Friday, September 28, 2012
Matt’s Weeks in Dork! (9/9/12-9/15/12 and 9/16/12-9/22/12)
I started the week with the second day of the Baltimore Comic-con. I got a chance to grab signatures from Cary Nord and Bernie Wrightson. Nord being the artist on the first few volumes of Dark Horse’s Conan re-launch from a few years back. To this day, the best take on Conan done. And Wrightson, of course, is a fantastic artist from way back, creating some of the coolest horror images out there. Artists’ Ally remained something of a disappointment. Just not the variety I want. So much zombie and so much Doctor Who, with so little of any particular creativity or quality. I love Doctor Who, but it was all pretty bland, and almost exclusively New Who, which is fine, but for this long time fan, limited. Nothing Lost, or Battlestar, or Farscape. Precious little Trek. No Babylon 5. A bit of Venture Bros., but not much. It felt like the Dork Art culture was not well represented.
I was on vacation this week, and ended up having some time to get some movie watching in. I also got some reading done, including some comics, which I hadn’t been getting to a lot lately.
Sin Syndicate: This reminds me of that awful Ed Wood movie, Orgy of the Dead. It’s a bunch of lifeless stripping sequences with a shoddy story to break up the ‘action.’ Oh, and it’s teaching a lesson. The entire movie is horribly dubbed (was this not filmed in English?), which makes things a bit confusing when different characters start taking over narration and it sounds just like the rest of the dialog. Plenty of stock footage, too. Always a charmer.
She Came on the Bus: Smokin’ doobies and wearing leather turns a bunch of youths into roving, sex-crazed monsters bent on murder and sex in this craptastic old ‘shocker.’ Like Sin Syndicate, the dialog seems to be missing. There’s just narration and canned music. Otherwise, it’s like a silent film. If this film is any indication, the best thing that could happen to a person is to get assaulted by a gang of roving youths (unless you drive a bus…’cause then you’re dead).
Sin Magazine: A dysfunctional family comes together and gets weird. They’re working on nudie mags, but they all seem to hate them. How they ran a magazine out of a farm house in the middle of nowhere, I have no idea. The more success they have, the worse their lives become…for some reason. Then, well you know. Murder.
Watchmen The Ultimate Cut: “We can do so much more. We can save this world.” This is the Godfather of superhero films; a sprawling epic of grand scope with a massive cast of complex characters. There is a lot going on with these people, each one haunted by the past, some haunted by the future. And it’s all set against the deadly downward spiral toward nuclear war in an alternate 1980s America. The basic premise of the story is that superheroes are still people, with everything (good and bad) that implies. Some are sociopaths, some normal folks who wanted to help, and one who had his humanity stripped away from him has become a god. The line between hero and villain may not even exist. This cut splices in the animated pirate story readers of the book will be familiar with. It also features the death of Hollis Mason, which is frickin’ awesome, and powerfully emotional. I think my favorite character thread is that of Dr. Manhattan, this world’s Superman. It explores the alienation and detachment of a lone super being living among lesser creatures. His difficulty in remaining interested in the petty affairs of people, their loves and hatreds, when his perception of timespace is so far beyond. But it also helps that the villain is right. In so many stories, the villain is basically right, but the writer has to make sure we know they’re bad by making them do something unconscionable (frivolous murder) or having an insurmountable character flaw (like racism). Not here. The villain isn’t doing bad things because of greed or for personal gain. The villain is doing the evil that needs to be done in order to save the world, kind of like Leto in God Emperor of Dune. In a sense, the villain is bravest of the heroes. Can tremendous horror be forgiven if the greater good is served? Can the sacrifice of a relative few innocents in order to save everyone else be justified? What is an acceptable number of losses? Would you kill one to save thousands? Hundreds to save thousands? A million to save the rest of the world?
Zen: Season 1: It is so odd watching a show set in Italy, about Italian characters, where 99% of the people have British accents. Still, once you get past that, this mystery series is pretty good. The cast is excellent, the location shooting impressive, and the stories good. I love conspiracies involving government, family, and history. Though not amazing, it all works quite well.
Five Bloody Graves: Man, the audio on this is awful. Stretches of it sound like the speaker is inside a bucket or something. The narration (by Death) is kind of cool in the opening scene, but wears thin quick. But this is some pretty standard stuff. Nothing to make it stand out from countless other no-budget Westerns being churned out on the fringes at that time. The acting and the music is awful. And the complete random way everyone keeps getting shot or attacked is weird.
