Sunday, March 30, 2014

Comic Reviews: Abe Sapien Volumes 1 & 2

The Drowning

    The first volume of Abe Sapien tells the story of his first mission without Hellboy.  Generally speaking, it feels like a Hellboy story, just with Abe put in Red’s place.  I like the premise, and there are a lot of good scenes.  What I don’t like is Abe.  It’s weird, but my recent reading of B.P.R.D. and now reading this, I find myself enjoying Abe less and less.  I don’t know if Mignola isn’t sure what to do with him, or if he is sure, and it’s just not something I respond to.  Like Liz Sherman, Abe has become a sort of listless, self-doubting, sad-sack.  And this first solo (well, he’s got several red-shirt agents along with him…for a few pages) adventure does little to lend him much gravitas.

    As I said, I really do like the premise of the story.  An island which had been a leper colony and the center of a supernatural event, was rededicated to worship of the Sea.  Then something awful happened, and something was buried.  Abe and crew don’t exactly cause the problem, but their arrival sets some stuff in motion, and as often happens in these stories, the proverbial crap hits the fan.  There are more connections drawn to the Hyperboria, Atlantis, and Lemuria, some deep history and some weird magic.  And I really like Jason Shaw Alexander’s artwork.  But, at the end of the day, like in B.P.R.D., Abe is seeming more and more like a shadowy afterthought of Hellboy, like a vessel for unused story ideas that were meant for our doomed hero, but would no longer work for him.

The Devil Does Not Jest and Other Stories

    The second volume feels even more like classic Hellboy, being a bunch of short stories that feature various unrelated events.  That said, it feels like Abe has a bit more personality here.  The Haunted Boy and The Abyssal Plain showcase Abe’s very different, more thoughtful approach to weird events.  The Devil Does Not Jest sets up something really cool, but doesn’t pay off, which was too bad.  Pretty much everything up until the finale was cool.  I wonder if it’ll have any kind of follow-up in future Abe books, or in B.P.R.D.

    The art is a mixed bag, as this is an anthology.  But it’s all passable, at least.  However, I still can’t figure out if I actually like Abe anymore.  He’s such a potentially interesting character, but like several plotlines on Lost, the more you find out, the less interesting he becomes.  There were so many ways to take the character, and it seems like they’ve found most of the bad ones.  As much as I love Hellboy and B.P.R.D., it frustrates me that what was one of my favorite characters feels lost to me, now.  Like I can’t connect to him or to what he’s doing.

Abe Sapien: The Drowning
Author: Mike Mignola
Artist: Jason Shawn Alexander
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
ISBN: 978-1-59582-185-0

Abe Sapien: The Devil Does Not Jest and Other Stories
Authors: Mike Mignola & John Arcudi
Artists: Patrick Reynolds, etc.
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
ISBN: 978-1-59582-925-2

-Matthew J. Constantine

Matt’s Week in Dork! (3/23/14-3/29/14)

    On a much needed (MUCH needed) vacation this week.  I did a lot of sleeping, a lot of reading, and a lot of watching.  It was a pretty good week.

Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon:  I don’t ever want to be in a place where I’ve got to drink the “Golden Soup” to cure my parasites.  Not ever.  This over the top Hong Kong fantasy film is a lot of fun, though perhaps a bit overlong.  This is supposed to be early in Dee’s career, and sees him facing off against a conspiracy of foreign invaders and a mysterious sea monster, all while trying to figure out who the monster man is, and what his connection to the beautiful courtesan might be.  It’s the kind of mostly silly, kinda cool, effects filled movie that Tsui Hark is known for, for better or worse.  I’m not a fan of Tsui’s visual style, and this isn’t an exception.  He’s very similar to Andrew Lau and this movie reminded me a lot of Lau’s The Duel and The Storm Riders, but I tend to respond better to Lau’s films.  Still, I enjoyed this and the ending is about as crazy as you can ask for in a film of this sort.  Probably best for kids, this might make a good introduction to Chinese fantasy.  Someone who really enjoys the Pirates of the Caribbean films might take note.  There are tonal similarities.  I could see younger Matt really digging it.  As it is, a pretty good, but not great entry in the fantasy film list.

