Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Matt’s Week in Dork! (5/27-6/2)

Local Hero:  Burt Lancaster plays an off his rocker, star obsessed oil tycoon who sends a young corporate climber to Scotland.  A cast of crazy locals welcome the young man to the land of caber tossing.  He teams up with that Scotsman from Layer of the White Worm as they try to figure out how to buy a village.  Things are not quite as they seem, as various wool is pulled over various eyes.  Punk girls, Russian sailors, web-toed oceanographers, dancing old men, and all sorts of odd cats roll through.  Though you’d never mistake it for a Coen Brothers film, it feels like it takes place in their universe.

Saving Silverman:  “You got your choice.  Porno or monster trucks.  I got one that’s both.”  I don’t know what’s up with Amanda Peet’s crazy neckline/cleavage throughout this film.  It’s kind of crazy.  Anyway, when one of three awful dudes gets involved with one extremely awful woman, it’s up to the other two awful guys to save their awful friend.  It’s stupid, but occasionally amusing.  The finale is pretty awesome, though.

5 Against the House:  “It’s no trick for a girl to be busy in a college town.”  Four of the oldest college students ever get it into their heads to snatch some cabbage from a casino.  When they’re not polishing their AARP badges and playing shuffleboard, they’re cracking wise and hitting on the dames.  Brian Keith’s war-crazy thug is all kinds of creepy with his shell shock and sex talk.  Lots of stylized, snappy dialog.  Cute young co-eds (including Kim Novak’s torch song temptress) get in on a little of the old guy action.

The Lineup:  “He pushed me too far!  So I pushed him just far enough.”  Another of many police procedural films from the 50s, this is sort of the CSI or Law and Order of its time.  Plenty of half-baked police work and random facts, with enough authentic phrases to pass itself off as ‘gritty.’  Things perk up when Eli Wallach shows up as a criminal agent, with his suave partner.  They add needed spice to what could easily have been a boring film.  Riding around San Francisco, bumping off folks, Wallach and his associate seem almost to be enjoying a Sunday drive.  The violent ending is awesome.  Watching some of the steady shots in this remind me how much I miss the days when hand-held was rare and not the rule.

Murder by Contract:  “I like when he talks.  It’s educational.”  A young man looking to get some fast money to buy a house gets a job as a hired killer.  He kills who he’s told, and he gets paid.  A trip to L.A. could bring him all the fortune he needs, if he doesn’t drive his local handlers crazy first.  A wild score, crazy shots, and some very weird scripting make this movie something special.  Is it great?  No, not really.  But it’s different.  Very different.  And as such, should be seen.

West Side Story:  Romeo and Juliet retold in New York with lots of catchy tunes.  It’s broad, almost garish in the use of colors and costumes, and plenty melodramatic.  But that’s what you want from a movie like this.  It holds its place as one of the great Hollywood musicals.  A must watch for any fan of film, especially of old Hollywood.  Even if I could never get the kids in my high school to walk like the gangs in this (snapping and all), it is still one I’ve always liked.

From the Earth to the Moon:  Man, it took a while to get through.  But a good series.  The highs, lows, thrills, disasters, larger than life folks, and everyday normal lives of the space program during the Moon years.  It made me laugh and yes, it made me cry.  And on the one hand, it reminded me of how amazing we and the things we’ve done are, while on the other made me so angry we haven’t done more.  To have gone so far, reached so high, achieved so much and then to just sit back and let it all languish is one of the most shameful things we’ve have done.  A grand show, even with all the mixed emotions it produced in me.  Maybe if more people watched it, they’d be less inclined toward apathy…maybe.  (And don’t even think about pulling that ‘we should solve our problems here first’ crap on me.  It’s a backward thinking argument that means nothing).

Robinson Crusoe:  Part of me thinks this film would have been better without the voiceover, but the idea of having Dan O’Herlihy in a movie for an hour and a half, without hearing his amazing voice just ain’t right.  And though I’d never have believed it before seeing this film, it is true.  Dan O’Herlihy was young(ish) once.  This is a pretty good version of the story.  Though I’m sure it could have fallen prey to poor pacing, I kind of wish it were longer.  The time he spends, taming his island, losing his mind, etc. doesn’t seem all that bad because the movie moves at such a brisk pace.  The racism is a touch awkward, though probably about right for the time period.

