Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 9/14/11

Fresh September continues with four new titles this week, as well four regular favorites. So let's get right to it:

We start in the X-world, with Uncanny X-Force #15. The Dark Angel Saga blazes on as Fantomex, Deadpool, and Deathlok may be all that stand in the way of global genocide; God help us all. Another spectacular issue from my favorite on-going title, Rememder's characters remain well written, while Opena's art never ceases to amaze. Only a few issues left in this storyline, and while I can't wait to see how it all shakes out at the same time, I really don't want it to end.

Heading off world, we catch up with X-Men Legacy #255. Magneto, Frenzy, Gambit, and Rogue continue their search for Havok and Polaris, but they might be getting in over their heads. While I do enjoy Mike Carey's story here, and not just because it is the gateway for some of my favorite X-ers to return regularly to X-books, Steve Kurth's pencils aren't exactly my cup of tea. I generally find myself not a fan of artist's whose face drawings come out strange or misshapen, and Kurth is no exception. That said, his action sequences are alright and do make the downsides tolerable. Overall, I am looking forward to where this title is heading and hopefully an artist change in the near future.

From Marvel, we head over to DC's Vertigo line with The Unwritten #29. Tommy and Lizzie get closer to unraveling the mystery of his father's journal with neither of them liking what they find. This great and original series continues with another solid issue. While I don't want to get into too many specifics and give anything away, one of the final scenes in this issue gets into some Marshall McLuhan ideology and offers a brilliant critique on the way the comic book industry has been run at times. A must read for long-time comics fans as well as those just getting into the medium.

Last up from Vertigo this week is, the penultimate issue of American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #4 of 5. Cash and Felicia's covers are blown, so let the slaughter of Nazi vampires begin. Really enjoying this mini from Scott Snyder (writer) and Sean Murphy (artist), but that should come as no surprise since I love both of their work. While I was worried from last issue that this mini would end up trying to explain too much of this vampire world, Snyder has succeed in telling just enough to not get to far away from the main series roots and leave some question unanswered. In addition to that, Murphy's art really shines this issue as he gets to draw a lot more action that we've seen so far. Looking forward to the final issue, as the end of this one sets it up for a bloody conclusion.

Kicking off the new titles is Pigs #1 from Image Comics. Mischief and murder have forced a second generation KGB sleeper cell based in Cuba into action, and America authorities are left trying to figure out what the hell is going on. Superb story concept and execution by Nate Cosby and Ben McCool on this first issue. They paced the action and drama quite well in addition to ending with a cliffhanger that makes the wait for the next issue unbearable. My only complaint so far is Breno Tamura's art is a little rough for my taste, but I could see myself warming up to it as the book goes on. Always happy to support something that tries to tell an interesting story, and this title is no exception.

Going back to Marvel, for the third installment in their relaunched Ultimate line, we have Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1. In this first issue we meet Miles Morales, an average kid in New York, whose life is about to change forever in multiple ways. Stupendous start for Brian Michael Bendis (writer) and Sara Pichelli (artist)! This issue seems to have that perfect balance of being something original, with a new protagonist, and having the classic feel of a super hero origin story. I've been enjoying all the new titles from the Ultimate Comics line but so far this one is my favorite, although the last one to come in the one I'm most looking forward to.

Finishing out the week we have two of DC's new 52, and the first of those is Superboy #1. Scientists at a secret facility have combined the DNA of Superman and that of human to produce a clone with amazing abilities, but only time will tell if Superboy inherited his "father's" penchant for doing good. While I wasn't amazed by this first issue, I was surprised that I did like it and how well it was done. Written by Scott Lobdell and drawn by R. B. Silva, this first issue does a solid job of introducing the character and showing where he is coming from. One particular inclusion I liked, was that of Rose Wilson (aka Ravager pre-DC Reboot) who was beginning to be a romantic interest for him at the end of Teen Titans and might end up being one here, a nice nod to the readers that creator's haven't thrown everything out in the DCnU. I think the next issue will weight a little more on whether I will be picking this series up regularly, so I'm hoping for it to grab me a little more.

Last up, and barley edging out the new Spider-Man for pick of the week, is Red Lanterns #1 from DC Comics. Atrocitus and his blood thirsty red lanterns are back, but it seems their leader made have lost his taste for rage. Extremely impressive first issue from Peter Milligan and Ed Benes! While I was a little worried these characters wouldn't be able to hold their own title, Milligan has erased all doubt and Benes great art is just blood-red icing on the cake. I can't wait to see future issues getting to the core of these lantern's rage as is done for Atrocitus here and any additions Milligan makes the core. If you've grown a little tired of the event-centric Green Lantern books over the last few years, as I have, I think this book might be just what your looking for in the new DCU.

Another solid week of floppys in the books, and next week looks to continue the trend with a whole lot of appetising X-titles. See you back here in 7 days for some X-Men, X-Women, and maybe if we're lucky something X-rated.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 9/7/11

This week, I get my first taste of the new DC universe and a few regulars make an appearance. Lots of good things to say about this group, so let's get right to it:

Kicking things off this week, from Image Comics, is Hack/Slash #7. The Fame Monster story arc continues as Cassie discovers the identity of the slasher while Vlad has to return to his "Meat Man" roots to deal with a few of the slasher's lackeys. I have been enjoying most of this series so far, Daniel Leister's art was good as usual, but this particular issue felt a little dry. The humor-action combo I've come to expect on the book seemed pushed to the side for the old cliché of the villain revealing his master plan for multiple panels, which one could find appropriate in this book but to me just seemed boring. I'm hoping Tim Seeley rights the ship in the next few issues.

Moving over to Dark Horse Comics, we have Star Wars: Dark Times #2. Former Jedi Dass Jennir continues to traverse the desert moon of Prine, looking for civilization, while the crew of the Uhumele continue searching for him while getting acquainted with their new Jedi companion, Beyghor Sahdett. Admittedly, I was kind of hoping for more from Dark Times when it returned to store shelves. While Douglas Wheatley's art is stellar, and great for a Star Wars book, Randy Stradley's story feels predictable, slow, and just doesn't have that same galactic thrill of the former series. I will be giving it a few more issues to see if he turns it around, as for now though I wouldn't recommend anyone jumping on it.

A returning character that has retained his luster is Casanova, from ICON, who is back this week in Casanova: Avaritia #1. Everyone knows the the truth about Cass and his father (well, the guy who would be his father if he was from this dimension) has put him to the arduous task of cleaning up all the time-dimension anomalies caused by Newman Xeno kidnapping him in the first place. As I already mentioned, I am still in love with this series. Matt Fraction (writer), Gabriel Ba (current artist), and Fabio Moon (former and future artist) have created a world quite unlike anything else in comics today. The craziness of the art and story blend into a perfect storm that causes one to either love or hate the book, with not surprisingly many readers choosing the former. Usually I would suggest grabbing the first collection of the series to get a good grasp of the happenings, but I think this issue is actually a great jumping on point being a little more straightforward with the story than the book has been in the past. Get on this book one way or another and start having some nonsensical fun with your science fiction.

Filling out the second half of my comic stack this week is DC with four of their new/relaunched titles, first up is Action Comics #1. Sporting blue jeans and an arrogant attitude, this rebooted Superman has his sights set on the corporate fat-cats, who exploit the working man and operate outside the law but he soon finds this also puts him at odds with law enforcement. While I am digging the art in this first issue, penciled by Rags Morales, I'm not yet sure how I feel about the direction of this book. Instead of something new it feels like Grant Morrison (the writer) is just turning Superman into more of a public menace/vigilante ala Spider-Man or Batman. Going to pick up a few more issues to get a better grasp of it, and to get more of Luthor who was great in this first issue, but I hope it isn't just more of the same.

From Metropolis, we go global with Justice League International #1. The United Nations has decided it's time to get a few superheroes in their pocket, a group that can handle large threats but also answers to them. Lead by Booster Gold and composed of heroes from various nations, this team looks to save the world while having the authority to do so, that is if they figure out how to work together. Overall, I liked this first issue but not really as much as I was hoping to. The art is great, with pencils by Aaron Lopresti and inks by Matt Ryan, but the writing leaves something to be desired. A lot of Dan Jurgen's (the writer) dialogue feels forced or just out of place, some of them talk like they've known each other forever when this is supposed to be the first time they're meeting. I did enjoy some of the book though, especially Godiva and Booster Gold, so I'm hoping the writing evens out as we go along.

Bringing things back in a bit, we head to Louisiana to check in on Swamp Thing #1. Mysterious events occur in simultaneously throughout the planet and no one has any idea why. Superman decides to track down Dr. Alec Holland, the only man who might be able to understand these occurrences due to having the memories of the titular force of nature, and while Superman gets no answers Dr. Holland hasn't been totally truthful with him. Great first issue from Scott Snyder (writer) and Yanick Paquette (artist)! No real back story is required to get what is happening, and the natural/horror elements leave you wanting more. Can't wait to see where Snyder and Paquette take this book.