Pollyanna:  This Disney classic is perfectly enjoyable and fun, and good for the family.  There’s nothing especially profound or life changing about the movie, but it’s well made and does have a healthy dose of medicine for fire & brimstone preachers.  Worth watching with younger kids, but hardly a great classic.

    Figuring I’d best use my vacation for something other than lollygagging, I read the first three volumes of B.P.R.D.’s Hell on Earth arc and the first League of Extraordinary Gentlemen spin-off Nemo books.  Good stuff, all round.

Doctor Who: Genesis of the Daleks:  The Doctor, Sarah Jane, and Harry get pulled back in time by some bloody meddling Time Lord, in order to try to find something in the origin of the Daleks that might help fight them in the future.  Here we see the previously hinted at war on planet Skaro and meet for the first time Davros, the mad genius who gave the Daleks life and purpose.  It’s a dark story, with lots of interesting side characters, and some sticky ends for allies.  In spite of their over-use over the long run of this show, I genuinely like the Daleks, their origin story, and the visuals of Skaro.

The Mad Executioners:  It’s like they folded two not very good scripts into one jumbled and weird mess.  Bad English dubbing, at least one sub-plot too many, and some goofy characters go through the standard Euro-horror silliness of the era.  The girl is pretty, the villains stupid, and the sleaze sadly muted.  And you’d swear the movie was much more than its 90 minutes.

Fellowsihp of the Frog:  Pretty typical ‘masked mastermind’ stuff, but there are a few good scenes.  When the frog machine-guns that dame, I’ll admit, I was pretty surprised.  It’s still generally silly, a bit boring, and even for its time, feels hackneyed.  But then, it’s based on the works of Edgar Wallace and variations on this Frog story had already been on screen several times.

Doctor Who: Planet of Evil:  I’m always a fan of the more science fictiony Doctor Who stories, and this is one of the really fun ones.  In the far future, on an alien world, something is killing members of exploratory and rescue missions.  The Doctor and Sarah Jane face the usual suspicion from the timespace-locals, while trying to figure out what’s killing people and how they can stop it.  I love the set and costume design in this.  And while the story is fairly typical of this type, it’s a solid, fun watch, with good guest actors.  It’s still weird for me to go back and watch Sarah Jane Smith stories now, after having loved her recent spin-off series.  She’s so strong and assured on The Sarah Jane Adventures, but she’s so screamy and weepy, and while not quite useless, too damsel in distress for my tastes.

Doctor Who: The Brain of Morbius:  This story is gross.  It’s cool.  But it’s gross.  Steeped in Frankenstein, it also gets into some weird Time Lord business, introduces techno-priestesses, and has some nasty onscreen gore (that big Igor looking dude getting shot in the chest is almost Total Recall level nasty).  There isn’t really all that much too this story, but I love the look and feel of it.  It could be considered filler, but if it is, it’s really good filler.

    On Wednesday, co-Dork Brad and I got together to go Kaiju crazy.  A day of watching Toho classics will do anyone some needed good.  Man, I love those movies.  I love how crazy the series gets.

Mothra:  Before Godzilla became ‘defender of the Earth,’ and was still just a giant monster rampaging across Japan, there was Mothra, also a giant monster rampaging across Japan, but with a message of peace.  Mothra and her two tiny heralds want humanity to cut it out with the bomb dropping and the pollution, and they’re gonna bring the noise if it doesn’t stop.  Greedy businessmen are there to exploit the situation, of course.  But in the end, three people learn a lesson and tons of people are displaced and/or killed.  And there are super-racist portrayals of island people.  Still, this early Kaiju film is a ton of fun, and its hippie message would become integral to later Godzilla films.

Godzilla VS. Mothra:  A giant egg washes up on shore (to be claimed by greedy businessmen), Godzilla starts to cause some trouble, and some intrepid reporters seek help from a giant moth.  I love these movies.  There’s plenty of monster mayhem, greed brings jerks low, and the aw-gee-shucks, can-do attitude of reporters will of course, save the day.