Nurse Sherri: The a busty nurse working at a hospital full of sex starved medical professionals gets the evil inside her and starts a’killin’ folk. Awful music strikes again. This looks and feels like one of Corman’s Nurse movies, but with a dose of The Exorcist thrown in for a ‘twist.’ It’s pretty lame.
Down With Love: I dig movies of the 60s, even the kind of crappy, so called ‘sex comedies,’ many of which were not particularly good, most of which featured Doris Day. Down With Love attempts and often succeeds in capturing the style of those movies, with its heightened witty banter, twisting storyline, and wacky comedy. Ewan McGregor is ultra-charming as the dashing, womanizing reporter and Renee Zellweger is slightly less aggravating than usual as the would-be woman liberator. Is it a great movie? No. But it’s fun. And it makes a nice lighthearted companion to Mad Men.
Battlestar Galactica Season 1: I loved the original show when I was a kid, but it was a pretty silly Star Wars knock-off, probably only popular at the time or remembered now because there was so little science fiction to choose from. This new series took some of the concepts, boiled them down to the basics, and rebuilt one of the best science fiction shows to come down the road. An awesome cast, great production design, excellent special effects, and a well crafted and complex story. Humanity created a race of robots, those robots rebelled, and they warred for some time. That war ended some time ago, and a quiet sort of peace descended. Now, after many, many years, they’ve returned and blasted Humanity to the brink of annihilation. Personal relationships, religion, politics, science and all those things that make our world go round set against a grand scale of interstellar exploration and conflict.
The Glass Bottom Boat: Rod Taylor hooks himself a plucky blond mermaid in this light romantic comedy. The wacky misadventures of love involve NASA, spies, and comic awkwardness. As one expects from a movie like this, it goes into all kinds of silly and goofy places. Nothing especially consequential, but the leads are charming and it is fun. The short, Every Girl’s Dream is kind of awesome, with all its condescending cheese.
Hot Saturday: Wild parties at the lake lead to various comic misunderstandings in this pre-Code movie about a small town girl (Nancy Carroll), a dashing wealthy dandy (a young Cary Grant), a goody-goody dolt (Randolph Scott), and a bunch of jerk townspeople. It’s hardly a classic, but it’s fun enough for a bit of fluff.
Torch Singer: “You can have me if you want me, but you must be mine alone.” A young, unwed mother with a heavenly voice may just make it in this big ol’ world. Can she make it singling in clubs? And what about her daughter she put up for adoption? Claudette Colbert drunkenly trying to light a cigarette with another cigarette has got to be one of the most charmingly, disgustingly unladylike things I’ve ever seen.
Lilo and Stitch: “Wanna listen to the King? You look like an Elvis fan.” Weird, weird, weird character design aside, this fairly forgettable Disney film is still pretty good. Monsters, family, belonging, and our very nature. It’s Disney, so it all ends up teaching a lesson. But when all is said and done, I don’t think I’ll remember this in a week.
Women in Fury: One of the better Women in Prison subgenre I’ve seen, it’s got everything you’re looking for in one of these, without a lot of the typical Italian film brutality toward women. Oh, sure there’s lots of topless wrestling and that sort of thing, but not the sexual mutilation Italian films seem to be so big on. The awful dubbing, the terrible music, and the various stupid stuff makes this one a solid entry in the genre, and the fact that it looks at least ten years older than it is, lets you know it’s Italian for sure.
I wasn’t going to bother, but the siren song lured me back. I started watching Charlie’s Angles’ third season. Hey, starting out with Dean Martin (and James Hong!!!) in Vegas is nice touch. Kate Jackson even does a scene without at turtleneck (it doesn’t last). I made it a bit further in The Prisoner. And Sunday night after the con, Brad and I checked out a few episodes of Venture Bros., which I’ve been trying to get him to watch for some time.
And I started watching the old British series Tommy & Tuppence. Two foppish dandies, one male, one female, bumble into a job as investigators. There’s something kind of forgettable about this, even though it’s fairly well done. And then the second episode…Ugh. It turns to crap, becoming an irritating half-assed Thin Man, with far, far too much attempted comedy.
Riding the Baltimore Comic-Con high, I read the free sample from Valiant. The primary story is a lead-up to the re-launch of Shadowman. As usual, it’s just a taste, and not quite enough to get a handle. But, it’s intriguing. So, we’ll see. I didn’t read the snippet of X-O Manowar, because I’ve actually been reading that series, and takes place around issue 5, which I haven’t reached.
