Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Is Amanda Waller DC's Nick Fury?

Variety is reporting that Angela Bassett is joining the current Green Lantern production as government operative Amanda Waller.

What's interesting about this development is that the character of Waller has been associated more with comic books like Suicide Squad and Checkmate instead of Green Lantern. She has also been portrayed in other shows like the Justice League cartoon and recent episodes of Smallville.

My suspicion is that Bassett's appearance may similar to Samuel L. Jackson's appearances in upcoming Marvel productions as super-spy Nick Fury. A reoccurring character that will make appearances in various movies as a means of tying all the different characters together.

With reports that Warner Brothers is planning on using movies based on DC superheroes as a replacement for the Harry Potter franchise, there will be plenty of opportunities for Waller to make more big-screen appearances.

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The Guild: Year One

Felicia Day's web series The Guild is a very funny satire of gaming culture. The various members of the "Knights of Good" guild present a broad selection of dysfunctional personalities as they feed their shared online addictions. Even a non-gamer like myself was able to be amused by it and find much more enjoyable than many current television comedies.

With the new comic book series from Dark Horse, Day teams up with talented artist Jim Rugg to present a look at the early days of how the "Knights" first connected and the context of their lives. So far Day's talent for writing webisodes adapts well to writing for comics and the overall concept works very well with the new medium.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

Some of the most enjoyable storylines in the old Justice League of America series were those that dealt with the DC's concept of the multiverse. Adventures could take place on an infinite number of parallel Earths each with a different twist. One could be where costumed heroes emerged in an earlier generation. Another could involve a world where the Nazis were victorious in World War II.

These stories provide context where one can indulge a love of superheroes, the theories of Michio Kaku, and alternative history in a single narrative.

The greatest adversaries in these stories were the evil Justice League known as the Crime Syndicate. Like the Mirror-Universe Star Trek crew these villains provided a darker view of some very familiar faces.

The newest DC animated film to be released on DVD picks up on that old tradition and augments. This is perhaps the most fully realized version of the Crime Syndicate's world and it moves the concept forward. The moral implications of interfering in the affairs of a different society are examined and evil is explored in different shades of gray.

The most interesting member of this Crime Syndicate is the evil Batman known as Owlman. This Darker Knight is invested with a nihilism that could make the Joker shudder. In contrast, another "bad" guy shows some unexpected nobility.

Overall, this is an animated film with surprising depth that makes me hope that more Justice League stories will spin out of it.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Johnny Storm is Steve Rogers

According to the Heat Vision Blog, Chris Evans has agreed to play the lead in the upcoming Captain America film.

Evans portrayal of the Human Torch was a major highlight of the two Fantastic Four movies. While those films were generally fairly weak, Evans reinvigorated his character with an infectious charisma. His interpretation of Johnny Storm made him the maverick superhero guys of many different ages might want to become.

With Captain America, Evans takes on a new challenge. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that Steve Rogers is a character that requires a certain amount of gravitas as a symbol of America, but still needs to simultaneously show his humanity.

If Evans is able to accomplish that, he will justifiably be compared with another young actor named Chris who had to leap a similar hurdle when he accepted a major superhero role.

Of course I'm speaking of Christopher Reeve.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Short Reviews

Reviewing single issues of comics is frequently like commenting on a chapter of a novel before finishing the book. Something that I have a problem with may have been resolved in a different installment. A promising storyline may fall apart by its conclusion. Still, here are my general impressions of some recent issues.

Fables #93
Bill Willingham's Fables has been one of the most consistent monthly comics since its premiere. That being said, it appears that the stories have lost some of their focus since the conclusion of the war with the Adversary.

This issue concludes a two-part storyline where Flycatcher must preside over a murder trial in his kingdom. Willingham presents the conflicted morality involved in judging the case. Hopefully, the consequences of his decision will be explored more in future issues.

American Vampire #1
Scott Snyder, Stephen King, and Rafael Albuquerque premiere a new ongoing series that documents the saga of a pair of vampires throughout American history. One is an old-west outlaw, the other is an aspiring starlet from the 1920s.

While the concept for the series is Snyder's, it looks like it will follow King's style of taking extra time to develop the central characters. That's a good thing.

Time will tell if the series lives up to its initial promise.