Animal trumps nature for pick of the week, as Animal Man #1 nabs the top spot. Buddy Baker has been out of the tights more and more these days. With having a family that is growing up, being an active animal activist, and enjoying some success as a Hollywood stunt-man turned actor, he rarely goes out on patrol, but that doesn't mean when a guy takes a hospital hostage he is going to sit on the side lines. I loved this first issue from Jeff Lemire (writer) and Travel Foreman (artist)! Instead of making Animal Man more like every other hero book on the stands, they focus on what makes him unique and base the entire book around it. Foreman's art excels equally in the domestic interior of Buddy's house and the trippy, exotic locales of his nightmare, leaving me salivating for whatever he draws up next. Easily my favorite book of the new DC Universe, so far, and I can only hope there is more coming that is just as excellent.

That is it for this week, next week should have a few more regular titles but I am sure some of the DC newness will slip in as well. Until then ponder what you would serve at a meal where both Animal Man and Swamp Things are in attendance, my guess is Spam.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 8/31/11

While I skipped out on most of August, I figured this small, final week would be a good place to get back on track. So without further ado, here are two new titles (neither the main topic of this week for most, JL#1) and a usual suspect as pick of the week.

First up is The Rinse #1, the latest title from Boom Studios. Jeff Sinclair is a cleaner, of sorts, who instead of working with water and soap, prefers burners and as little paper trail as possible. It has worked out pretty well so far, but his newest client might be biting off more than both of them can chew. I enjoyed this first issue, especially being a deal you can't pass up at $1. Marc Laming's art carries the right amount of grit and grim for a crime tale, while Darrin Moore's varied colors keep it from being just another noir-wannabe on the shelves. Gary Phillips story didn't grab me quite as much as I would have liked it to, but I think others will find it right up their alley. All in all, I won't be picking it up regularly but I could see myself grabbing a collection of it somewhere down the line.

Moving over to Marvel, we have Ultimate Comics Hawkeye #1 of 4. Continuing straight out of last week's Ultimate Comics The Ultimates #1, we see what is happening with every one's favorite archer on his "business" trip to Bangkok. While this first issue eats up a lot of it's space with exposition, I still found it a fun read and think it will end up being a good mini-series. Hickman has found a nice balance for this mini (at least based on the first issue of each title) that doesn't make it mandatory to read The Ultimates to know what is going on and vice versa. My only complaint so far with his story is any character could be exchanged for Hawkeye, I am hoping in future issues his character becomes more relevant than just being the action star of the book. Pencils are done by Rafa Sandoval, whose character faces aren't the greatest but are made up for with everything else. Not a must read, by any means, but if you are a fan of the character and the political world The Ultimates sometimes touches on, you will probably enjoy it.

Saving the best for last, we have Uncanny X-Force #14. The Dark Angel saga heats up, as the titular character is awaiting his former teammates return from the Age of Apocalypse with his own horsemen, and is about to usher in the Age of Archangel. I've written many times on how great this book is and how well Remender writes these characters (which still remain true in this, it's 14th issue) but far too often I have just glossed over Jerome Opena's art. Yeah, I've said "it's great and I love it" but I don't usually get into specifics. The special attribute the makes a lot of Opena's art on this book, and the issue specifically, amazing is that it doesn't need the dialogue. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy Rememder's writing (as mentioned just sentences ago) but this book could be enjoyed just looking at the pictures. The characters faces and movements are so precise and articulate, conveying exactly what their feeling or thinking, that they give credence to that old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words", even if in this case that picture is a drawing. So now that I have successfully geekgasmed over this book for the 14th time, you need to do yourself a favor and pick it up so you can do the same.

That is it for this short week, but next week looks to be quite a full one as I dig into some of the DCnU books. Be on the look out for that as well as my attempt to catch up with my stack of Oscilloscope Labs films.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 7/20/11 & 7/27/11

I'm bundling the last two weeks together since I got caught up in some other thing. So, lets get right to it with the comics from the 20th.

Kicking things off, we have Uncanny X-Men #541. Tieing in with Marvel's summer event, Fear Itself, the X-Men are trying to stop the possessed Juggernaut who is working a scorched-earth path towards San Fransisco. While it's a scenario that's been done a dozen times before, Greg Land's art and Kieron Gillen's strategic take on the matter keep it interesting. It is also worth mention that this tie-in hasn't distracted from the direction the book has been going, as so often happens with these major events. Not a ground-breaking issue by any means, but sill a fun read.

From there, we cut out the adjective with X-Men #15. Wrapping up the "First to Last" arc, this issue features the final showdown between the X-Men and the Evolutionaries, who are trying to "save" them. A pretty good issue and arc, Christopher Yost's story has a classic feel while still managing to show how a lot of these characters have changed over the years. The combined artistic talents of Paco Medina and Dalibor Talajic, the former handling the current happenings with the latter covering the flashbacks, also work in a nice harmony to flush out the comic. I'm not sure what is happening with this book after the X-Men: Schism event, but if the same creator's stick around I will as well.

Departing Marvel and getting into Image, we have Hack/Slash #6. Starting the new arc, "Fame Monster", this issue features a slasher going after pop culture "celebrities", all the while treating Cassie to his vicious slayings by showing them in her dreams. Another great issue from Tim Seeley and Daniel Leister, with it's patented comedic-horror plots, fan service, and gory moments. If you've ever wanted to see some tan guys from Jersey get into a real situation, this one's for you.

The pick of the week this time is a special book you won't find on your local shop's shelf, Matinee Eclectica a special publication put out by Dirty Third Comics. I first heard of Matinee Eclectica through a wonderful crowd-funding site called Kickstarter, and have been looking forward to reading it ever since. The basis of the anthology is that all the stories are written by relative new-comer Ryan Schrodt, who partners with a different artist for each mini-tale. Generally when it comes to Anthology books, I find a lot to like and at least some parts that are dreadful. Matinee Eclectica breaks that pattern though, as I like every story and love quite a few of them. Schrodt really shows some writing chops in expertly handling all the major genres from super-heroes and sc-fi to western and horror tales. Just as impressive, is the combined talent of the artists assembled here. I don't want to start listing them all, as I would inevitably forget someone, but they are certainly creators I will be looking for more of in the future. Now, I'm not sure where you can get the book right now outside of con appearances, but I would start with contacting Mr. Schrodt through his completed Kickstarter campaign or the email given there. I, for one, can not wait to read more of his stuff in the future.

Let's keep rolling right into the books from the 27th.

First up this week is the lone DC universe book, Teen Titans #98. Begining the last story before the DC reboot, this issue features the return of Superboy Prime to the regular DCU, who is looking for revenge on Conner and the Titans. I'm kind of torn on this issue. It presents some interesting ideas but on the other hand they are all ones that I can't see being wrapped up in the two remaining issues of this title. The art however is pretty well done, with grittier pencils by Eduardo Pansica that fit the story's darker mood. Either way I'll be picking up the last couple issues and I'm crossing my fingers that they don't disappoint.

Next, we continue to catch up with the Inhumans in FF #7. Black Bolt returns to his people but he certainly doesn't come to bring them peace. Still not really enjoying this mini/fill-in story that has taken us away from what is happening with the Future Foundation. Hickman's writing is ok but Greg Tocchini's rougher art really does nothing for me. Next issue looks to be back on earth and hopefully Epting will be handling the art once again.

Rounding out my Marvel/non-X pickups, we have Venom #5. In this issue, Flash deals with his oldest foe, his father. At first I thought I wasn't going to like this one as it has starts off having an "after school special" kind of vibe to it, but by the end Remender makes it all worth while as he dives deeper into the mind of Flash Thompson. The kind of command he has over characters in his writing is unparalleled in the industry, and he makes each title more appealing than the last (something we will get back to with Uncanny X-Force later in this post.) Tony Moore and Tom Fowler, the two artists handling the issue, also contribute quite a bit as their touching panels hit just as hard as Remender's plots. This book is quickly becoming one of my favorite Marvel titles every month.

Heading over to Vertigo, we have American Vampire #17. Henry, Skinner, and the rest of their outfit escaped the cells, but it's straight from the frying pan and into the vampires running around on fire. Another fantastic issue from Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, filled with vampires (American and otherwise) and World War II action! This penultimate chapter of the "Ghost War" arc wraps up the perfect amount, leaving the most anticipated showdown for the final issue. Still really digging this book after a year and a half, and can't wait for more.