The other free hand-out I kept getting was from Amazon Studios, called Blackburn Burrow. I guess they’re looking to make a movie and did this comic to gauge interest. It’s not that good, and probably wouldn’t make a good movie. Just seemed like a half-assed Jonah Hex, and we all saw how bat that film turned out (wow, did they screw that one up). This is all pretty typical horror/western stuff. A fairly lame Man With No Name type heads off to fight monsters during the Civil War. The art looks like poor imitation Hellboy and the writing is just as bland. As an idea for a film, it seems made for SyFy.
For a laugh, I read Futurama Comics issue 62. I love Futurama…a lot. And this comic isn’t too bad. It’s got some of the rhythm and the look down fine. Obviously with the show, the voices are a big part of the magic, but the writing is key. If you’re a fan, you could do worse. And if I’m not mistaken, like episodes of the show, this is self contained, so no worries about continuity.
After that I tried another new Star Wars comic series, Lost Tribe of the Sith: Spiral. It feels like the writers of the comics have gotten themselves stuck in a rut. Various characters with similar traits go through various stories with similar traits. Spinner and ‘Red’ are annoyingly one dimensional characters that feel like they stepped out of a 90s cartoon. Alas.
DC’s ‘New 52’ shot out another quick gimmick with a bunch of issue zeros. So, I grabbed a couple. Swamp Thing 0 is interesting, I guess. It was more interesting than the first issue of the regular series at least. I’m curious what the whole Red, Green, and Rot thing is all about. I might have to read Animal Man after all, as I think it and Swamp Thing form a larger whole. We’ll see.
Archer & Armstrong is the Valiant title I was most interested, and finally getting a chance to read the first issue, that remains the case. I love Cary Nord’s art on X-O, but the story is kind of ho-hum. Not bad, just not as exciting as I’d like. Archer & Armstrong has potential to be all kinds of crazy historical, conspiratorial nuttiness. And of course, a dig on the idiots behind creationist museums is always welcome.
Batman Detective Comics’ zero issue wasn’t bad. A kind of cool story from Bruce’s missing years, training in the East. It also features a bit of Alfred tossing some weight around, which is always fun. I’m not sure what they’re planning to do, or how much anything in this story will matter. But it was OK. Looks like they might try to expand on Bruce’s parents, and what their place in Gotham was, and their family histories. Maybe that’s already happened. I only read Court of Owls, and otherwise don’t know much about the New 52 Batman.
Continuing with the Detective Comics thing, I read that series’ Annual #1. It references a bunch of stuff I don’t know anything about, thanks to not following the New 52 for the most part, during it’s first year. But it’s not bad. Seems like a lot of crazy stuff is going on. This is all much more typical Batman than what I read in the Court of Owls series. Not really my thing, but not bad.
Not sure why I bothered, but I grabbed the Teen Titans Annual #1. It’s all kinds of 90s cheese. The art isn’t bad; it’s just that frenetic, splashy, messy even that kept me away from comics, especially American comics of that time. The character designs are very 90s, and look like they could have come off the covers of X-Force, Youngbloods, or any of those lame super-team comics of that time.
I love me some Godzilla, and I love that he’s back in the funny pages. But I’ll admit, I haven’t been reading any of the various stories that have come out. Thanks to Brad, the first issue of the Godzilla arc The Half-Century War got into my grubby hands. It’s a nice ground level view of the Tokyo attack seen in the first film, and looks like the series will follow some of the major events of the classic films from the eye of a soldier doing his part.
I can hardly express how happy I am that The Rocketeer is flying again. Dave Stevens’ love letter to movie serials and pulp adventure stories spawned one of my favorite action movies, but shockingly little printed work. Though it certainly helped to spark the revival in pulp characters that has been chugging along for the last 10 or 15 years. Finally, in the last couple years, we’ve seen several new Rocketeer comics. The first issue of the new series Cargo of Doom was a lot of fun. The art reminds me a bit of the animated Tin-Tin movie with a dash of Darwin Cooke. It feels like the story is taking its time to develop, not rushing into things. So, I’ll be very curious to see where this goes in the coming issues.
I read the Anthony Bourdain graphic novel Get Jiro!, which was OK. Some fun food gags, but the over-used Red Harvest/Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars plotline was unfortunate.
On Friday night, Dan and Chris from On the Fly Publications came down for SPX. The con was pretty cool, bigger and more spacious than previous years, and much easier to get around in. Though, it still filled up quite a bit. Very good turn out from the look of things. There were some interesting vendors, and I’ll be going back on Sunday (see the next Week in Dork). I held off on buying anything on the first day, though. So while Chris was running down his ‘things to do’ checklist, Dan and I took the Metro into DC to see the Exorcist stairs (gah, those are not good for people with heights problems), and walk around. We covered a good deal of ground, and I was once again reminded how much I like DC compared to other cities. It tends to feel much more open, more clean, and more welcoming. And it’s very pedestrian friendly. We went from DuPont Circle to Georgetown and back in toward the Mall, stopping off at the Barnes & Noble to sit down and have a coffee. Then back on the Red line to White Flint and the con. On our way back, we were a few minutes too slow for me to show them Big Planet Comics, so we just drove over to Five Guys to get the best danged burger and fries around. I got some serious walking in, saw some cool indie comics, got a bit of a sunburn, and spent very little money. A good day.