Invasion of Astro-Monster:  A rocket ship journey to the mysterious Planet X, a sexy femme fatale, aliens who want to cure our cancer, and a sinister plan to control our Kaiju.  Godzilla gets really nuts with this movie about two astronaut buddies who have to save the world from sunglass wearing baddies from beyond.  One of my favorites for a lot of reasons.  I love Glenn and Fuji, our dashing heroes.  And of course, the one and only King Ghidorah in what is probably his best appearance.  He drops the electric hammer on Japan with three heads spraying lightening every which way.  A beast that only the combined efforts of two or more of Earth’s Kaiju can slow down, Ghidorah is probably the single nastiest of the giant monsters.  Usually under control, or sent by the hand of, some danged alien fiend.

Godzilla VS. Megalon:  Atomic testing opens cracks in the surface of the Earth, and the underground (or underwater, depending on who we believe) people of lost Mu, or Atlantis, or Lemuria, or whatever don’t like it.  So, obviously the only sane thing to do is raise a giant beetle with skyscrapers for hands and a glowing star on its head to go destroy humanity.  But don’t worry, a little kid and his two dads are on the case.  Dad #1 is also an inventor, and has made a robot that is totally not Ultraman (Jet Jaguar: pronounced jag-you-are).  Who’s kidnapping who?  Who’s controlling who?  What’s up with that crazy cube house?  How does Jet Jaguar program himself to grow to enormous size?  The answers are all inside…except for the giant size thing.  That doesn’t make a lick of sense.  Oh, and Godzilla shows up.

Terror of Mechagodzilla:  One of my very top favorites of the series, this one features more dang dirty aliens trying to take over the world so they can build a city that will let them get their bodies back…Or something.  Anyway, they’ve recruited a bitter scientist and his cute daughter to mind-control a giant sea kaiju (as you do).  Also, they’re rebuilding Mechagodzilla, the giant robot Godzilla.  As you can imagine, Japan gets kicked around a bit in this one.  It also features possibly the best Godzilla reveal in the film franchise.  So badass.  This marks the end of the classic Godzilla era, and they went out on a good note.  I don’t think the films ever got back to this level, or really even all that close.  The ‘Millenium Series’ starting with Godzilla: 2000 gets the closest, but…  Anyway, Terror of Mechagodzilla is a pretty darned cool finale.

 Doctor Who: The Sunmakers:  Hardly subtle, this adventure takes the Doctor and Leela to a world run by number-crunchers and penny-pinchers.  A society crushed beneath taxes and red tape, ruled by a power elite who crush the will of their workers.  There are plenty of good characters, some cool sets, and a strong dose of humor.  As usual for this era, it does get pretty dark at times, too.  And then there’s Leela.

    On Thursday morning, I watched a few episodes of The New Avengers.  Though not nearly as good as the best of the original, it’s still quite fun and watchable.  I have the weirdest feelings about Joanna Lumley, though.  She’s a Brit Sci-Fi staple and supposed to be a great beauty.  But like Barbara Steele and Karen Black, I feel like my primitive brain spots her and gets all excited,  but then my aesthetic brain recoils.  Unlike Steele and Black however, Lumley does display a degree of talent and charisma.  Also, and I guess ironically, she tries to ‘ugly’ herself up in an episode by dressing in a kind of stereotypical librarian outfit with glasses and the whole bit.  Turns out, she looks great like that.  Anyway, the show itself lacks some of the wonderful surrealism of the original, and now the sexual innuendo is between Lumley and the dashing, young Gareth Hunt.  Unfortunately it isn’t charming and cheeky as it was between Mcnee and Rigg.  It comes off much, much more harassing/rapy.  Rigg and Mcnee were always sparring equals having good natured fun.  Hunt is like a jock who doesn’t get the message that she’s not into him, and while Lumley seems like she can handle herself, you can’t help but feel for her as this weird, gropy guy keeps leering.  It's uncomfortable.