Chernobyl Diaries:  OK, first, this didn’t suck.  That said, it could really have been so much better.  The cast is OK.  The location shooting in Eastern Europe is great (the cinematography is mostly OK for what may have been an exclusively handheld film).  And the…things…are mostly well handled.  But, the film never really goes far enough, never gets deep enough into what’s going on.  And the end felt like a bit of a copout.  The explanation felt too easy, too simple.  For a modern horror film, the characters were surprisingly sympathetic, and I actually started to like a couple of them (so rare in post-80s horror).  I wanted more of the stuff in the water, the dogs, that kind of thing.  Alas.  There are depths to be plumbed here, but this movie doesn’t do it.

    I watched some more Tomorrow People.  Holy crap, does this show get dark.  Like, really, really dark.  Like innocent people jumping out of windows and bursting into flames dark.  Sometimes you forget how the British used to make their children’s shows.  Yowza.  And I watched another disk of Hell on Wheels with Ben.  Still making me want to play Red Dead Redemption again.

    Once again I found myself rooting through some boxes and finding more Free Comic Book Day issues, and various other singles I have acquired over the years.  Up first this week was another free Atomic Robo/NeoZoic double from 2008.  This is probably the most serious of the Atomic Robo shorts I’ve read, though it’s still fairly light and pulpy.  It keeps intriguing me, and I know I really should give a trade a try.  But I haven’t.  And NeoZoic is starting to grow on me.  The art is a touch too Japanese influenced for me, but you can hardly get away from that in comics today (F-you, anime!).  There are a couple ads for other Red 5 Comics titles in the issue.  Afterburn seems like it could be a cool variation on the usual post-apocalyptic thing.  In spite of the overuse of that trope, I’m still a sucker for it (much like zombies).  Z.M.D. (Zombies of Mass Destruction), however doesn’t interest me at all.  And Abyss even less so.

    Because I know the colorist, Matt Herms, I picked up the 2010 Free Comic Book Day Sonic the Hedgehog.  Look, I didn’t play the game more than a couple times.  I didn’t watch the cartoon, and I’ve never read the comics.  Like the Power Rangers or Captain Planet, it’s from after ‘my time.’  So, reading this issue, I was left scratching my head.  I could tell it was full of jokes and references, but I didn’t get any of them.  It was like sitting at the break-room table at my job, listening to all the 20-25 year olds talking about ‘back in the day,’ but I remember what I was doing when they were born and that ‘day’ was just a few years ago (the 90s are still recent history to me).  Anyway, and I’m not just saying this because I know the colorist, the coloring in this book is really quite good.  For that matter, though not my cup of tea, the art and layout are good.  I just don’t get it the comic.

    Up next was 2008’s Dan Dare/The Stranded free book from Virgin Comics.  I’ve  been intrigued by Dan Dare for some time, and have tried at various times to get some trades to read, but there always seems to be something wrong (often, the first volume of any given series is unavailable).  I like the classic science fiction adventure style of it, and the Britishness of the whole thing.  Plus, the art I’ve seen from the old comics is great.  This new one is by Garth Ennis, who gets a lot of praise.  But there was nothing in the sample that wowed me in any way.  Not the writing or the art, or even the general concept of the story being told.  It was all very generic.  I may give it a look sometimes, mostly because of my love of space-based science fiction (and it’s profound lack of representation in comics).  But I’m not going to run right out.  The Stranded didn’t do anything for me at all.  It was made in conjunction with the Sci-Fi Channel (before the name change), and it felt like it.  Blandly conceived and executed.  Meh.  The previews for other Virgin titles were equally as uninspiring.  The art for Ramayan 3392 is nice and it looks pretty darned weird.  But the dialog writing seemed awkward and silly.  And Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment looks like a snore.