Got some reading done. Otherwise, not too much going on this week.
Living Dead Girl: Toxic waste and grave robbing don’t mix in this Jean Rollin film that features (wait for it) a pretty young woman wandering around a lot. More dialog than I was expecting, including an odd number of English speakers who can’t act for crap. But reanimated blond girl is a killing machine with her Wolverine nails. Typically beautifully shot and with his usual dream quality, it sadly features some really awful gore effects that seem somewhat out of place (although the neck squirt-gun is kinda awesomely stupid). This could have used 100% more Brigitte Lahaie. Rollin films are never quite right without her.
Doctor Who: The Dominators: Not one of the best stories, I still value any of the second Doctor’s stuff, because it’s so danged rare. It’s not bad and there are some good bits, to be sure. Extreme passivism comes up against naked aggression (like in the classic Trek episode Mirror, Mirror) and the life of an entire planet hangs in the balance. Can someone born into a society of absolute peace learn to stand up to oppressors? Can the Doctor figure out what the Dominators want? Can his Highlander companion bash them robots but good?
Resident Evil-Retribution: Oh, man. As silly and stupid as you could want or expect from this seemingly unstoppable horror-action franchise. I think they’re working their way up to doing an entire film in slow motion. Weird zooms, gimmicky 3D, one-liner after one-liner, and oh, so many clones. The cast in this movie is terrible at their job. But the real standout is the amazingly awful woman who plays Jill Valentine. I thought she was awful in the second film, but she’s so, so much worse here. It’s kind of wonderful.
Horrors of the Malformed Men: More crazy Edogawa Rampo stuff. It’s not especially good, but it has some good moments. I liked the cast in this a lot, and the general mood was good. But like most Rampo films I’ve seen, the filmmakers seemed far more interested in the sexual deviances than the characters or the plot.
Two Orphan Vampires: Pretty girls, a graveyard, wandering, not much in the way of plot. Jean Rollin makes the best films. If I could make movies, I think this is the sort of thing I’d want to make. Like student films that somehow got theatrical budgets. Brigitte Lahaie shows up for a moments, and in a rare turn, keeps her clothes on. Rollin never really seemed to change, making the same sort of movie in 1997 he had been making in 1977. But this sort of thing has its place and he was good at it.
Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma: “Our genius has been abused!” The Doctor is having difficulty with his regeneration again, going into fits, sometimes murderous rages. And someone’s stolen twin mathematicians. I remember hating Colin Baker’s turn in the iconic role when I saw it as a boy. Though I seem to remember enjoying the shapely perkiness of Peri. There is obviously an attempt to bring some of Tom Baker’s edge back into the character, with a dash of William Hartnell’s crotchetiness. I like Colin Baker much more now, though I can see why I didn’t like him 30 years ago.
Nightbreed: I’m working on the book (novella?) this film is based on right now, and I’m quite surprised at how true to the source it is up to the point I’m at. Sure, the acting isn’t always that great, and the special effects look fairly primitive by today’s standards. But the make-up effects are cool. And they really go for it, pushing far beyond the boundaries of budget and technology. It’s a cool story with a lot of implied depth. I wish there had been more, a sequel or what have you.
Batman The Animated Series: Season 2: More excellent work. This series is spot-on, with great voice acting, nice animation, awesome design work, and good stories. The retro-futurist look, frequent call-backs to old movies and adventure stories, and the fantastic rogues gallery of dastardly devils and fractured felons keep our hero on his toes.
Coupling Season 1: This show serves as a reminder of how much you can’t do or say on American network TV. It’s funny, it’s oddly charming, and it’s very forthright. Little bits of each episode remind me of moments in my own life, conversations with friends, awkward exchanges with beautiful women. Far funnier than Friends ever dreamed of being, it’s a rare sitcom I actually enjoy.
Plucking the Daisy: French Tony Curtis and French Cary Grant get the hots for a ditzy young writer who has wandered into Paris looking to become a famous author. There’s the usual; mistaken identity, stripping, misogyny. You know, French comedy. Meh.
I finally decided to read the first volume of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing run. Pretty good. And I read Barry Gifford’s Sad Stories of the Death of Kings.