    Later Thursday, I watched the first disk of the second season of Night Gallery.  There are a few good stories, but so far, it’s not batting too strong.  The one I think I liked the most of this batch was about a sinister military school.  Felt like something out of Nowhere Man or The Prisoner.

    For the next meeting of the graphic novel club, I read Sweet Tooth Vol. 1 &2.  If I had never read Y: The Last Man, I’d probably really dig it.  But reading it, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a kinda half-assed rehash.  I may read the remaining volumes, just to see if it goes in an interesting enough direction to make it stand on its own.  But, meh.  I definitely wouldn’t have read very far if I were picking this up monthly.

    And on Friday morning, I finished up the first season of Defiance.  I don’t know.  I kind of like the show, but it’s also not that great.  A lot of pretty typical characters going through a lot of pretty typical stories.  Very much like a lot of other Western meets Science Fiction things that have come before it.  The aliens aren’t unique enough, the setting not unique enough, etc.  I’m enjoying watching it just enough to keep watching it, but not enough to go out of my way, or be particularly concerned with what happens to any of the characters.

Sullivan’s Travels:  There are some problems with the latter third of the film, but this comedy about a pampered movie director trying to find out about suffering is extremely funny.  The dialog, especially involving the Hollywood moguls, is lightening quick and hysterical.  Veronica Lake makes for a great partner once she’s introduced.  The way she glams it up one minute, then goofs it up the next, makes her especially charming.  This movie feels like a work in defense of making movies fun, of not always trying for gritty realism.  Bravo.

Rushmore:  This early Wes Anderson film still has a good deal of his particular oddness about it, and explores many of the themes he continues to explore to this day.  Fathers and sons (surrogate or biological), and difficulty with women.  Bill Murray is especially good in this.  His transformation from together to total emotional ruin is so sad.  But he also feels genuine.  That’s the thing with Anderson characters; they’re all so distinctly odd, yet they all remind you of someone you’ve known, maybe someone you’ve been.  Great stuff.  Along with Bottle Rocket, this would probably be a good 'gateway' movie into Anderson's universe.  It's odd.  It has a bent sense of humor.  But it's less artificial, less the 'doll house' of his later films.  He's got the themes he'll go on to explore all in hand.  But his style is still forming.  By his next picture, The Royal Tenenbaums, that his style is fully realized.

    On Saturday morning, I read Steed & Peel: The Golden Game by Grant Morrison.  I know everyone loves the guy, but I don’t think I’ve really enjoyed a Morrison book yet.  This doesn’t change things.  It was OK, at best.  And it totally misses the mark on capturing the fun of the show.  Occasionally he tries, but the dialog never works.  And both stories contained within would have made for forgettable episodes if they’d been filmed.  This felt more like the Gold Key comics based on Star Trek.  Like the writer was given only the vaguest idea of what the show was about and then told to write X number of pages.  There’s no heart.  No love for the characters.  While technically fine from both a writing and art standpoint, it’s not The Avengers, for sure.

The Lion in Winter:  “I’m villifying you, for God’s sake-pay attention!”  I’m torn on this movie.  On the one hand, it’s kind of awesome to see all these excellent actors spewing such vile, humor tinged hatred at each other.  On the other hand, after more than two hours, it does become a bit much.  Though shot like a medieval epic of its time (and well), everything about the acting and the dialog would tell you it was based on a stage play, if the credits did not.  In some ways it feels very, very modern, with many nods and winks to the contemporary audience.  So, while I didn’t love it, I’m sure glad I saw it.  And for anyone who likes any of the actors involved, or who enjoys some powerfully hateful dialog, the likes of which you don’t tend to get outside of a good Film Noir (Sweet Smell of Success kept coming to mind), this is one to see.

