't say it's setting the world on fire.

Cable and X-Force on the other hand reads more like a straight Cable book. That's not to say there's not good stuff going on with the other characters, especially Colossus, long one of my favorites. But the supporting cast, which includes Domino, Forge, Doctor Nemesis, Hope Summers and Boom Boom is pretty nondescript. Domino and Boom Boom never really stood out as especially interesting characters, while Forge has lacked direction since 1987's Fall of the Mutants and Doctor Nemesis has always seemed like a bad caricature of Warren Ellis, if Warren were a member of the X-Men. This book comes in second to Uncanny X-Force for me, saved in large part by the excellent artwork of Salvador Larocca, who has long been one of the better pencilers at Marvel.

Moving on to Wolverine, there's two new series here, including a new main Wolverine title by Paul Cornell and Alan Davis, and Savage Wolverine, which looks to be more of an anthology series in the mode of Legends of the Dark Knight. On Wolverine, Cornell and Davis do a solid job of telling a good Wolverine story in more of the superhero mode. Davis' art is always worth looking at. Cornell's story works mainly as an action piece, giving Wolverine some cool stuff to do like bring down an airplane before it hits Yankee Stadium. If we're going to have this many Wolverine comics, at least these are a bit of fun if not much else.

Frank Cho writes and draws the first five issues of Savage Wolverine, which feature Logan in the Savage Land with Shanna the She-Devil. That gives Cho a chance to draw what he is best known for — attractive, well-endowed women. The story is not bad, but it's definitely on the lighter side of Wolverine. A bit of humor is always welcome in comics as grim as the mutant books often are, I just wish the attempts weren't so clumsy and were a bit more, you know, funny. This is a lot of eye candy, and it's really nice looking eye candy, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Savage Wolverine #6 features a new creative team, this time writer Zeb Wells and artist Joe Madureira. As you might expect with Joe Mad back on an X-book, this feels like a nostalgia trip back to 1997 or so. I overall like Madureira's art, which is expressive and shows the influences of animation and video games. But there's a cartoonish quality to it that has always seemed at odds with the general grimness of its tone. Anyways, this so far features Wolverine teaming with Elektra and Spider-Man and the Kingpin's in there, too, along with some new characters. It's a fast-paced comic with lots of fun quips and cool posing and it's a reminder that not everything about 1990s superhero comics were bad.

The light — with that being a very relative term when it comes to X-comics — tone of the Wolverine books is interesting given the thing that made the character popular in the first place was his edgy elements and the promise of real violence. I don't think a Wolverine book needs to be graphic, necessarily, but nothing about the character really stands out or works the way it could without more serious elements. Wolverine was always all about pain — managing his own and inflicting it on others. He should always be a bit uncomfortable and out of place, and these tales are awfully safe. This is certainly nothing new in the way Marvel has managed the character, but with so much of the company's output reading very solid and entertaining these days, it's a shame they couldn't take a little bit more of a chance with these books.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Catching Up with the X-Men, Part 1

All-New X-Men #1
The most well-read post I ever put on this blog was one that went up Feb. 23, 2012, in which I talked about breaking my 26-year weekly superhero comic-book habit.

More than a year later, I find myself drawn back to superhero comics, though not as much as I have been. I’ll start by saying I’m just not into DC’s The New 52. I’m sure there are some good books in the line, but nothing I’ve seen inspires me to invest the time and money required.

Pretty much the only thing that can get me to plunk down my coins and invest my time are my two favorite Marvel franchises: X-Men and Avengers. For me, X-Men was always the best idea Marvel had. I may have said this before, but it bears repeating: X-Men is at heart a science-fiction concept dressed up with superhero conventions. As such, it has a depth to it that straighter takes on the superhero genre generally lack. It certainly has helped it maintain a hold on my imagination and has the ability to suck me back in, repeatedly, throughout my life.

I stopped reading X-Men comics twice before. The first was in 1995, when the Age of Apocalypse came along at a time when my discontent with the X-Men titles in those post-Chris Claremont years was at a high. Like The New 52, it made a great jumping off point. It lasted a little more than a year before I was sucked back in around The Uncanny X-Men #332. And it didn’t last long — I was gone again by the time the Onslaught crossover arrived only a few issues later. This second absence lasted, again, about a year or so before I came back on board. The second return was aided by my move to California in 1996 and the discovery of numerous cheap back-issue sources that made it easy and fun to fill in the gaps in all the various series.

So it was again that, after the horrid event called Schism and the inevitable re-launch of The Uncanny X-Men after 544 issues, that it was again time to say good-bye. And, again, it held for a little more than a year before access to cheap back issues overcame my resistance and pulled me right back in.

The break has, overall, been good for me and I come back to the X-Men family of books with fresh eyes and a new appreciation for how much they’ve managed to improve in my absence. While they are in no way great works of art or classics of the genre or medium, the X-Men books have become a rather enjoyable line of comics. More than at any time in recent memory, the various books have — for the most part — a reason to exist, some kind of point to them, and are nicely executed in both script and, especially, art.

I have to give kudos to Marvel for double shipping series like All-New X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men. At first, I thought that would just be too much, but it turns out to make those series even more engaging because there’s a decent new episode coming out pretty much every week. I have heard some store owners complain how difficult it can be for them to handle orders on those titles, but overall they seem to sell well enough that no one’s nose is too far out of place.

Having recently read through pretty much all the Marvel Now! issues of nine different X-Men series, I’ll run though them all very quickly. This will take more than one post and spoiler warnings are in full effect for those who haven’t read these books.