A few more New 52 issue 0s came to me. The Phantom Stranger is interesting, and there’s a lot of potential, but a lot depends on where they take it. Using characters like this, who are archetypes of the ‘human condition,’ especially in this semi-horror/weird tale kind of series is much more interesting to me than a bunch of capes punching each other. Swamp Thing, The Phantom Stranger, The Spectre, and others with a more supernatural bent remind me of the 70s horror comics I used to sneak peaks at when I probably shouldn’t. It feels like what Batwoman is reaching toward, too, and I think more than a lot of the other caped crusaders, she fits with these supernatural and weird elements.
Green Lantern issue 0 tries to get all topical by having a young man from a Muslim family set up to look like a terrorist. Things go from bad to worse, until a Lantern ring comes into his possession, though it seems like it might be mistakenly. I’m worried this Baz guy might be a bit too much of the Guy Gardener punkass for my taste.
Superboy issue 0 was OK. I like some of what they’re doing with the character, though reading a bit of Teen Titans, it seems like they’re squandering the potential of the character. He could be a great tragic hero, built by madmen to violently reshape the world, but I have a feeling he’ll turn into just another whiney putz who sulks and snivels his way to victory.
Issue 0 of Action Comics was sure as heck better than the issue 1 I read last year. The art is fantastic and I like the little glimpse of Clark’s early days in Metropolis, playing video games with Jimmy Olsen. The second story left me with a lot of questions. I don’t know enough about the mythology to know if it’s setting up new stuff, or referencing old. Who is Adam? Not Clark, right? And why is Erik Drekken?
Batgirl issue 0 was OK, too. Another glimpse at the early career of an (semi)iconic character. There’s a whole weird thing where they’re still keeping the idea that The Joker shot her and she was paralyzed, but now there’s some thing where she got better and is back in the cape, I guess. This story deals with a cult of crazies taking over a police station. I wonder if anything from that ever comes back. I do like cults as bad guys, but it has the feel of a one-off appearance. I’ve not been thrilled with Gail Simone’s writing. She has a lot of the faux-hip dialog that plagues Joss Whedon’s work, where all the women are just so “adorably cool.” It gets old.
Batman and Robin issue 0 takes a look at Damian’s origin, with brief snippets of his education by his mother, Talia al Ghul. Born and raised to be a killer, Damian has, to say the least, challenges ahead if he really wants to be a hero like his father.
Batman issue 0 (because there are, of course, like 15 or 20 different Batman titles) as a brief tale about the Red Hood Gang, a very early foray into crime fighting for Bruce, and first(?) meeting with Gordon. There’s also a short about the first use of the Bat Signal, and about inspiration. These stores feel like interesting filler for a trade collection. I don’t mean that as a bad thing at all.
I read the first New 52 Batman trade a while ago (see my review), but the story wasn’t over. Brad passed on the issues that I guess complete the Court of Owls storyline, with the Night of the Owls multi-title event. I’m not tracking down all the other issues from other lines that deal with it. But I am reading the regular Batman. So, with issue 8, the army of Owl assassins is swooping down upon Bruce and Alfred, pushing them back into the bowels of the Bat Cave. The heat gets ramped up fast.
Issue 9 of Batman has the Dark Knight trying to track down the survivors, if there are any, and stop what he can of the Owls’ rampage of murder. It also features a short about Alfred’s father. I like that they’re doing a lot of delving into the history of the DC universe, and of Gotham specifically.
With issue 10, the Night of Owls seems to be over. But Bruce is left with nagging questions, leading him back, as always, to the death of his parents and the early days of his vengeance quest. And then the writers push things one step beyond (maybe) with a pretty big reveal. Or is it all just madness?
And finally issue 11 finishes the Court of Owls story (as well as the short about Alfred’s dad (which does tie in). Is the dramatic reveal of issue 10 true? We still don’t know. But the 11 issue arc was a nice break from the same-old same-old I have seen over the years with Batman. And they did a lot to put some meat on the bones of Gotham.
On Sunday, I went back to SPX, this time with Brad, and picked up a few odds and ends. There certainly seemed to be a lot of people, and there were a lot of cool folks there with their odd books. But for whatever reason, I didn’t find myself as engaged this year. I’m thinking, having had the same general feeling at Baltimore the week before, that I was just not in the right place to enjoy myself to my utmost. My hat’s off to the folks that ran SPX though, for listening to feedback last year and expanding the floor space so there was much, much more room to walk around. It was still really crowded, but not nearly as claustrophobic. And is there a really big hint as to someone’s identity and the show’s finale? I think, maybe.