    Finally, on Saturday night, I sat down to the second of my cinematic resolutions.  I watched The Lost Weekend several weeks back.  On to Sunset Boulevard…

Sunset Boulevard:  “We didn’t need dialog.  We had faces!”  This movie is much more interesting than the famous clips you see in ever classic movie montage.  It’s more than being ready for a close-up for Mr. DeMille.  It’s a Noir, but even there, turns many of the genre expectations on their heads.  It’s cynically satirical, biting, and even heartbreaking.  And in its way, it’s both an evisceration and a celebration of movies and the people who make them.  Gloria Swanson manages to play someone who has gone ‘round the bend, living in a sort of heightened, almost campy delusion, without making the character a caricature.  The cast is quite good all around, with stand-outs being, of course Swanson,  former director Erich von Stroheim, who is phenomenal as the enabling butler with plenty of secrets, and a surprisingly good cameo from Cecil B. DeMille himself.  One of those classics you’ll recognize bits of, since folks have been lifting from it for more than 60 years.

    That’s about it.  I got a bunch of reading done, though not as much as I’d wanted.  Caught up a bit on my movie watching.  As always, I could use a few more days off.  Alas.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

"Don't Freak Out..." Michael Bay's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

I really like the Ninja Turtles.  I don't love them.  I'm not a super freak.  But I grew up on the old cartoon, and I still think the original 90s adventure is a whole lotta fun.  Yes, I never read the Eastman & Laird comic books...until much, much, much later.  They're cool.  I'm just not a super fan.  So Michael Bay's very Bayish trailer below doesn't really upset me.  It looks like a lotta hopping CGI and it certainly seems to be carefree with the origin.  I'm most curious to hear what this trailer does for the TMNT purists out my buddy Bryan.  What's he got to say about Fichtner, or Mikey's squishy facce?  Comment below!


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Comic Review: Nemo - Heart of Ice

    League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is right up there at the top of my list of favorite graphic novels.  It taps into all those things I love so much, the wide array of Victorian and pulp adventure fiction, from H.G. Welles, to Jules Verne, to Edgar Rice Burroughs, and beyond.  And of course, one of the coolest characters was Captain Nemo, master of the Nautilus, dashing, suave, and deadly.  With Nemo, we follow his daughter, haunted by his shadow and his deeds, as she tries to find her own path in life.

    In 1925, Princess Janni Dakkar, the new Nemo, lives as a brigand.  When she runs afoul of Aisha and Charles Foster Kane, a chase across the world begins.  She blazes a trail across Antarctica and all the strange wonders it hides, from Present Land to the Mountains of Madness.

    If you’ve read previous League universe books, you’ll know the drill.  It’s sad, dark, full of ugly twists on classic characters.  But it’s also thrilling and strange, and challenges the reader to figure out the reference.  I know there were several I didn’t get.  One of these days, I’m going to have to go back through the whole series with some annotations or something.  I know there’s stuff I’m missing, meaning I’m not catching.

    I’ve never been a huge fan of Kevin O’Neill’s art, but it gets the job done, and helps to set the whole uncomfortable vibe of Moore’s bent literature rollercoaster.  Moore is one of those writers I go back and forth on.  He’s written some of my favorite books, but he’s also written stuff I can’t even force my way through.  He seems like a colossal jackass, and possibly more in love with himself than his rabid fans are.  But he’s also good at capturing the magic of the classic fiction I love so much.  Heart of ice is surprisingly upbeat; still kind of a downer, but for this series, it’s relatively positive.  I could see this being a really nice companion series to the later stuff involving the League.

Nemo: Heart of Ice
Author: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O’Neill
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
ISBN: 978-1-60309-274-6


Comic Reviews: B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth 1, 2, & 3

New World

    The Plague of Frogs is over…Right?  Everything must be OK, then.  Everything should be getting back to normal, huh?  Of course not.  The Frogs were the beginning, but there’s a whole heck of a lot more trouble on its way.  It is, as the title suggests, a new world.  Humans are adaptable, and they’re gonna have to do some serious adapting.