    Then I read DDP’s Drafted free book, also from 2008.  It seems to be an issue meant to sum up what went on in that comic over its first five issues, which gives it a choppy ‘last time on…’ kind of feel.  Seems like it could be a cool idea, but I think I’d need to see a little more, see what direction the writers were looking at taking it in before I took the plunge.  It could go stupid, or worse, boring, real easy.  Just look at the countless anime that start out with a similar premise and do just that (go stupid and boring).

    The Battlestar Galactica: Season Zero/The Lone Ranger double seems to be from 2007’s Free Comic Book Day.  But I’m pretty darned sure I didn’t go to that, so I’m not sure.  Whatever the case, The Lone Ranger seemed pretty standard, with nothing to make me want to read more.  Battlestar, however, was at least interesting.  I’m not all that excited about a prequel story, but at least it’s not long before the show, and deals with a time that isn’t well explored during the course of the show.  I love the idea of a Battlestar comic, of expanding the universe and seeing other angles of life before, during, and after the ‘Cylon Holocaust.’  But, honestly, Dynamite’s comics don’t look all that good.  I keep thinking about trying them out, just in case.  But I haven’t.  And this one didn’t really sway me one way or the other.  A couple ads for Red Sonja reminded me why that re-launch was such a disappointment for me.  After the amazing early volumes of Dark Horse’s new Conan line, I’d have loved a serious take on Red Sonja, not the chain mail bikini and inflated boobs thing Dynamite went with.

    Back in 2010, I was watching Fraggle Rock and enjoying the heck out of it.  So, when I saw a Free Comic Book Day double with Mouse Guard, a book I’d been hearing a lot of good about, I snagged it.  Well, I ended up stuffing it away in a box and not reading it; but I picked up the first trade of Fraggle Rock when it came out…and still haven’t read that, either.  It does contain the story from this free issue, though, so I didn’t read it.  I did read the Mouse Guard  story, which was interesting and I think has decided me on getting the first trade one of these days.

    In 2011, Archaia put out another double featuring Mouse Guard, but this time the other side was a preview for an upcoming Dark Crystal comic.  Now, folks who know me, know that while I really like Labyrinth, and I love the Muppets, and I’ve come to really have a warm place in my lump of coal for the Fraggles, I think Jim Henson’s true masterwork was The Dark Crystal.  So, obviously, I snapped it right up.  But here’s the thing.  I didn’t read it.  Like the above mentioned Fraggle Rock comic, I put it away and purchased the beautiful hard cover trade when it came out, which I actually did read and love.  It’s fantastic, and for any fan of the Dark Crystal, it’s a must.  Really an amazing volume.  Anyway, I read the Mouse Guard story, and I think it was better suited than the previous year’s.  It’s more of a stand-alone story.  And it’s good.  There’s also a preview of the very weird and dreamlike Season of the Dapper Men, which looks like some kind of clockwork Edwardian nightmare fantasy.  Not my thing, but looks like it’s probably quality.  There’s also a preview of A Tale of Sand, a graphic novel based on an un-produced screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl.  I’m very interested in reading this book at some point.  Looks like some kind of beat generation odyssey through the American desert.  Pretty wild.  I like this Archaia company.  They’re making more literary graphic novels, without descending into the hopelessly arty.  Pushing the medium without trying to abandon it.

    I guess I must have been at Free Comic Book Day in 2007, because I found another one.  The Astounding Wolf-Man by Robert Kirkman.  Frankly, I found this one kind of silly.  It looks super-kiddy, but the gore level, if very stylized, is too much for kids.  The story seems like simple rehash of the usual werewolves and vampires stuff.  Next.  There’s a short Brit sample.  Brit is one of those comics I’ve wanted to check out for a while, but haven’t.  No real reason.  Just haven’t yet.  Then there’s some stuff about a new Spawn book (yawn).  And some nice looking art for some kind of Witchblade/Darkness/etc. comic called First Born (double yawn).  With the exception of Brit, which I’ve known about for some time, nothing to see here.  Move along.

    Grim humor, nihilism, and the usual bent British comic book style fills the pages of the 2011, magazine sized 2000 AD free issue.  I dig anthologies, be they books, movies, or comics.  And this one has some good stuff.  Of course, there’s some Judge Dredd.  And I guess Slaine is popular.  I like the art, but the content didn’t impress me.  Kingdom seems really interesting.  I’m curious to see where that goes.  And Shakara doesn’t give you much, but is brutal.  I’m curious what the deal is with that one.  I already have a bunch of Dredd comics (I should really get on reading more of them).  But I think a trade of Kingdom might be worth checking out.