Going from buckets of blood to kegs of it, we have Crossed: Psychopath #4. Amanda and Rick see what "The Crossed" did to Darwin and Claire last issue, while Harold let's us see what happened to his first "love", Lori. David Lapham and Raulo Caceres continue to put out the sickest comic on the shelves, but its also one of the best done. The free reign Avatar Press gives Lapham constantly challenges his creativity for crazy story-telling, while Caceres art does wonders bringing the stories to life with fluid panel structure and mesmerizing, full-page spreads. Certainly not a title for everyone, but if you are a horror or gore fan you need to be reading it.

Closing out the week we have four X-books, starting with X-Men: Schism #2 of 5. The X-Men are on damage control, as the numerous countries that have activated Sentinels are falling victim to the robots. Meanwhile, the new Black King of the Hellfire club continues moving pieces into place before he overtly strikes as his mutant foes. This issue brought the mini-series down quite a bit, as the slow pace seems out of place in an event story and Frank Cho's art is not looking it's best. Additionally, Jason Aaron seems to be over-stating character's personalities and feelings to justify a predictable end that readers can see coming a mile away. There are still some things I like about the book, such as the new Hellfire Club direction, but I am really hoping the third issue brings some needed improvements.

From the X-Men as a collective, we head into the smaller groups starting with X-Men Legacy #252. The group begins searching Paris for Styx, Legion's most dangerous personality that got loose, but it doesn't go as well as they'd hoped. I am enjoying this story from Mike Carey, as he subtly makes these characters deal with their personal demons and left over feelings from "Age of X". The pencils by Khoi Pham don't really strike me strongly one way or another, but they do have their moments. Probably not a good point for some looking to get into the X-world but an enjoyable book anyways.

Taking second place this week is my favorite covert X-team in Uncanny X-Force #12. The Dark Angel Saga continues as X-Force teams up with the remaining Age of Apocalypse X-Men, while their individual leaders (Wolverine and Jean Grey respectively) ponder more than a friendly alliance. As I mentioned earlier with Venom, Remender has a flair for character development and this issue is no exception. That in addition to his over the top story and Mark Brooks pencils make this another fantastic comic. My sole complaint is the limited amount of panel time Dark Angel has been given, but that is more of the Angel fan in me speaking than a critique.

The top spot this week goes to Abnett and Lanning's New Mutants #28. Moonstar brings in a therapist to help her team deal with the personal problems their each going through. While this approach has been done before in comics, it hasn't been done with the speedy, no-punches pulled attitude this issue brings. Instead of having the characters confess all their problems in monolouges or thought bubbles, Abnett and Lanning choose to hit these not so merry mutants right in the face with them. Presenting a great pay off for those that have been reading for years, and a nice summary for those just joining in, this issue is a great read for any comic book fan and I definitely recommend checking it out.

That's it for this week, so go read some comics or at the very least complain on the interent about ones you don't like.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 7/13/11

Comics Blog RISE!

Kicking things off this week we have Marvel's merry mutants in New Mutants #27. Concluding the new creative team's (Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning on writing duties partnered up with Leandro Fernandez's art) first arc, this issue sees Moonstar's crew in an all out brawl with Sugar Man and his mutated henchmen. So far I am reallying digging the new direction Abnett & Lanning are taking the New Mutants, making them the clean up crew for all the threats to mutantkind the X-Men have let escape in the past. They have a strong sense of where the characters are coming from, which was a major concern for me due to my love of the first two years of this title, and are laying some interesting ground work for the future. Fernandez art, on the other hand, is not a strong selling point of the title. It lacks a certain amount of definition and complexity for my taste, leaving the book looking a bit cartoonish in heavy contrast to the threats their tackling. So if your looking for a good Mutant story and can tolerate sub-par art, check it out. If art comes first in your mind, you might want to take a pass.

NeXt up is the premiere mutant event of the summer, X-Men: Schism #1 of 5. Cyclops and Wolverine travel to an international arms control conference to petition a global ban on the mutant-hunting sentinels, but an old acquaintance shows up to give a different mutant perspective. Pretty good first issue, in my opinion, as Jason Aaron's story has got me hooked and waiting to see where he takes it.In contrast to that though, Carlos Pacheco's art isn't exactly my favorite, but it still proves to be serviceable and entertaining. While I'm not the biggest fan of one story having so many artists (each issue being done by a different one), I think Aaron's story is going to worth putting up with it.

Finishing up the Marvel books this week is FF #6. Departing from the friendly confines of Earth, this issue gives us a history lesson on the Kree and Inhumans, tellling us how their destinies have become intertwined. Staying with the trend of other Marvel books this week,  I liked the story but not so much the art. Hickman has been weaving an interesting tale going back to his time on Fantastic Four, and while this breaks from the current happenings of the Future Foundation figuring out how to defeat the alternate Reeds, it is enjoyable none the less. New (or possibly fill in) artist Greg Tocchini's art is alright, but feels a little rough and out of place in the sci-fi/spacey locales of this issue. Hopefully Steve Epting's pencils return soon, as their a much better fit.

Heading over to DC, we have Red Robin #25. Tim enlists an old ally in the final stages of the assassination tournament, but will she help him or claim victory herself? Another great issue from Fabian Nicieza and Marcus To, which just makes it that much sadder that this book won't be continuing in the DCnU. Hopefully Red Robin will make an appearance in there some where, but I will miss Nicieza and To behind the creative forces behind him.

Checking in with Flashpoint, we have Booster Gold #46. Booster's battle with Doomsday rages on and what chance does he have with no help coming? Another comic I am going to miss when DCnU rears it's ugly head, Booster Gold has been pretty stellar over it's run, and Dan Jurgens (the current writer) will be missed on the character. While this is a Flashpoint tie-in it can really just be read on it's own like another Booster story, so don't let that stop you from checking it out before its gone.

Rounding out the DC books is Teen Titans #97. The titans battle with Rankor concludes, leaving a few lasting effects on the team. While J.T. Krul and Nicola Scott's run hasn't been the worst, it has been dragging a bit as of late. The action and character moments have begun to feel more like filler than worthwhile entertainment. Interestingly enough, this is one of the few DC books I am reading that will be relaunched in the DCnU and I am interested to see what a new team can do with a different cast.

Just barley getting beat out by another Vertigo book, this week's runner up is The Unwritten #27. Tom Taylor, now with his father's journals in tow, begins looking into an early super hero comic that might be more powerful than it's Supermanesque protagonist. Continuing their awesome series, Mike Carey and Peter Gross keep this comic fresh and unique never letting it slide to just another book in one's pull list. I'm know most comic fans I talk to are already as hooked into this series as I am, but if your not this issue also makes for a good jumping on point.

Last up, and taking the top spot is American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #2 of 5. Our two vampire hunting protagonists experience a rough landing, thankfully there are plenty of Nazis on hand to make them feel quite welcome. I love Sean Murphy's art on pretty much anything, and it works so well in Scott Synder's world of blood suckers! Can't wait for the next issue, and all I have to say to get you to read it is "Nazi Vampires".

That's it for this week. Next week there won't be too many comics I'm picking up but maybe I will get around to reviewing a book without pictures, or my back log of Oscilloscope films. Until then, try to keep your jealousy of people going to San Diego Comic Con in check by reminding yourself those people are probably packed wall to wall and are lying about how much fun it is.

Friday, June 3, 2011

New Mutants, New Era, New Take: A review of X-Men: First Class

Coming to theaters everywhere today, with it's fifth film in the comic-adapted franchise, is X-Men: First Class. After the last two installments, X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, being met with jeers from fanboys and critics alike, director Matthew Vaughn and producer Bryan Signer look to right this sinking ship with a tale of the X-Men's not so humble beginings.

Going back to the early 1960s, we are introduced to the idealist and womanizing Charles Xavier (played by James McAvoy) and the revenge-driven Erik Lehnsherr (the man who would become Magneto; played by Michael Fassbender); both looking to leave different marks on a world that is oblivious to their existence. This soon changes, however, as the United States government discovers the plans of Sebastian Shaw and his mutant group, The Hellfire Club, who are attempting to ignite the Cold War for personal gain. Looking to fight fire with fire, Charles and Erik are recruited by the U.S. government, along a group of younger of mutants, to prevent such a disaster.

Melding the mutants, fantastical powers, and themes of the X-Men comic books with the aesthetics and plots of an early James Bond film breathes new life into this dying franchise and possibly comic book films in general. Walking a tight line between globe-trotting, special effects thriller and campy, outcast-empowering feature, the film represents the general tone of the X-Men pretty well. Yes, their troubled kids that are ostracized by "normal" people, but at the same time they also get to experience awesome powers and events that those same "normal" people would love to get in on. Most fans will get hung up on this character looking different or that character's nationality not being "right" (as I often find myself doing), but one has to remember these films are more about capturing the mood of an X-Men comic, not the details. It is in this aspect that this film succeeds where most of the others really have not, but that isn't to say this is the only thing the film does right.

