Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Mighty Blarg Strikes Again

 
The Dark Knight Strikes Again
 Writer: Frank Miller
Artist: Frank Miller
Published: DC, 2001






I figured, in my limited wisdom, that since I kicked off Ye Olde Blogge with a review of Frank Miller's 1986 masterpiece, The Dark Knight Returns, it would make sense to end my unofficial hiatus with a review of Frank Miller's 2001 ...piece, The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

So, our story begins three years after the events of TDKR and, oh brave new world, things are rough. It is revealed that the President of the United States is a hologram! Who could be pulling the strings? None other than Lex Luthor, evil genius and arch-nemesis to Superman. Luthor's behind-the-scenes manipulations have led the USA to great peace and economic prosperity, but at the cost of the freedom of its citizens [the country has been in a state of martial law for nineteen months]. Through "President Rickard", Luthor has essentially become the dictator of Earth. He has imprisoned or enslaved most of the Justice League: Ray "the Atom" Palmer is trapped in a Petri dish; Barry "the Flash" Allen is powering half the country by running in a fancy hamster wheel; and Superman just does Luthor's bidding, whatever it may be.

Enter Batman, Carrie "Catgirl" Kelly [formerly "Robin"], Oliver "Green Arrow" Queen, and their small army of militants. For the past three years, they've been in hiding, but now Bats has chosen their moment to strike... AGAIN! 



no Bat Hair-Plugs in that utility belt?

Despite some glimpses of the great art/writing we know that Miller is capable of [perhaps making TDKSA all the more frustrating], I think this comic ultimately fails. There is just too much wrong with it. Death by a thousand cuts! And some blunt trauma. And a stroke or two. 


Plot-wise

It is hard to believe that in three years, the USA went from President Reagan to a goddamned hologram. Really? Sure, it's a "cool idea", but how the hell did he campaign as a hologram? Did he start off as a lowly hologram mayor? A real person who is a figurehead just makes so much more sense. And in three years, we went from a slightly-more-sinister USA to an all-out dictatorship? Indefinite martial law? Nationwide curfews? Repealing the Bill of Rights? It would be a logical progression from TDKR if Bats was fighting against a sinister government that was trying to take things to a "1984" level, but it's just too much of a leap as is. There are other examples that I will forego in the interest of NO SPOILERS, but ultimately this book lacks cohesion with its infinitely better predecessor.

Not only that, it also seems to lack a fair amount of cohesion within itself. Some of that could be attributed to the larger scope of the story, but GOD DAMN things are scatterbrained in here sometimes. Stuff gets introduced randomly and then disappears randomly, without any significance to the plot. In the first book, "talking heads" in the form of news anchors, "experts", and people on the street would pop up here and there to raise questions, offer different points of view, or simply for expository purposes. That technique is increased tenfold in TDKSA, and although I feel like it does strike a chord in today's Internetty world of information overload, it isn't done with any panache. Most of the time, it is just people YELLING. Of course, maybe that was a point Miller was trying to make. It does, however, add confusion to an already bemusing comic.  



The writing is largely overwrought. I have said before that Miller lacks subtlety, but there is not a subtle bone in this book's body. "President Rickard's" National Security Enforcement Director is a fellow named Bill Prick. Seriously. This is the razor-sharp wit we are dealing with here, people. And one point we are treated to FIVE splash pages of Supes and Wonder Woman fucking. In space. Through their costumes, somehow. Five full fucking pages, which end with them crashing into the ocean and this:


being all that they can be!


So these two heroes just murdered a bunch of people who were on that aircraft carrier. Whatever floats their boat, right? [PUN INTENDED LOLOLOL] Which leads me to another problem with this comic: the characters. They don't act like themselves. The above is not the only time Supes is directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of innocent people. Also, half of the JLA have been either knowingly working for Lex Luthor for fuck knows how long or just standing idly by as he rules over humanity, and they haven't figured out some plan to stop him yet? Supes is supposed to be a super-genius. His super-brain hasn't come up with anything? Really? I would believe it more if they were unaware Luthor was calling the shots and were convinced what they were doing was for the greater good.

Also, our titular protagonist doesn't seem like the same guy we saw in the previous book. In TDKR, despite his commitment to the fight for justice, he had doubts and internal conflict and things that made him a good character. He seemed more like a person. Here, he just seems like a bullheaded dick. He's not really likable at all. He's always right about everything and rubs it in everyone's face. There's a difference between being badass and being an asshole.

Art-wise: 

Oh god oh god oh god. This is painful. I think I can forgive most of the transgressions up until we start discussing the art. Some of it is quite good. Miller's trademark rough/gritty look can still deliver and create real atmosphere and feeling. But that's only when he remembers not to hold the pencil between his butt-cheeks.