    And another of those comics I picked up at some point along the way, The Rising, has pretty good art, but the writing is kind of meh.  There’s a painterly quality to the images.  And the alien invasion situation could have real potential.  But, while evolution and I are like peas in a pod, when the preacher comes out and starts going on about it, I could do little but roll my eyes.  It felt like something written by someone who doesn’t understand evolution trying to hit it with a passive aggressive attack.  Is this book going to turn into some kind of religious thing?  I wanted to like it, but ultimately couldn’t.  The writing isn’t there, and I’m guessing that means the follow-through won’t be either.

    2000 AD’s 2012 Free Comic Book Day was pretty good.  Oh, those Brits.  The ‘Cops’-like Judge Dredd short is funny.  The intro to The Grievous Journey of Ichabod Azrael (and the dead left in his wake) seems like it could make for a good weird western.  Zombo is just straight-up wrong.  Ro-busters was pretty standard.  And finally, the very grimly funny Future Shocks: Whatever Happened to the Green Pedestrian Palm?

    And heck, while we’re at it…I found a copy of Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales number 5 that Dan gave me many, many years ago (it’s from January 2003).  Tom Strong was one of the comics, along with Hellboy and some Crossgen titles, that Dan used to lure me to the medium.  This issue features a few short stories.  It’s pretty good.  One of these days, I’ll crack into my Tom Strong hardcovers.

    I stopped by my local Big Planet Comics and grabbed a few $1. first issues.  Fanboys VS. Zombies is certainly not my thing.  The art is pretty ugly as is the dialog, which is supposed to be ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ in a dorky kind of way.  But, it comes off fairly forced.  There’s a would-be Joss Whedon feel.  Part of me is curious where they’re planning to take the story, but that part of me is very small and doesn’t control my wallet.

    Then to Lord of the Jungle, another Dynamite attempt to adapt some Edgar Rice Burroughs.  The art is pretty good, but in spite of my Burroughs love, Tarzan’s origin story ranks up there with Robin Hood and King Arthur for adaptations I don’t ever need to see again.  I may keep my eye on this title, though, because an ongoing Tarzan comic with high production value could be very cool.

    Brad slipped me a copy of one he grabbed at SPX (I think last year), Man-Gull.  The concept is gold.  A seagull rips the arms off a drunken a-hole, then uses them to start a murder spree.  “Strong enough to rip a man’s arm off…Smart enough to use them.”  Sadly, the comic itself doesn’t really live up.  Too much time spent with the lead detective who is a total turd.  Not enough Man-Gull.

    Valen the Outcast presents a potentially solid dark fantasy adventure.  The art is rough, but that fits with the story.  The writing isn’t bad, and though it certainly features some cliché moments and character archetypes, it works fairly well.  I’m not generally into fantasy, so I don’t know that I’ll bother to continue.  But if you are, and are looking for something kind of gritty (more Elrik than Bilbo), it’s worth checking out.  My only concern is, if it’s not a limited series, where they can take it.  The problem with revenge quest stories is that you’ve either got to fulfill the revenge fairly quickly (leaving the character with no motivation), or drag it on and on, with the object of the quest always escaping at the last minute; and that sucks.  But if those pitfalls are avoided, it might be nice to have a good ongoing fantasy comic for fans of that genre.

    Another comic from Brad, Secret from Image.  Issue one is a lot of set-up, but it’s setting up something potentially interesting.  Ultra-devious corporate espionage.   Bloody violence.  Panel after panel of talk and people standing around.  Not a lot of action.  But I still found it interesting, if not perhaps, best suited for the comic format.  I may check out a trade later, though.  I think this is a limited series, so hopefully it’ll get where it needs to go and tell a good yarn.