Besides the aforementioned look and feel the film gets right, it has a number of other positives going for it. The dynamic relationship between McAvoy and Fassbender is at the forefront of these, as it supremely enriches the film. Not only do both deliver very good performances, but those performances come together and play off each other in the impending clash of ideology brilliantly. Also turning in a wonderful performance is Kevin Bacon, as Sebastian Shaw, presenting himself in a much more controlled manner than I'm used to seeing. Lastly, a good majority of the make-up and special effects also help the film succeed, as seeing Banshee fly or Mystique transform looks better than ever. Fully examining the film though, it does also have it's fair share of flaws.

The most prominent of these flaws is the special effects used for Emma Frost, January Jones' character. One could say that I just don't like how it is done, which is true, but the real problem is that this single effect keeps the audience from being fully captivated. Also holding the film back, are the some of the dry, female performances. As was expected, January Jones is the most guilty in this area but surprisingly, Jennifer Lawrence is not to far behind her. Since I've seen the kind of performance Lawrence can give, check out Winter's Bone if you haven't already, I'm betting the script and direction play a large part in this problem. Speaking of the script, it is also the last major problem of the film. While a motto like "Mutant and Proud" may draw a nice parallel to real-world equality issues, in the film it feels like a bad catchphrase the scriptwriters' would not let go.

All in all though, I really enjoyed X-Men: First Class and give it 4 out of 5 stars. While it may not have all the details or continuity one is looking for in the X-Men franchise, it does offer a great adaptation of it from comic to film. So if the last two films scared you off, consider coming back and giving this one a chance. It's a fun, summer blockbuster that captures the heart of the X-Men universe even though it chooses to fudge some of the "numbers."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Circle of Trust #8: The Paranoids (2008)

It's been quite a while since I last posted, let alone done an entry in my Circle of Trust series, but in the interest of not letting a good excuse go to waste I'll blame it all on learning a bad habit from the main character of the film I'm looking at today. For first time readers or those who may have forgotten, in these posts I examine the awesome films distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories that I receive as a member of their Circle of Trust. Continuing their track record of great films, this time Oscilloscope brings us a quirky little film out of Argentina; Gabriel Medina's The Paranoids.

Instead of focusing on a group of paranoid individuals, as you might expect from the title, The Paranoids focuses on the life of Luciano Guana. An odd, twenty-something, slacker who has who has fallen into a bit of rut with his writing, Guana spends his time making ends meat performing at children's parties in an alien costume and getting high. To make matters worse he is extremely paranoid of everything, hence the title, from catching diseases to appearing stupid to others. While his life could have continued like this for quite a while, it begins to spin out of control when he reunites with an old "friend" who has become successful and his beautiful girlfriend.

While a bit of The Paranoids premise may sound tired, with dozens of slacker-centered films coming out every year, it breaks the mold in a number of areas. First and foremost, is the characters. Difficult, unique, and yet somehow realistic; the writing and actors meld together nicely making the film enchanting but also visceral. Trading clever lines for real dialogue and blank stares for nuanced expressions and movements, writer-director Medina gets exactly what he's looking for on the screen both from his actors and his words. This brings us to the film's next strength, it's precise vision. Each shot feels meticulously crafted and each set is carefully lit and arranged. Normally this would give the film a plastic, fake look but it is done to such a degree that it looks and feels just right. One of the characters even calls attention to it early on, but you can't help agreeing with it. 

Part of these meticulous sets is the strong presence of symbolism the film has that I enjoyed. It may seems a bit heavy handed in parts, such as using a boxing video game to portray the obvious conflict, but is quite elegant in other areas and leaves you something to find with each new viewing. Saving perhaps its best strength for last, The Paranoids also boasts a killer soundtrack. Utilizing club beats, soft instrumentals, and rock it gets a bit of everything while still maintaining a nice, cohesive sound. In fact, the trailer even gives a perfect sampling of it.

All in all, The Paranoids is a good film and I give it 4 out of 5 stars. The DVD gets the same score, as it features some awesome visuals (such as the cover shown at the top of the post) and the soundtrack in it's entirety instead of traditional features. Not going to leave you much time between this and my next CoT entry (as I already have it in hand) but be sure to check out The Paranoids soon, maybe even click here to add it to your netflix queue.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pimp My Cinema: A review of Sucker Punch

Living up to its simple name Sucker Punch, the latest film from director Zack Snyder, lulls you in with its gritty, stylized look and then makes off with your ten bucks about that many minutes into the film. Loosely throwing together a narrative of protagonist Babydoll's (played by Emily Browning) visions, the film explores her time in a mental institution through the mashed up fantasy worlds she imagines around her. Unlike his main character, Snyder's imagination sticks firmly to what he knows and goes back to his usual bag of tricks.

Slow-mo/bullet-time fight scenes, interesting looking characters (on the surface), and booming sound all make their expected appearances and take up a good portion of the film. Now these characteristics aren't inherently bad, but with the frequency Snyder uses them in his films it clearly shows a trading of substance in favor of creating his now brand name style. Not all markers of Snyderism are terrible though. Once again the viewer is treated to appealing visuals and an enjoyable soundtrack, with the mash up track of I Want It All/We Will Rock You being an example of what the film was going for, a combo that works.

Blending together elements of other genres; i.e. Steam-punk, zombies, dragons, samurai, robots, and assault weapons, Sucker Punch puts a bunch of "cool" things in one place and hopes for the best. The perfect analogy for the film is the former MTV show Pimp My Ride. On the show they would take a basic or tore up car and not only fix it up but add various odd ball elements that were meant to connect with the owner's taste, such as putting and aquarium in the car of someone who likes fish. Sure, it looks cool but it doesn't really make the car any better and one might argue even detracts from it with the extra attention such features would require. Sucker Punch is the same, in that all these elements look cool but don't really make the film work as a whole.

About now your probably thinking "but that's what they were going for, an over the top spectacle that doesn't need to make sense." On the contrary though, this film breaks up these action scenes with halfhearted dialogue and just enough self-empowering mantras to let you know they did try for some semi-balance of a complete film. Add to that its being marketed by the involved as some kind of feminine empowerment vehicle and you can't help but laugh at the absurdity and audacity of it all.

Before you write it off entirely though, it does have some redeeming qualities. The previously mentioned soundtrack and visual imagery are the for front of these. What can I say, it does look and sound cool. In addition, Oscar Isaac turns in quite a comical performance as Blue Jones, the de facto antagonist of the film. Outside of those few elements though, you're entering at your own risk.

Sucker Punch is a style over substance, action over story vehicle that I'm sure a lot of people will enjoy just not this reviewer. Overall, I give it two out of five stars though, as it had some moments and managed to stay out of Transformers 2 and The Last Air-bender territory. Check it out if you really can do with out a story in favor of coolness but otherwise look elsewhere for your film entertainment this weekend.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 3/16/11

Eight books again this week because I forgot to grab T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (and then after writing all this realized I missed another book which will be put in next week), which I'm starting to think I did subconsciously to make this a nice symmetrical group.

Starting off with DC, we have Brightest Day #22. Continuing it's string of character wrap up issues, BD #22 gives us the final showdown between Firestorm and Deathstorm. As usual the art is really good but the narrative just felt rushed compared to the others that have been ongoing here. There was one moving scene but the rest really felt like filler. That said, I am still looking forward to these last few issue of Brightest Day, if only just to see how all this white lantern hoopla ends up.

Continuing the DC double feature, we have Red Robin #21. Concluding The Rabbit Hole arc, Tim finds how Mikalek got the Uternet back online but taking it back might cost four innocent men their lives and minds. Despite the awkwardness of the Teen Titans cross over taking place during this arc, I really enjoyed how it ended up. Nicieza and To give us another action packed issue that still manages to build the characters involved. Pulling over time on this issue though, are Guy Major's colors that give it a really appealing and vibrant look.

Heading over to Vertigo, we have The Unwritten #23. Tommy's search for answers continues, this time from the inside of a whale with of some of literature's most famous whale prisoners keeping him company. Another great issue in this series, one that has yet to disappoint. Carey and Gross somehow always manage to answer a question not only with another question but with one that makes you reflect on the "answers" you've previously received. Almost as enjoyable as the issue itself, is the letters section in which Carey and Gross each discuss the departure of the book's editor Pornsak Pichetshote. A guiding force for the book since the beginning, his touch will definitley be missed as he moves on to other work.

From Image, we have Hack/Slash #2. Cassie and Vlad do battle with the revived Acid Angel while Cat Curio gets into a little scrape of her own back in Eminence, Indiana. More hot and sexy slasher action from Tim Seeley and Daniel Leister, this universe continues to be a fun read. Looking forward to more in the future and, eventually, digging in to the Vol. 1 omnibus I bought late last year.