    This volume sees the return of some old friends, and hints at new dangers on the horizon.  The B.P.R.D. team, now having to deal with being folded into the UN, is still haunted by the loss of Hellboy from their ranks.  Without his spirit at their head, they’ve never quite worked as well.  Abe has become sullen, Liz has wandered off again, Kate is stretched to her limit, Johann is more and more secretive and weird.  The cracks in the team are like the cracks in reality, letting vile darkness creep into the world.

Gods and Monsters

    Monsters are crawling out of the ground, people are loosing their minds, and out of Texas comes a profit, leading the lost and displaced away from danger.  What’s her deal?  Well, someone seems to know, and we get a history lesson in pre-human civilization, and hints of what is to come.  And then there’s Liz’s adventures in trailer park living.  Bad, bad business.

    There is an art shift half way through this volume, with Tyler Crook taking over from Guy Davis.  He does a pretty good job of not making the shift too distracting, and while not as distinct a style as Davis’s, I think it’s perhaps a bit easier on the eyes.  For all the horror contained in this book, it feels like a relatively restful intake of breath, before it all goes down.


    And so, in this volume, it all starts to go down hill fast.  When Kate takes a trip to Russia, we see that things haven’t been going too well there, either.  The world is breaking down, the rules are being forgotten, and people are learning to live with a lot of things.  A lot of pretty awful things.

    It feels like with the trip to Russia, the new conflict in a post Frog war world is revealed.  Pieces are being put on the board, and the first moves are made.  Kate is forced to finally accept that Hellboy is gone, and what’s up with Abe this time?  No wonder Abe and Hellboy were such good friends.  Both have greatness written in their destiny.  Both want to do good, to be good, to fight for good.  Yet both built for cataclysmic evil.  That’s got to weigh on a person, be they a fish man or a demon.

    The first three volumes of Hell on Earth are steeped in the cosmic dread one expects from Mike Mignola’s world.  For all the fun and excitement of Hellboy and Abe’s pulp flavored adventures, there has always been an underlying doom of growing, rolling, unstoppable horror, and in B.P.R.D., that horror is bursting out of its prison, hungry and wild.  Can the broken and battered investigators and agents of the Bureau save humanity?  Can they at least buy us a few more sunrises?  It’s looking less and less likely.

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: New World
Authors: Mike Mignola & John Arcudi
Artist: Guy Davis
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
ISBN: 978-1-59582-707-4

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Gods and Monsters
Authors: Mike Mignola & John Arcudi
Artists: Guy Davis & Tyler Crook
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
ISBN: 978-1-59582-822-4

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth: Russia
Authors: Mike Mignola & John Arcudi
Artists: Tyler Crook & Dave Stewart
Publisher: Dark Horse Books
ISBN: 978-1-59582-946-7


Book Review: Goblins

    Readers of this blog will know there are only two fiction authors I obsessively consume whatever new books they release, Christa Faust and Philip Reeve.  They couldn’t be much different.  Goblins is Reeve’s latest (in the States), and this time he’s taken on classic children’s Fantasy.  From early on, I was reminded of Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series.  But as it’s Reeve, he takes your preconceptions and turns them on their head on more than one occasion.

    The basic idea couldn’t be much more typical of the genre.  Henwyn, a restless young boy who wants to be a hero, goes on a journey to rescue a princess from the ruined lair of an evil old wizard.  But of course, that’s only the surface.  Things aren’t nearly as they seem, from the princess to the goblin Skarper, to the boy himself.

    Kids just getting into reading, with a fancy for the fanciful, should find this book very readable and lots of fun.  It also has some good lessons on expectations, the twists life throws us, and the importance of friendships of all sorts.  There’s also a bunch of cheeky potty humor that kids will no doubt find very amusing.  The goblins alone provide plenty of fun goofiness, tainted with some dark danger.

    Though this isn’t my favorite Philip Reeve book, mostly because its classic (generic sounds harsher than I mean it, but kind of sums it up) Fantasy setting is simply something I’m not especially interested in.  Tolkien's Lord of the Rings  and other Medieval European substitute settings, for example.  But I always find his books a pleasure to read.

Author: Philip Reeve
Publisher: Scholastic Press
ISBN: 978-0-545-22220-4