"I move swiftly and silently on my child-like legs."

Ugh, I just can't get over how terrible this is. I am embarrassed for Miller that it got published. And there are many other examples of this shit.

I could go on for a while with the negatives, but let's try to look at some of the positives!


Like I mentioned above, the constant yammering of the masses does feel like idiots on Youtube that you see everyday, so at least it's realistic there [and somewhat premonitory! remember, Youtube didn't d├ębut til '05]. There's a prologue in the form of an article written by Vicky Vale [oldschool Bats reference] which I enjoyed and which serves as a semi-functional bridge from TDKR.

The Atom's intro is pretty epic. In fact, most of what he does is pretty great. His power is shown to be so much more than "gets small":  electron-surfing in one scene, bounding around in someone's inner ear the next. J'onn "Martian Manhunter" J'onzz has a small role, but is cool, as per usual. Plastic Man is good for some laughs and a memorable moment of writing occurs when he is released from his prison: "like a baby born without any skin-- like a soul puked up from the depths of hell-- he screams loud and long and vengeful..." Actually, I would say the supporting cast is much more likable than our leads, and I did appreciate the effort that was put into including many of the JLA's secondary characters.  


The moment when the precognitive Saturn Girl has a vision of Carrie's fate at the hands of a mystery bad guy was particularly effective and provided my GBM [Goose-Bumps Moment] for this comic. 



no eyebrows in the future?


The ending is somewhat deus ex machina, which isn't my favourite plot device, but it mostly works. The final page is appropriately sentimental and is practically the only time we see Bats not being a huge douche.

Oh, and we get to see the ex-Mutant duo of Don and Rob from TDKR, which I thought was a nice touch.

One explanation for this gaudy mess could be what I like to call the George Lucas Effect: basically, Miller was still a rising star when he created TDKR, so he had people around him that would shoot down his shittier ideas. Now that he's a full-blown household name in the industry, nobody dares tell him that it is really stupid to portray Hawk and Dove as a possibly incestuous gay couple.

I think the only way I can say that Miller hasn't lost his mind is that he was trying to be funny and/or satirize the story he created 15 years prior/comics in general/society. But that still doesn't make it good. I think Miller lacks the finesse that such satire would require. And in the end, nothing excuses some of the art in here. I can honestly say ten year-old Thor could draw better than some of this schlock.

Bottome line, America: I think this is a clear case of style over substance. But if you look at The Dark Knight Strikes Again with a sense of humour [as I try to view most things] and as a major departure from The Dark Knight Returns, and don't mind the lazy art, you probably won't hate it like some did. Me, I don't hate it. It is a failure, but a spectacular failure, and I think there is [some] value in that.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Comic Shop

Welcome to a new segment here at ye olde blogge, where I interview local comic store owners and dig into the deepest, darkest depths of their very souls. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Jarett Charowsky, owner and operator of Comic Factory IV on Notre Dame Avenue, and he had much to say!




T: How did you get into the comic book business?
J: I started off as what is commonly referred to as a trade slave. I basically helped out around the store counting and sorting the weekly books and filling the bins in exchange for comics.


So, you've worked in the business from an early age?
Sort of. I took over the store I used to work in so it was the same store that just changed ownership. Same store and a lot of the same clientele that I grew up with.


And you just run the place yourself?
I have someone who helps me on Wednesdays and another guy for holidays, but mostly it's just me.


Is there anything you specialize in here at Comic Factory?
Mostly just new comics, tradebacks, back issues... some toys, some statues and busts, but I'm mainly just a comic book store that has toys as opposed to a toy store that has comics.




Have comics been a passion of yours since you were a kid?
Yeah, I've been reading comics since I can remember, starting off with Richie Rich and Hot Stuff and Archie and whatever was in stacks at my grandparents house, and whatever I could find, whether it was Heavy Metal magazine or old Westerns or Katy Keene or, uh... the Sunday funnies.


Do you have a favourite comic or hero?
My favourite comic is probably The Invaders, the WWII team, although the comic itself came out mostly in the 70s...


That's, like, Captain America...
Yeah, Captain America, the Human Torch -- the android one, not the Fantastic Four one -- Toro, his sidekick, Bucky, Namor, the Submariner...that was the main group, then they added, like, Union Jack and Whizzer and Miss America...


And why is that your favourite? 
Honestly, I have no idea, because I don't have an affinity toward WWII movies or anything, but it's something I remember reading in the stacks that I had and it was the first comic I tried to collect and fill the holes in and it's still one of my favourites.