Going back in the alphabet to Icon, we have Casanova: Gula #3. Zephyr Quinn kills her way to daddy dearest as we find out what Xeno's endgame with these assassinations is. Another great issue from Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon, featuring the former's confusing but enjoyable storyline and the latter's beautifully whimsical art. This series is just so crazy and out there that I consistently fail as trying to say why I like it, suffice to say that everyone should just go check it out. As usual, a contender for top book of the week but decided to go with something I will get to a bit later.

Moving into the home stretch with the Marvel books, we have Fear Itself Prologue: Book of the Skull One-Shot. In current times Sin, the daughter of Red Skull, is tracking down a magical book that her farther used in the World War II era; Meanwhile, in flashbacks, we see the Red Skull using said book and being tracked by the Invaders. I've been debating with myself as to whether I want to pick up a lot of Marvel's next big event, and I have to say this prologue didn't really sell me on it. While the art looked great (pencils by Scot Eaton, inks by Mark Morales, and colors by Sunny Gho) the premise and the road it starts to venture down just don't grab me. However, if you are more into the Norse Gods in the Marvel U you might like where it's heading quite a bit more. As for me, I think I might pick up some of the X-related tie ins (big surprise there) and leave the rest on the shelf.

Speaking of X-Books, next up is Uncanny X-Force #5.1. Taking a break for the current story line, this perfect introductory issue to the team (hence the .1) treats us to X-Force getting a little revenge on Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers for their previous encounters. While I don't think it was the right move to put this out in the middle of another storyline, it is a great one off issue none the less. Remender continues his spot on (or subtle changing) of the character's personalities while Rafel Albuquerque (an artist who has been mentioned a lot here in conjunction with American Vampire) lets the blood and bullets fly with his spectacular art. If you've been hearing all the hype about Uncanny X-Force and are looking to give it a try, this is the issue for you.

Last up, and honest shocker as pick of the week, is Iceman & Angel One-Shot from Marvel. Back in the younger days, as still X-Boys that are wet behind the ears, Bobby and Warren end up spending Spring Break in New York but, as we all know, the Marvel U New York is never a boring place. Written by Brian Clevinger with art by Juan Doe, this comic is the perfect combination of humorous lines and old school, monster fighting artwork. If your a fan of these two X-men at all (confession: I am huge one) or just like to enjoy a classic, funny adventure every once in a while give this issue a shot.

That is it for this week's books but I should have a post soon about some of the stuff I checked out at C2E2 last weekend, so be on the look out for that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 3/9/11

We've got eight books this week with a nice variety, only half are superhero ;)

Starting things off we have X-Men: Legacy #246, Chapter 3 of Age of X. Legacy (Rogue) remains on the lamb from her fellow mutants and isn't the only one asking questions. Another solid issue in this x-over as Mike Carey's story builds naturally while Clay Mann's pencil's add the perfect amount of grit and grim to this dystopian future/alternate present. Maybe a little dialogue heavy in some places that were unnecessary but other than that no complaints and looking forward to more.

Rounding out Marvel books this week is Hawkeye: Blindspot #2 of 4. Clint starts searching for leads on who killed his former mentor, Trick Shot, while reminiscing about his early days in the Avengers. A descent issue that features some awesome flashback art done by Nick Dragotta and Brad Simpson but the ending "surprise" reveal felt too cliche and formulaic. Hoping Jim McCann manages to use it in an interesting way for the second half of the mini-series but it certainly isn't working for me yet.

Speaking of comics that ended terribly, our first comic from DC this week is Justice League: Generation Lost #21. Each member of the team deals with the death of Blue Beetle in their own way as they decide if they will continue their hunt for Max Lord. I love 95% of this issue (for you nerds out there, this is an actuate percent since I liked 19 of the 20 pages.) Judd Winick nails these characters motivations, which doesn't surprise me as he has been doing it the whole series. What did surprise me was the final page reveal, which I really dislike and for much of the same reasons as I dislike the ending of Hawkeye this week. There are very few ways I can see Winick turning this into something enjoyable but I'm still holding out hope that it won't ruin the rest of the series for me.

Last DC book of the week is Booster Gold #42. Booster appears back in the present, apparently having served his time in future. It was no trip to Cleveland, however, as he tells Rip and Michelle about his disturbing adventure with his cell mate, the Perforated Man. Still enjoying these wacky time tales from Giffen and DeMatteis, even if this issue had a little less humor than usual. Looking forward to the fallout of what was revealed here especially as it relates to the partnership between Booster and Rip.

From Avatar Press we have Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #3 of 4. The captured constable gets a little tour of the island but all hell breaks loose as Brock, the bow-street runner, discovers their location. While I still like the mini, the break between issues really killed any momentum it had going. When the last issue comes out I'll try to sit down and read them all at once, betting it has a lot better flow that way.

Heading over to Image's Shadowline brand we have Twenty-Seven #4 of 4. Will Garland meets up with the mysterious forces that set him on his current path and, surprise surprise they don't get along. Overall I enjoyed this mini series. Its art, done by Renzo Podesta, is consistently interesting while the story done by Charles Soule was oddly paced at some points but still fun to read. I know there is a second mini-series planned for the summer but I think I might pass on it as the ending here really didn't leave me looking for more.

Runner up this week comes from Th3rd World Studios, The Stuff of Legend Vol 2.: The Jungle Part 4. Concluding this arc Maxwell reveals his dark secret to the animal toys while Jester, Princess, and Harmony run into some old friends in the hunting grounds. Another fantastic issue from Mike Raicht, Brian Smith and Charles Paul Wilson III. Great art, engaging story, and unique characters (not just some Toy Story wannabees) make this a must read for me every time. Looking forward to the next volume, The Jester's Tale starting in the summer.

Pick of the week is once again a Vertigo Resurrected title, Finals #1 (a collection of the four issue Finals mini-series from 1999.) Written by Will Pfeifer with art by Jill Thompson, Finals tells the story of five seniors at Knox State University. All of them are working on their senior projects, and since KSU is known for pushing students harder than anywhere else each project is peculiar and more extreme than the last. This college tale of devolving men, out of control cults, and dead time travelers really did it for me as it nailed a lot college personalities (even ten years later) while still being fun and out there. Give a chance if you enjoy a good college romp or are digging the other Vertigo Resurrected books as much as I am.

That is it for this week. Next week should feature a fairly sizable stack but get ready to hear about all the awesome stuff I pick up at C2E2.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 3/2/11

Not a huge week of books, but still some good ones mixed in with a bad one or two.

Starting things off we have Carbon Grey #1 of 3 from Image Comics. Blending the looks of steam punk and World War 1 Germany, this first issue introduces us to The Sisters Grey, former servants of the empire that have turned against it. For the most part I did like the art of the book; done by the team of Khari Evans, Kinsun Loh, and Hoang Nguyen it turns out sexy or bloody depending on the appropriate situation. The story on the other hand, I did not care to much for. It's predominately told through a convoluted narration that fails to stand on its own. I have a feeling it will read much better all at once, so I might wait and get the last two issues together or pick up a collected edition when it becomes available. For now, I would advise just skipping it.

Next is the issue number 4 of Uptight, created by Jordan Crane and published by Fantagraphics Books. Continuing the two stories of last issue, the drifting apart couple reach a conclusion while the children adventures with cat in tow fall deeper into the odd happenings at their school. Can't really say much more about this book that I haven't said already. Still really digging the stories and covers, but now begins the long wait for the next issue which judging by the dates on the previous ones could be more than a year!

From Radical Comics we get Earp: Saints for Sinners #2 of 5. Telling a little of the back story, this issue shows us how Josie and Wyatt first met as well as some of the initial problems the Earp boys got themselves into in sin city. Overall I didn't really enjoy this issue as much as the first one. The back story was tame and somewhat boring compared to the world we've already seen. Not sure if I'll continue the series just yet, but I really hope it gets back to form.

Heading over to DC we have Batman Beyond #3. Concluding The Heart of the Matter storyline, this issue features Batman and the Justice League battling this new Matter Master. The story wraps up nicely and Adam Beechen, the writer, even makes a point to show a little of how this book will differ from the show and that Terry has become a bit more of his own man. The pencils from Ryan Benjamin were good but did irk me in a few places. Also wanted to quickly mention the cool cover design from Dustin Nguyen, hope to see more of this on the book in the future. Looking forward to next issue which looks to feature every one's favorite spunky, confidant from the TV show, Max.

Rounding out DC, we have Brightest Day #21. Titled Mars Attacks this issue brings the Martian Manhunter's chapter to a close as he finally chooses between Earth and Mars. Really ended up enjoying this issue, even though some of the previous MM issues weren't my favorite. It also provides us with a little more insight as to what's happening to the people the ring is taking.Finally the art from Patrick Gleason, Ivan Reis, and Joe Prado is once again great, leaving me anxiously awaiting the final few issues.