The Green Hornet: Year One #1
This is one of several Green Hornet projects that Dynamite is releasing in anticipation of the upcoming Michel Gondry/Seth Rogan film. In this instance, Matt Wagner provides the origin of the crime-fighting duo of Britt Reid and Kato.

I like how clearly Wagner establishes Reid as part of a newspaper legacy and Kato as a product of Imperial Japan. The art by Aaron Campbell serves the story well.

X-Factor Forever #1
Marvel follows up its nostalgia-heavy X-Men Forever with a new mini-series that picks up where Louise Simonson left off on her X-Factor run.

Like X-Men Forever, I can't help but enjoy a book that takes me back to the era that defined my enjoyment of Marvel's line of mutant titles. It even has Apocalypse. Recommended for fans of the original team of Scott, Jean, Warren, Hank, and Bobby.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Devolution


X-Men Forever Volumes 1 & 2

The tail-end of Chris Claremont’s first-run on writing Uncanny X-Men was the period that made me a fan of the Marvel’s mutant books. The diverse cast of characters, multiple subplots, and darker themes made it something that stood out among mainstream comic books.

After Claremont’s departure, the books seemed to lose their focus for a few years, it wasn’t because of a lack of talent, but just that Claremont’s decade plus experience with these characters was difficult to replicate.

Claremont eventually returned to write the X-Books, but it seemed like he had lost some of his rhythm. They were no longer in the same places that he had left them. Instead he was coordinating his work with storylines developed by others.

With X-Men Forever, Claremont has been given the chance to do a redo. He gets to pick up right where his first run ended in the early Nineties. From there he gets to take these characters in directions very different from what went before and without regard to the constraints of continuity with the current books.

Since his former artistic collaborator, Jim Lee, is no longer available (becoming co-publisher of DC Comics makes it difficult to do new work for Marvel), Claremont is joined by the excellent illustrators Tom Grummet and Paul Smith along with the solid contributions of Steve Scott.

This new series is like going home again. It’s like going back in a time machine and picking up some comics from around 1994. There are some very surprising plot twists and Claremont does take some liberties with the continuity he was working with at the time of departure.

I really am enjoying this series more than I should. While it makes me experience waves of nostalgia, there’s still a realization that comics have moved on from that period of time. As much as I loved those old X-Men stories, they did have their limitations as works of art.

I hope the market has a place for X-Men Forever, but I also wish even more for a market that pushes the medium forward.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Kick-Ass does it.


With respect to Marc Webb, Matthew Vaughn would have been a great choice to direct the next Spider-man movie. In a way he already has with his adaptation of the Kick-Ass comic book.

After producing Guy Ritchie's early films, Vaughn went on his own and directed a pre-Bond Daniel Craig in Layer Cake. Later he was selected to replace Brian Singer on X-Men 3, but he dropped it in favor of Neil Gaiman's Stardust.

Like previous works such as Watchmen, the Kick-Ass comic attempted to depict what would happen if superheroes existed in the real world. Mark Millar (writer) and John Romita Jr. (artist) took the idea one step further by basing their comic on the real-life costumed vigilantes that have popped up patrolling America's streets.

The movie is a very faithful to the source material and where there are differences, it is usually an improvement. The violence is toned down, and multiple characters are portrayed in a better light. Where the comic was dark and cynical, the movie is bright and positive.

Overall, it's a very fun film. The action is well-staged. Most of the performances are well-done and the story holds your interest.

Many elements in the film evoke Sam Raimi's Spider-man trilogy. The cinematography recreates the brightly colored world of comics. Aaron Johnson's plays the protagonist like he's channeling the spirit of Tobey Maguire. The main story arc is like an alternate history where Peter Parker never got special powers, but still decided to fight crime.

Chloe Moretz's portrayal of the homicidal Hit-Girl is the highlight of the film and it's most problematic element. Not since Natalie Portman starred in Luc Besson's Leon has there been a more memorable juvenile killer. Watching this 11-year old slaughter a bunch of gangsters can be entertaining, but it might create confusion about the film's intended audience. Despite the young cast and colorful costumes, this movie has a well-earned R-rating.

Another issue is that the film's climax is so over the top that it abolishes any notion that the movie takes place in the "real world".

Kick-Ass is a movie worth seeing and a worthy addition to the superhero film-canon. Just don't expect it to be very family-friendly.