What is your most prized possession here?
Um, well, most of my clientele have more of a "fill the hole" need as opposed to the more expensive, high-end stuff. [*looks around*] Oh, I actually don't have it anymore... I used to have an old copy of Uncle Scrooge that was worth maybe 150 bucks. Mostly it's just kind of lower-grade stuff for the people who want to read it as opposed to collect it.


What about, like, sentimental value?
I have a pretty beat up copy of The Avengers #4, which is the return of Captain America... while it's only maybe 50 bucks in the shape that it's in, for what it is and the fact that I have it, it's something that I really like.


Cool. 


After the interview, Jarett gave me his blessing to put up a little promotional material on the wall near the door:



And I will leave the last word with my friend Eamon, who frequents Comic Factory IV:


"There are many different comic/collectable stores in winnipeg. Each of them have their goods and bads. That being said, Comic Factory is where I choose to go and give my business to. The great deals, pleasent environment, central location and above all, the staff's willingness to help you find whatever it is your looking for to the best of their ability. I'd highly recommend to anyone whose just getting into comics or been a longtime fan."


Oh, Eamon... He talks like he's in a commercial all the time!


Friday, April 13, 2012

Shits and/or Giggles


I've been slowly catching up on my Mad Men and look what I found around the end of the second season:



Betty Draper, flipping through an issue of Metal Men, DC's somewhat-obscure metal-themed team of  superheros! And the title of the comic is somewhat similar to the title of the show! Mad Men! Metal Men! Hilarious!  


On a related note, I made this using a shot of Emma Frost AKA the White Queen from the old X-Men animated series:




It would have been appropriate to include in my review of the latest X-Men flick, but inspiration didn't strike until weeks later, when I was catching up on my animated X-Men


Anyway, happy Friday! 



Monday, April 9, 2012

Review #40: It Was Then That I Dropped You


A God Somewhere

Writer: John Arcudi
Artist: Peter Snejbjerg [gesundheit]
Published: Wildstorm, 2010







A common superhero origin story is that of the ordinary guy/gal given extraordinary abilities and their struggle with how to use these new-found powers. It can be summed up by the words of Spider-Man's wise, late uncle, Ben: “with great power, comes great responsibility.”

And sometimes there are those who choose to shirk that great responsibility, and abuse that great power. Thus, supervillains are born. But, like most things, it is not always so black and white; Magneto, a “villain”, wishes only to protect his people from what he considers a harsh and unjust world. A God Somewhere takes a look at that vast, gray expanse between “right” and “wrong”.



Meet the brothers Forster, Eric and Hugh. As teens, they valiantly rescue Sam, a new student at their high school, from getting beaten up. They become life-long friends. That friendship is slightly tested when Hugh marries a girl that Sam is also in love with. One night, an explosion of unknown origin rips though Eric's apartment building, but he is miraculously unharmed. He is also now in the possession of the ability to fly, as well as superhuman strength and telekinesis.



At first, Eric uses his powers to help others and is deemed a hero. He is instantly the focus of a huge media storm but starts to become more withdrawn and less concerned with the affairs of mortal men. His relationship with his brother grows strained and he eventually snaps, and begins slaughtering people just because he can. Soon enough, the full might of the U.S. military is brought down upon him in a battle royale worthy of Pay-Per-View.



There are some great moments, visually and in writing, like the line at the beginning, “eventually, maybe, you learn the cruelest lesson in life... you're just another character in somebody else's story”, or near the end, when Eric is walking casually through a scene of horrific carnage, bored look on his face as he rips the innards from yet another soldier with the wave of his hand. The cover itself is a send-up of the famous “footprints” poster [which I own!], and it makes for a striking image.



It is pretty of vague in terms of the source of Eric's power, but I didn't really mind too much. Eric is a fairly religious guy, so he naturally believes it's God's will, but the plot doesn't get mired down in the potentially huge and/or boring religious discussion. The story is more about what he does with said power than how he got it.



Overall it is good, but not perfect: The transition that Eric makes from “good super-Samaritan” to “mad god of destruction” is a little too abrupt. He goes from one touchy conversation with his brother to yelling at the President of the United States to crippling his brother and raping his brother's wife to psychotic killing spree? Seems a tad unbelievable to me. A recent film, Chronicle, takes on similar subject matter, and does a better job of showing a gradual descent [ascent?] into power-tripping that is more realistic.

Also, I'm not exactly clear what the message the author was trying to get across was, if any. The closest I can guess is that we, as limited beings, cannot hope to fathom the mental state of a supreme being, because we cannot conceive of what it is like to be limitless.