My only Marvel book this week, and runner up, is Ultimate Captain America #3 of 4. Steve Rodgers goes through a little bit of re-education at the hands of Frank Simpson, but is it enough to break the original super soldier's steadfast resolve? Really loving this mini series from Jason Aaron (writer) and Ron Garney (artist). This issue lets us get a bit deeper into Simpson's mind as well as the politics he represents. Reading over it again, it plays a little like Heart of Darkness and it should be interesting to see how Captain America comes out of all this.

Last up and obvious pick of the week is Joe the Barbarian #8 of 8. Joe's adventures in the real world as well as those in his hallucinations come to a head this issue as he combats the darkness of two worlds. Been anxiously awaiting this issue for a while, and it definitely delivered. Great art from Sean Murphy while Grant Morrison delivers a simpler and more emotional finale which I was not expecting but did enjoy. Looking forward to re-reading it when I end up getting all the issues sorted into one place. If you skipped it in single issue form, make sure to grab the collection when it comes out as I really think everyone can find something in this book.

That wraps up this week. Comments, critiques, or suggestions for future reading can be left below. Now if you'll excuse me I have this week's comics waiting for me already and they are sure to be a fickle mistress.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Circle of Trust #7: A Film Unfinished (2010)

I'm interrupting your normal internet browsing tomfoolery for another look into the films distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories. The latest entry in their growing catalog of modern classics, which I received through my Circle of Trust subscription, is director Yael Hersonski's A Film Unfinished.

Hersonski's directorial debut is a documentary telling the tale of a German film discovered shortly after World War II. Labeled "Ghetto" it was thought to be real footage of life in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw during the war; thus it was treated as such for many years becoming a valuable resource for filmmakers looking to utilize archival footage. Year later though; through the discovery of outtakes, cut footage, personal journals, and eye witness testimony "Ghetto" is revealed to be one of the third reich's cleverest propaganda pieces hiding in plain sight. Blending the aforementioned documents together, Hersonski creates an interesting and heartfelt documentary that not only opens one's eyes to the some of the horrific footage shot under the Nazi regime (which we've seen in docs before) but gets one to truly question the original purpose and intent of all archival footage they've been exposed to.

Just presenting information like this would be enough to warrant a watch but the way in which it's presented keeps the viewer interested and enthralled. The viewer learns of the important discovery relatively early in the film and is even shown a few clips of the original footage altered to have particular people highlighted. These highlighted individuals clearly react contrary to what is being established by others in the scene and reveals that hints of its false nature were there the entire time. After this I couldn't help but looking for people doing the same through out the rest of the film, just one of the ways the director draws in your attention and assures it throughout. Intermittent in the film, we are shown survivors watching the footage who expound on what is actually going on, why people are reacting a certain way, and their memories of other ghetto prisoners. This becomes truly heart breaking though when we see them watching the missing footage, which includes Nazi soldiers disposing of bodies in the ghetto. This powerful imagery creates empathy even in our youngest and future generations that have been that are slowly becoming numb to such footage themselves. These feelings and thoughts also bleed in to the bonus features which do a tremendous job of supporting and expanding on the film.

In true Oscilloscope fashion, this DVD comes with great extra features. Instead of just adding to the film or going behind the scenes, the extra features on this disc seek to help one understand the subject matter as well as documentary and propaganda better. First up are two essays (one written and one video) by film scholars discussing the film and how it relates to what a documentary is/should be. Next is an interview with author and film researcher Adrian Wood, whose efforts helped discover the missing footage at the focal point of the film. Switching over to American film of the time, the DVD includes Death Mills (1945) a short film by Billy Wilder that gives ones of the first looks at concentration camps after being liberated. Last up, and this one requires using a computer, is a PDF study guide for teachers who might use the film as an aide and their students who seek to gain a deeper understanding of it.

Another spectacular entry into Oscilloscope's library, I give this film a four out of five stars. I don't think its right to say I really enjoy the film, but I do think it is well made and should be given a watch. As far as scoring the DVD I have to go with a four out of five again, as its bonus features and package design are welcome additions to my (or any) DVD collection. Below are a few links to help you get a hold of the film or learn more about it, and be sure to comment if you've seen it or do end up giving it a look.

-Enter to win a copy of A Film Unfinished from the folks at The Documentary Blog

-Add it to your Netflix queue

-Buy it from Oscilloscope Laboratories site

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 2/23/11

Lots of books this week so we're going to jump right into it:

First up from Image, we have Skull Kickers #6. Titled Four Tavern Tales, this issue gives us a few short stories about our favorite blundering, mid-evil mercenaries. I enjoyed this little break before the series goes into another arc in May. Despite being handled by a bunch of different talent, the characters maintained their patented humor I enjoy. Of course bringing this book up again forces me to mention Marshall Dillon, the letterer of the series, who's work really makes every issue worth my cash.

Next up is Uptight #3, from Fantagraphics. Staying true to form, we are presented with two new stories (the first chapter in a tale of a couple drifting apart and one about a child's adventures when kicked out of class) along with a great cover. So far, this is my favorite issue of the series with the two stories presenting a nice contrast in both art and style that really appeals to me. Looking forward to picking up the fourth issue at my local shop next week but I think that is the last one they have.

Heading over to DC we have Justice League: Generation Lost #20. After last issue's killer ending, this one splices in large chunks of Max Lord's past as the League looks to avenge their fallen comrade. Really liked Judd Winick's story that let us into the past of the "villain" but the art was not the best of the series. While nothing is final in comics, I really didn't except the book to take this turn of one of them dying and am looking forward to what it closes with in the home stretch.

Teen Titans #92 is our only other book from DC this week, finishing up the crossover with Red Robin. The team confronts Calculator prime causing bad blood on both sides to come to the surface. Overall, I didn't really enjoy this issue or the crossover. The dialogue felt a little hokey and hammed up while the art was fine in some places but terribly rough in others for no reason. I am interested to see how the resulting cast change effects the book though, even if I didn't particularly want it to happen.

Moving on to Marvel we have Secret Avengers #10. Eyes of the Dragon concludes as the team enacts their plan to rescue Shang Chi and take down the Shadow Council. Dig the art here, from Mike Deodato and Will Conrad, but the slow build from Ed Brubaker's story just didn't have a satisfactory pay off for me.We get a lot of action but little character development which is more of what I was looking for in the book. It's not a bad title but I feel like it might read better in trade form, so I might try that for the next arc.

Stepping into the Age of X we have the first two chapters of it, X-Men: Legacy #245 (ch.1) and New Mutants #22 (ch.2). In Legacy a familiar, yet different, group of mutants defend their citadel from human attackers but not everyone survives the encounter. I think this was a great beginning for this X-over between Legacy and New Mutants. At first I was a little annoyed by some of the less obvious characters not having their names properly shown but grew to love the detective work of finding out who they are. Really liking the world Mike Carey is creating here and the art of Clay Mann that is being used to fill it. Over in New Mutants, Legacy (the character) starts doing a little detective work of her own, trying to find out what their escaped prisoner was looking for outside Fortress X's defenses. Much like ch.1, I like the world Carey is building with his story, something of mystery for both the reader and Legacy. Unlike the first issue though, I was not to fond of Steve Kurth's pencils here but they weren't really deal breaking either. Overall, I'm sold on Age of X and am looking forward to next month's installments. Also, wanted to give Marvel and the X-editors a commendation for toning down the scope of this event. It is, at most, only 3 issues each month and that is something I wouldn't mind seeing more of in future events.

In the non-Age of X land, Uncanny X-Men continues it's Quarantine storyline with issue #533. Shaw and Frost get a bit physical while the only other X-Men not sick on Utopia crash Lobe's investor party. Just the opposite of Secret Avengers, the slow boil of this story line starts to pay off here and will most likely continue through the end of the arc. Fraction and Gillen's narrative seemed a bit over packed in the first couple issues but it is making for better resolution in these final ones. As usual, Greg Land's art gives us something pretty to look at and only adds to the appeal of this book.

Concluding Fantastic Four, we have the final issue #588 (although it will probably change back somewhere down the line.) The first part of the book presents a month of mourning for the remaining members of Marvel's first family, done without any dialogue, while the back-up feature has Spider-Man consoling Franklin Richards over what it's like to lose an uncle. While I really liked the Uncles story (written by Hickman with art by Mark Brooks), the main feature was just ok. Parts of it were enjoyable, while others felt forced or unnecessary especially in the art department. Don't think I'm going to be picking up the new FF series regularly but I might give #1 a shot.