    I grabbed a $1. first issue of Orchid, a science fiction comic written by former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello (?!).  This one is right up my ally.  Civilization has collapsed, mutant animals run amok, and all kinds of bad happens.  The scripting is OK.  Nothing special, but not bad.  I gather this is a limited series, and I’ll be very interested in seeing it when it comes out in trade (actually, I’ll have to look to see there is a trade out already, as this issue is from last October).  The art is kind of ugly, but it fits with the story.

    Brian Azzarello is an interesting author.  And he sure likes to take things into dark, morally ambiguous places.  Spaceman, another $1. first issue, starts out grim and gets grimmer.  A big dumb brute, genetically engineered to go to Mars, makes his living fishing out valuable trash from a dirty ocean, so he can afford occasional virtual pleasure with a prostitute and taste happiness with some street drugs.  He is haunted by dreams of life on Mars, while the world around him is a prison.  And then there’s something about a celebrity power couple and their missing kid.  Where’s that gonna go?  This issue also has a preview for A Flight of Angels, which looks like some pretty typical urban fantasy.  Fairly nice art, but I don’t care.

    Like Lord of the Jungle, Dynamite’s adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter books, Warlord of Mars, is lavishly produced.  And it actually seems pretty close to the original.  Sure, this first issue does some pre-meeting build-up of Tars Tarkas and some other Martians.  But, whatever.  It’s not too bad, really.  Though, like with Tarzan, I don’t feel like muscling through Carter’s origin again.  I’ve read A Princess of Mars several times, and am not too excited about going through it again in comic form.  Still, I do love me some Burroughs.  And comics are a pretty good fit for his work.  I’m assuming Dynamite doesn’t have the balls to have everyone naked, as in the books, but I still hope they do a good and worthy adaptation and maybe bring some more people to Burroughs who wouldn’t otherwise have read his work.  Will they do a Carson of Venus series?  Fingers crossed.

    Way back when, when I started getting into comics, I started picking up those Crossgen digests, the ones that collected an issue or two of each of their many titles, so by buying two digests a month, you could keep up with their whole array of titles.  This way, I could read the comics I enjoyed with some frequency and still store them on my bookshelves.  It also meant I could read some of the comics I was less inclined toward, and enjoy them more as bonus features.  Heck, by the end, I was actually starting to like Mystic.  Anyway, one of those comics was Ruse, a play on Sherlock Holmes, but this time with a dashing, cerebral lady companion in Dr. Watson’s place, and a bit more fantasy thrown in.  Annoyingly, my access to the comic ended somewhere around their arrival on a jungle island that looked like it might be the stomping ground of Prof. Challenger.  Anyway, Marvel seems to have snapped up the defunct Crossgen lines, and has re-launched several of them, including Ruse.  If I’m reading the first issue right, they’re not changing past events, simply bouncing the timeline forward a bit.  No retelling of the origin or coming together of the duo, thankfully.  I prefer my origin stories to be brief if existent at all, and I’m glad they skipped it here.  The art is nice, and the writing pretty good.  What’s kind of cool is that some of the same original creative team is on this title.  Mark Waid still writing.  I hope it gets some readership.

    Well, darn it.  I just read the letters section of the second issue of the re-launch of Ruse, and it seems it’s a mini-series or something.  Part of me thinks that’s good.  Keep it limited and you don’t have time to wander off too much.  But, part of me would like to see an ongoing story.  I suppose if it’s successful, they’ll do more.  Of course, as I’m writing this, issue 2 is a year old, and I have absolutely no idea what happened with the series.  Next time I’m online, I’ll have to take a look.  Maybe this is in trade now?  I’ll have to take a look.  Anyway, the second issue is pretty good.  Nice cliffhanger ending again.  Sadly, these two issues were the only ones I got from Brad, so I don’t know when I’ll read the end of the story.  Oh, singles.  How I hate you.

    I’ve been aware of Richard Corben and his hideously beautiful artwork since I was a kid, sneaking a read of my brother’s Heavy Metal magazine.  He drew women with big boobs, which I liked, but he also drew some of the most off-puttingly disgusting people and things, often in the same panel…often with big boobs.  I can’t say I was ever much of a fan, frankly.  Though in recent years, his work on both Conan and Hellboy surprised and impressed me.  Ragemoor teams him up with writer Jan Strnad (how do you pronounce that?) for a bit of Hammer Horror Gothic madness.  Once again, Corben’s weirdass art both attracts and repels.   Certainly not your normal comic.

    The second issue of Ragemoor is more of the same Poe/Lovecraft/Hammer Horror type creepy old craggy castle madness.  More hideous creatures and strange vistas.  Meeting the shadowed servants, learning the truth of the skull faced baboons, and finding out what horrors wait deep beneath Ragemoor are just a few revelations.  And who is the dreaded poacher and lothario Tristano?  I don’t think he has Anoria’s best interests at heart.  This comic is crazy, man.  But I’m digging it.  I’m hoping to read issue three soon (I think it’s out now).

    Thanks to Brad, I got to read the full first issue of X-O Manowar, which certainly gets into more crazy science fiction stuff than the preview in the Valiant 2012 Free Comic Book Day sampler.  There isn’t really anything amazing or profound here.  But the story looks like it could be very cool.  And Cary Nord’s art is very nice.

    My pulp appetite has been aroused by the first issue of Garth Ennis’ new launch of The Shadow from Dynamite.  Again, pleasantly skipping an origin story, it gets right into things, our sinister hero dusting a bunch of thugs with his signature pistols.  The Shadow is one of my all time favorite characters, a precursor (and to my thinking, still superior) to characters like Batman.  And the story, artwork, and writing all do justice.  This is one of the more exciting and potentially awesome comic lines to come out in a while.  (Imagine my delight at seeing someone taking up The Spider as well.  How about a really grand Doc Savage comic…or is that already out there?  I’ll have to take a look).

    Issue 2 of The Shadow is still solid.  I enjoy how much of a bastard The Shadow/Cranston is.  And I like all the implied history.  I’m very curious to see where this all goes.  I’m looking forward to some trades for my shelf.  Unfortunately, I did see the preview for The Spider, which sets things in the modern day.  I’m not a fan of that, but the sensibility seems right, even if the era is all wrong.  Generally, I like my pulp heroes in their pulp eras.  The Rocketeer, The Shadow, Doc Savage, Flash Gordon.  They’re of a time, and I usually prefer them to remain in it.

    I’m not going to write a full, separate review for it, but Saturday afternoon I stopped by my local comic shop and picked up the Ruse trade, and finished the four issue run I’d started in the morning.  It’s a pretty good tale, and does reach a conclusion, making the volume a solid stand alone.  I don’t know if Marvel has more plans for Ruse.  I hope so.  I have a feeling their attempt to re-launch the Crossgen titles didn’t go all that well.  I don’t think the titles have wide enough appeal, but maybe I’m wrong.  I’ll have to look into it.  But, if you like Victorian adventure, especially Sherlock Holmes type mystery, then get out to your local comic shop and buy the Ruse trade (ISBN: 978-0-7851-5586-7), and if you can, go back and read the original line.

    While at the comic shop, I also snagged a copy of last year’s Flash Gordon: Zeitgeist.  Oh, origin stories.  At least this one moves quickly and gets into the meat of things.  Plus, working Hitler and the War into things works for me.  Like all singles, there’s not enough here.  A few pages, just enough to get you interested before it’s over.  I think I’ll look into grabbing a trade of this, though.  I like the art, and the general direction they seem to be taking things.

    After a month or more, I finally finished the first volume of Finder.  See my review here.

    I feel like I’ve gone comic crazy.  I’m not sure exactly why, though I do blame Lisa’s idea for a graphic novel reading group and Free Comic Book Day.  Oh, and living alone.  And not having a new NetFlix DVD that one day.  There are a lot of things that go into it, I guess.  Whatever the case, the last few weeks have been filled with short glimpses into various series, most of which I probably won’t ever try again.  But there were several gems and lots to keep tabs on.  And with my bike finally fixed, and the weather occasionally cooperating, I got some good cycling in.  My extra banged up knee is feeling it, but what are you gonna do.  Still holding out for something in chrome for a replacement.  Cobalt racing stripes?  Come on, roboticists.  I need my mechanical knees.

    Till then…


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