Anyway, this limited being is going to fire up a bag of popcorn and stream some Game of Thrones. What a good show!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review #39: Movie Review #4: The Movie Without Fear... Or Y'Know...Any Sense


Daredevil
Writer: Mark Steven Johnson
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Released: 2003








I finally got around to watching Daredevil last night, and let me tell you, it was a piece of crap. I was going to stick with my usual routine for movie reviews and wait a few more posts, but I decided to do this one while the vitriol is still fresh in my veins. Lord knows I've wanted to unleash my rage about the steaming pile that was X-Men Origins: Wolverine for awhile. This will have to sate me for now.

I only own one issue of Daredevil, and I don't even know where it is right now. So, needless to say, I am somewhat unqualified to judge how loyal this movie is to the comics. Instead, I will tell you why it was a failure as a film in general. 

pictured: not what I'm talking about

Anyway, quick plot summary: kid [Ben Affleck] gets blinded by chemicals but his other senses become superhuman. His dad is killed by a crime boss. He grows up and decides to fight crime as Daredevil the man without fear! He meets ninja lady Elektra [Jennifer Garner] and falls in love. He fights bad guy Bullseye [Colin Ferril], whose shtick is his impeccable aim, and the Kingpin [Michael Clark Duncan] himself, his father's murderer.

So, we open with Daredevil collapsing onto the floor of a Catholic church in the middle of the night, having been wounded by an opponent. He is found by the priest [priests just hang out at the church all night, right?] [they can't molest boys at home! Too risky!] who removes his mask to discover that –gasp!– it's Matthew Murdock, a member of his congregation!

In his inner monologue, Matt describes his “life flashing before his eyes” as he lies dying. So that flashback is basically most of the film, until we reach Matt's fight with Elektra and Bullseye and are now back in the present. However, during the flashback, we are shown the priest advising Matt to give up his vigilantism. Now, maybe Mr. Priest had previous knowledge of Daredevil's secret identity, but THIS IS NEVER ESTABLISHED. A good film is not built upon the assumptions of the viewer.

Anyway, onward. Daredevil's whole shtick is that he is blind, but his other senses are heightened to superhuman ability, more than making up for his loss of sight. The only drawback is, his heightened sensitivity leads to him being vulnerable to things like really loud noise. The writer of this film has decided to only portray that drawback selectively, as one scene will have Daredevil acting completely normal as guns go off all around him and another will have him writhing in agony when someone strikes an organ's pipe near him. A good film is not built upon inconsistencies.

Also, Daredevil/Matt Murdock seems to have zero interest in maintaining his secret identity. Often in the movie, he will openly display his superhuman abilities for little-to-no reason. Now, this doesn't automatically give away his identity per se, but if you saw a BLIND MAN doing KUNG FU with some HOT GIRL in a playground, would you not be blown away? Wouldn't people start asking questions? Wouldn’t he eventually end up on Oprah [remember, this is 2003] or some shit? “Up next on Oprah: the amazing blind man who can jump on Oprah's couch!” This is why Clark Kent didn't go around crushing coal into diamonds all the goddam time. A good film uses common sense.

I see this shit, like, all the time in my 'hood

Michael Clark Duncan had great potential as Wilson Fisk AKA the Kingpin. His massive, imposing presence as well as his charm could have made him perfect, but the menace of this villain is undermined at every turn by the terrible script. A good film draws the best out of its cast.

The writing is bad. Just... bad. Here is a sample of the scintillating dialogue from the film:

Kingpin: How do you kill a man without fear?
Bullseye: By puttin' the fear [dramatic pause] in him!

Seriously, writer Mark Steven Johnson, you fucking suck. A good film has realistic dialogue.

I also had some major problems with the soundtrack. They seem really focused on featuring songs that would be “hip” with “the kids”. For instance, Kingpin's musical introduction is... Lapdance by N.E.R.D? What the what? The Kingpin isn't some kind of “gangsta”, he is more akin to a mafia boss. The man has class. A hip-hop song about strippers and politicians seems largely inappropriate. Give the man some goddam Vivaldi or something. The film doesn't seem to have it's audio/video priorities straight. A song comes on and whatever is happening on screen seems to be taken over by the music. The scene where Elektra is introduced becomes a shampoo commercial thanks to Moby or whatever happy electronica is in the background. Her father's funeral and the scene where she trains for revenge become overwrought music videos, thanks to the versatile talents of where-are-they-now Evanescence. A good film has a soundtrack that complements the film, not one that detracts from it.

not a dirty dawg

Finally, the scene that broke the camel's back and had me laughing/screaming: Journalist Ben Urich, a secondary character, manages to figure out Matt is Daredevil [I WONDER HOW] and writes an article revealing that fact. Upon completing said article on his personal computer, he stops and reconsiders what he is doing. Deciding not to expose Matt, he reaches over with one finger and presses “delete” once. The result of this one, split-second click is that we see his story being slowly erased, one letter at a time, as if he were holding down the backspace key. This leads me to believe that Ben Urich doesn't know how computers work and neither does the screenwriter. One quick push of the delete button does not cause that kind of action. Also, who the hell deletes a document that way? Why not do what normal people do and just delete the document as a whole? A good film knows how computer work.