From IDW we have Kill Shakespeare #9.  Hamlet, the prophesied Shadow King, comes face to face with the title bard. Another fantastic issue in this limited series! While not to much physically happened, Andy Belanger's art and panel structure looked great doing it. Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col's introduction of Shakespeare and the part he will play in the rest of the series wets the appetite just as much and I look forward to the last few issues.

Vertigo brings us a one and done tale in the American Vampire universe in issue #12. Skinner Sweet takes in a road show which brings back fond memories of his time in the wild west. Not my favorite issue of the series, but still a fun one. Scott Synder's adds a little humanity and depth to Sweet without detracting from his blood thirsty persona. Danijel Zezelj's art was a descent fill in but I'm looking forward to getting Rafael Albuquerque back on interiors next issue, when our favorite blood suckers get involved in WWII.

Going from one bucket of blood to gallons of the stuff, we have Crossed: Psychopath #1. Meet Harold Lorre, one of the few humans left who hasn't Crossed, as he joins up with a group of survivors. The problem is, however, Harold is psychotic already (he is the title character, don't you know) and adept at hiding it. Being the big fan of the Crossed universe that I am, it should come as no surprise that I really enjoyed this book. The aspect that sets it apart from previous Crossed issues and other post apocalyptic works, is us seeing it from the mind of someone already deranged. David Lapham (the writer) knows how to keep the Crossed world new with fresh ideas and I can't wait to see what else he has in store for us in this crazy book.

Narrowly beating Crossed out for the top spot this week is Namor: The First Mutant #7. Continuing his voyage through Hell, Namor is losing his way but his allies (now including Doctor Doom) aren't about to let him go with out a fight. This book, and this issue in particular, manage to do everything right with a solo superhero title. Month in and month out Stuart Moore presents us with interesting stories that not only get to the core of who this character is but also build a supporting cast that is just as interesting. In perfect harmony, Ariel Olivetti's art visualizes this world and characters superbly while getting a little help in that department from Phil Noto's great covers. I said it earlier this week on twitter, but this is seriously the best mainstream title no one else is reading or at least not talking about if they are. So next time you're in your local shop, pick up an issue so we can keep this gem on the stands.

That is it for this week but as usual comments, critiques, and suggestions can be left below or sent to Looks like I am going to have a short stack next week so I might grab something new to check out for the blog.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wednesday Pickups 2/16/11

[Announcer's Voice]Coming in at nine books, zero trades, this stack packs quite a wallop with its floppy stock and chiseled right angles. Hailing from the slightly slushy streets of Chicago's south suburbs, this cartel of comics contains books new and old, bright and dark, DC and other, THE COMICS OF FEBRRUUUUUUARY SIXTEENTH, TWENTY ELEVENNNNN![/Announcer's Voice]

We start things off this week with Green Lantern Corps #57, the conclusion of The Weaponer storyline. The small group of Green Lanterns stand with The Weaponer and Thunders of Quard against Sinestro and his corps, but will it be enough or will the truce be broken and ignite another War? Guest staring Firestorm (on loan from Brightest Day) we get an answer, and all too quickly. With the slow build the arc has been utilizing, this final issue seems out of place wrapping everything up too nicely and not really justifying one character's major choice. Tyler Kirkham's pencils, brilliantly assisted by BATT's ink and Nei Ruffino's colors, looked spectacular but Tony Bedard's story seems like it was rush to conclusion (possibly for the crossover starting next month, War of the Green Lanterns.) While I've really been digging the title lately I think this upcoming crossover gives me a nice opportunity take a break from the book, along with our next book.

Moving over to GLC's slightly older brother we have Green Lantern #62. Concluding The New Guardians arc, this issue finds Hal and his colorful buddies going toe to toe with Krona, the former guardian who accidentally created the anti-matter universe and is now after the Entities. Contrary to most of this arc, I really enjoyed this final issue. As usual, Doug Mahnke's art looks great and Geoff Johns writing showed some of the chops I first started liking him for, including an unexpected result for the battle and a tough choice for Hal Jordan. That said, the good here just doesn't out weight the "meh" I've been getting from the book lately. Going to take a break from this as well, both to check out some other stuff on the stands and to see if I really miss it that much.

Next up is one book that won't be leaving for the foreseeable future, Booster Gold #41 (now you can laugh at that bad future pun.) Rip decides it's time Booster pays his debt for stealing all the future tech that allowed him to be come a super hero but the Nazi he recently displaced from the forties has other plans. Really been enjoying this book and as previously mentioned, that shows no signs of stopping. Giffen, DeMatteis, Batista, and Perrotta make for wonderful writing and artistic duos that seem to bring new things to the table all the time. This issue illustrates exactly how far this character has come, as Booster treats the villain as a pest in the same manner major villains used to do to him. Maybe becoming a bit to big for his britches though, the ending comes as a bit of surprise to us and him, but trusting this creative team I known it has a purpose.

Rounding out the DC books this week is Brightest Day #20, the conclusion of Aquawar. Arthur and Jackson stand as the land's last defense from Black Manta, Siren, and her invading army of banished Atlantians; but they might not prove to be enough with out a helping hand from some friends. Art, as usual from Ivan Reis and Joe Prado, is great with the highlight being a two-page splash of Aquaman leading the local sea life on the charge. The story on the other hand, from Johns and Tomasi, might be showing the first signs of falling apart. Very similar to the end of Hawkman and Hawkgirl's story, Aquaman comes to a flat stopping point and seems to hint that every other character's will follow suit. It remains to be seen but if this is the case, the series end probably won't be up my alley.

Heading over to IDW, we have The Suicide Forest #3 of 4. Our two protagonists finally meet, and in the title location no less, as Ryoko and the other park rangers comes across Alan with forest spirits not far behind. Really enjoyed the pacing of this issue as it begins the final act of this supernatural horror comic in a rough and deadly fashion. Gabriel Hernandez art works perfectly with the setting, causing the reader to lose himself in the woods along with the characters and feel the cold darkness in the final panels. Can't wait to see how it all turns out next month, as in true to the medium we are left with quite the cliffhanger.

Moving along, to my favorite title from Archia, we have Cyclops #4 of 8. Pistoia and his soldiers are sent to the latest United Nations involved war theater. While on the surface Pistoia appears to be darker and less caring his internal conflict has reached a boiling point. This fantastic series keeps going with another great entry. While its been present all along, the most prominent feature of this issue is the strong use of panel structure. For the sex scene, it heightens the thrill while letting us in on a secret; when the men make a discovery in the forest, it simultaneously horrifies and provides the laugh track of the viewers at home; when Pistoia goes searching for answers; it illuminates the past with the flashlight beam while leaving the now in the dark. Definitely looking forward to the second half of the mini-series and where it goes.

Uptight #2, published by Fantagraphics and created by Jordan Crane, shows up with another set of short stories accompanied by a slick cover. In "Take Me Home" a young man is plagued by the memories of one fateful night, while "Before They Got Better" introduces us to a grandfather who's slowly losing his patience with family squabbles. Lastly, we get another installment of "Keeping Two" where the guy's imagination runs even wilder about the whereabouts of his girlfriend. Found myself enjoying this issue more than the first one. While the art retains the simple black and white style, especially the great use of shadow in "Take Me Home", I found the stories here more interesting and direct. Will make sure to grab #3 for next week.

Getting into Marvel's wares, we have Hawkeye: Blindspot #1 of 4. Since his trip to Russia, Hawkeye's aim has been a bit off, due to a nasty blow to the back of the head. Now the big brains have figured out his vision is deteriorating due to an inoperable pressure build up and if things weren't bad enough, villains from his past return looking for blood. Enjoying this story and re-telling of Clint's past so far. I think it definitley shows more focus than Widowmaker with just Jim McCann handling the writing, with the only questionable aspect being who he sets up as the major antagonist (however, I might be the only one that thinks that due to my lack of knowledge of the character.) The art holds its own as well, drawn by Paco Diaz and colored by Tomeu Morey, with little touches such as the faded newspaper look of the past or the enhanced vision goggles bright colors endearing it even more to me. If we can't have Hawkeye and Mockingbird back as a book, Blindspot is a pretty good replacement.

Pick of the week also comes from Marvel, Uncanny X-Force #5. Kicking off a new arc, Deathlok Nation, we get a bit more insight into the enigma that is Fantomex while the rest of team struggles over how their first mission ended. One of the best things about Rememder's writing on this book is he let's me enjoy every character, not just the ones I normally do. While I've never been a big fan of Deadpool, Rememder's Deadpool is a likable character and even more so for a great moment he has in this issue. That would be enough to keep me on the book but Esad Ribic's art rocks it just as much. From action packed battle scenes to the memorabilia filled Cavern-X (like a loving homage to the batcave), he keeps the viewer engaged and conveys just as much of the story as his writing partner. If every X-Book was as solid as this, Namor, and New Mutants I could easily see myself going back to the days of getting every one of them.

That's it for this week but if you like what you read make sure to stop by again, same time and place. As usual comments, critiques, and suggestions can be left below or sent to Now, I'm off to get started on reading next week's books. Psychic prediction- Crossed: Psychopath #1 nabs the top spot. ;)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Geek Lantern's Favorite Films of 2010

This is one post I have been promising for quite a while. Being the cinephile that I am, I really enjoy making a list of my favorite movies from the previous year. Not only does it help one's self to evaluate their "film year" but it's also a helpful tool in sharing the awesome films you enjoy with others. In recent years, I've tried to get it done by the end of the year to liken myself to every critic out there who release a top ten list; This year, however, I decided to give my self an extra month (which turned into a month and 3/4ths) to catch some films on DVD that never made a theater appearance around me (or I didn't know about it when they did.) As it turns out, this was extremely helpful as a few of the films on here were viewed in that time but I still managed to miss a few (I'm looking at you Somewhere and Blue Valentine.) So here are my favorite films that were released in 2010 starting with five honorable mentions (in alphabetical order) followed by the top ten. Also, for your added benefit I am linking all the movie titles to their IMDB page so you can check into them further if your interested.

The American

Despite being hated by many of my fellow Americans, I really enjoyed this Spy/Drama directed by Anton Corbijn. Abandoning many of the typical thriller elements associated with a "spy" film, we instead are treated to a dramatic tale of an aging agent who no longer has his heart in this line of work. That isn't to say the film contains no action scenes, as the ones it does have pretty thrilling, but they are built on a quite tension and not grandeur or explosions. Also worth mentioning is George Clooney's performance which is quite a bit more reserved than his usual fair perfectly fitting the role of the title character. Give this one a chance if your a fan of spy films, just don't go in expecting the James Bond or Jason Bourne.

One Too Many Mornings is a film I blogged about once before (you can find that here) and just barely made the front end time restrictions of this list premiering at last year's Sundance Film Festival. It has best been described as "a coming of age comedy about two guys who are way too old to be coming of age" and despite being a really well made dramedy, it has flow under the radar for most due to the lack of wide release in theaters. I think one of my favorite elements of the film (and possible selling point) is the way it blends its comedy naturally into the heart of its story, rather than injecting it with pop-culture references for cheap laughs like many modern comedies. Hopefully this quiet little indie film will make its way into the hands of all those slackers out there that will enjoy it just as much as I do.

The first of three Oscilloscope Laboratories distributed films to make this list, Rare Exports is a Finnish gem that examines the "true" origins of Santa Claus. Filled with laughs and fun for most of the family (might want to keep the younger ones away) this is my favorite holiday film to come out in quite a while. Since its a little late to check it out for Christmas 2010 make sure you pick up a copy before December 25th this year, it's not out on DVD yet but should be in the next few months.

This is one that just barely made the list due to me delaying, as I watched it just last week. Restrepo is a war-documentary that follows one platoon's year-long tour in Afghanistan's deadliest valley. The thing that sets it apart from so many other war films or docs from the past few years is the directors' (Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger) not pushing any agenda and the candor with which the soldiers speak to the camera. No matter your political alignment or thoughts on the war, this is one film you should see if only to get some small idea of what our nation's front line troops go through.

Another documentary that I really enjoyed, somewhat for its impartiality in a hot button geek issue but also for its high entertainment value; The People vs. George Lucas examines the relationship between the famed Star Wars creator and his fans in a post-prequels world. Consisting of interviews, fan footage from across the world, and maybe even a scene or two from Lucas' films this doc covers all its bases and will keep you laughing all the way through. The documentary will mostly be enjoyed by Star Wars fans world-wide, when it goes into wider release and maybe DVD this year, but non-star wars fans (do those exists?) might find it interesting to see the effect one man has had on generations now and how quick the winds of favor can change.

Have to admit, I passed on this one in theaters assuming it wouldn't be as good as most reviews were saying. I did, however, throw it in the netflix queue and was proved wrong when it eventually made its way to me. Toy Story 3 hits some emotional scenes out of the park while still managing to be a fun, family-friendly film. I'm not sure, since it's been a while since I watched the first one or The Incredibles, but this may be my favorite Pixar film. So if you made the same assumption I did originally, make sure to rectify that soon.

Almost every year I see one film that stands apart from other theater viewing experiences, Buried is that film this year. Telling the tale of a kidnapped and (suprise!) buried U.S. contractor in Iraq, played by Ryan Reynolds, this entire movie takes place in a coffin! While it may initially seem like a gimmick; Reynolds performance, great cinematography, and well done confined lighting keep your eyes glued to the screen for its entire 95 minute running time. You would be hard pressed to find Buried still in a theater but it came out on DVD about a month ago, so make sure to check it out next time your in the mood for a solid thriller.

In the vein of The Great Dictator, (writer/director) Chris Morris' Four Lions takes the most prominent world threat and mocks it hilariously. Not only does this film have the stones to broach a topic most filmmakers or studios wouldn't touch (a slap-stick comedy about suicide bombers) but it's also one of the funniest comedies I've seen in quite a while. You need to watch and laugh at this film, or the terrorists have already won!

Exit Through The Gift Shop is a rare film that has so much to say, while at the same time you're still not entirely sure what it is. Examining the world of graffiti art and parlaying that into a critique of the business side of art, the film presents its self as a documentary but with the message its saying one wonders if mockumentary might fit it better in the end. Hopefully we never get a straight answer from those involved, which is entirely possible, leaving the viewer to make their own judgment. The only bad thing about the film, it's pretty much cause internet fiends everywhere to credit all street art to the film's mysterious director Banksy.

Monsters would have probably been lower on this list if I had only seen it once but with each viewing I find some new shot or part of a scene that amazes me. Writer, director, and visual effects artist of the film Gareth Edwards presents the viewer with a fully realized world of alien monsters living at our border. Drawing many comparisons to District 9, from critics and fans alike, I feel that Monsters handles every thing from it's drama and effects to not force feeding the audience it's message a lot better (Note: I didn't like District 9 that much.) So if you are in the mood for a relationship drama with spectacular effects, make sure to check this film out. Afterward, be sure to give the bonus features on the Blu-ray or DVD a look, I was blown away by them.

5) Enter The Void

The first time I heard of this film was catching a glimpse of it's bright neon poster and from there, the rabbit hole just gets deeper. Director Gaspar Noe presents the viewer with a movie not quite like anything they've seen before with some very creative and purposeful cinematography. I'm hesitant to tell anyone too much about this film because going into it cold was such an awesome experience for me, but essentially it's the longest drug trip/spiritual experience you will ever see on film. I'm looking forward to checking out the longer, director's cut when I get a chance but for those of you ready to dive in now it's currently streaming on Netflix Instant.

A strikingly dark look at a quest for perfection; Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan not only mesmerizes through it well choreographed dancing and stylish scenery (as pictured above) but through it's protagonist's (Nina Sayers played by Natalie Portman) journey into stress-induced madness. While the film is definitely Oscar-bait, it strikes me as more original than most in that category and certainly a film I could find myself watching again and again. Definitely check this one out if you enjoyed Aronofsky's The Wrestler or Powel and Pressburger's The Red Shoes, a film it draws a lot of inspiration from.

3) Inception

The only surprise about this one being on my list is that it's not number one. Being a huge fan of Nolan and a lot of the cast, the bar was set pretty high for this one and it definitely went over it. From one fantastical dream world to the next, the film kept me engaged all the way through. Don't plan on going to in-depth here but if you want to read more of what I thought of it you can check out the my review here. I don't know many who haven't seen this yet but if you are one of those few you should correct that soon.

A love letter to nerd culture, director Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. The World may have underperformed at the box office but it has certainly turned into a classic/must own for lovers of comics and video games everywhere. Even if your not a fan of such things (in which case you're crazy), it stands as a well made comedy with sweet visual effects. I'm a fan of Wright's other work (Spaced, Shawn of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz) but this is by far my favorite, as it puts a big smile on my face every time I watch it.

1) Howl

Number one comes as a real surprise this year as it wasn't even on my radar until a few weeks before I saw it. While I have already gone in depth about my love for this film twice before on here (Review & Circle of Trust piece), I really can't say enough about in hopes that more people will check it out. Not only does this film spectacularly adapt Allen Ginsberg's famous poem Howl into animated sequences, it adds in a bio-pic flavor looking at his life and the obscenity trial that helped propel the poem into the masses. All of this comes together in a spectacular blend of documentary, animation, poetry, and wonderful acting from James Franco. I know I've said you should see all these films, but this is the one of the least seen that more really need to check out.

Ok, well that is it for my favorite films of 2010. Let me know your thoughts on the list or your own favorite below and thanks for reading this but now get off your butt and go watch one of these movies.