CONFLICT!!!!1


I am choosing to ignore a lot of other things that didn't make any sense, in the interest of being brief and not terribly nitpicky. Maddox had a rant about this film but even he just skims the surface.

The goods: I liked Daredevil's costume. It's cool when his “echolocation vision” is shown. Um, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are attractive people. It was only an hour and a half and doesn't drag, so it was over quickly! Huzzah!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Shits and/or Giggles



This is pretty loosely comic-related, but the last post got me thinking about it and I love it, so I thought I would toss it in here. It's humourous AND educational!


The Bayeux Tapestry was made in the '70s --1070s that is-- and depicts the Norman invasion of England under William the Conqueror. It is nearly SEVENTY METRES long, includes about fifty scenes, and was called "the first known British comic strip" by artist Bryan Talbot

On a Vessel..?

So, after just hanging around [LOLZ] for almost a thousand years, some guys on the interwebs began using it for inspiration to give the ol' 11th-century twist to various scenes from movies/tv, song lyrics, as well as other memes! 

GET IT???

The possibilities are endless!

Here be thy link to the main article and thus further reading: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/medieval-macros-bayeux-tapestry
And here be thy direct link to the archives of ye images:  http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/medieval-macros-bayeux-tapestry/photos 

This is one of the harder memes to recreate, but I managed to find these resources:
Alright, after some effort, here is a Bayeux Tapestry variation done by yours truly. It is inspired by a Monty Python sketch from their amazing film, The Meaning of Life. 

HUZZAH!

Also of interest, the Archaic Rap/Joseph Ducreux meme [another favourite of mine] : http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/joseph-ducreux-archaic-rap


'Til next time, keep fit and have meme.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review #38: Saucey Chaucey

The Canterbury Tales

Writer: Geoffrey Chaucer [adapted by Seymour Chwast]
Artist: Seymour Chwast
Published: Bloomsbury, 2011






Prior to reading this, I was vaguely familiar with The Canterbury Tales. I only knew that it was some kind of olde timey literary classic. And I had seen this inexplicably hilarious Tom Green bit [click here and hilarity ensues].

Anyway, turns out The Canterbury Tales was written in the late 1300s [waoh!] by Geoffrey Chaucer, a veritable Renaissance man [on both levels!] who started off a servant and a soldier, but upon his death [thought to be the Black Death], was well-known as a writer and a poet.


pray, tell it once more

The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer's best-known piece of work, tells the story of thirty pilgrims on their way to Canterbury to get help from [the entombed] Saint Thomas regarding health issues. As they journey on their motorcycles [a change made by the adapter, I'm assuming, and not an amazing display of precognition by Chaucer], they tell tales to pass the time. Some of the stories draw from Greek mythology, some from Arthurian mythology, some from Biblical mythology, as well as historical figures. Some even feature talking animals; I had no idea the character of Chanticleer, the singing rooster, originated here!

Chaucer acts as narrator to the overall story, as well as one of the travelers, and provides amusing running commentary on the framed narratives being told.


Some of the tales have “moral” lessons, but some are devoid of any moral conclusion whatsoever, or feature a really weird, nonsensical version of “happily ever after”. I'm not sure how much of the confusing stuff is due to the source material or any changes made. Probably both.

There is clearly pro-christian propaganda at some points and some pretty anti-woman sentiment, which is somewhat telling of the times [Chaucer would've fit in perfectly with the Republican base! Bazinga! I'm on fire!].


But there are also anachronisms abound, which give the whole thing an air of silliness, and thus not something to be taken too seriously.


Many of the stories include bawdy details [friars coming out of the Devil's ass! Wow!] and there are a lot of fart jokes, like an olde timey Adam Sandler film might feature.



The art is certainly not of the highest quality [I could draw better than this] and you can really feel the two dimensions. At first, it threw me off, but I realized it was somewhat reminiscent of old woodcuts and tapestry pictures and thus probably intentional.

So, I started off thinking it was ugly and lame, but I ended up liking it. The goofy/self-aware vibe saves the absurdity of some of these tales from becoming annoying, and it is actually hilarious at times.

I will leave you with this: