Monday, June 18, 2012

Falling Skies Season Two Premiere Review (spoilers)

10 months ago, Season One ended on quite a cliffhanger. Tom Mason agreed to enter the alien ship and allegedly talk with the alien masterminds behind the invasion (who are dubbed 'Overlords').  What did they want to tell him?  Is it possible they want to negotiate a truce?  Will we learn more about the aliens?  Speculating about all of those questions was good fun, but now it's time to get some real answers to these questions... or at least some of them.

Tom saying goodbye to the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment is a huge deal.  He's placing his life on the line by walking into the unknown and he's putting the safety of the people he loves in Captain Weaver's hands - and let's face it, Weaver has almost always needed Tom to serve as his voice of reason.  Thankfully, the premiere wastes no time reuniting Tom with the militia and does an excellent job showing us what happened on the craft.

Just like Season One, the show kicks off with a bang.  We're treated to another resistance versus alien encounter, except this time around the humans finally have the upper hand.  A handful of skitters and a mech walk right into an ambush, and the fight is anything but fair. Pope (who has some Spider-Man level reflexes in one moment), Weaver, Ben and Hal lay waste to the alien invaders as they unload clips and clips into their enemies and set off explosives.  I immediately noticed the improved visuals, and that's a huge plus since this show relies on a host of CG heavy scenes.  More importantly, the encounter gives us a quick recap on the cast without any forced exposition.  Pope is the traditional anti-hero in the group, Weaver is in command, Hal is now second in command, and Ben is chugging some serious haterade.

Previously "harnessed" by the aliens, Ben is driven by revenge and wants to kill every skitter and mech he sees.  While the harness was removed, parts still remain and he continues to change.  Luckily for the resistance, these changes have created their very own super soldier.  He's faster and stronger than regular humans, and with a bloodlusted attitude, he's definitely going to become one of the most interesting characters this season.  

Unfortunately for Ben, he was a little too trigger happy and puts a slug in his father's gut.  Thankfully, the lights going out for Tom means we get insight on what happened to him while he was away.  As he dreams, we see he was kept in captivity for some time before finally getting some one-on-one time with the Overlord.  The alien using Karen as a puppet for his voice helped make these moments especially enjoyable.  It presents Tom with an offer: an alleged safe zone for the remaining groups as the aliens go on to wreak havoc on the rest of the planet.  As expected, Tom refuses and equates the offer to a prison.  The Overlord fires back, rubbing humanity's lowest points in Tom's face (the holocaust, trail of tears, etc).  Tom retorts, saying he expected such an advanced species to be better than us, but the massive alien shrugs off the insult.  This is without question one of the standout scenes of the episode.  Tom has the brass to hold his own in a conversation with a creature that towers over him, it sheds new light on the attitude of these mysterious figures behind the attack, and to top it off, we see Tom electrocute the fool.  This segment also has the luxury of introducing what appears to be an reoccurring skitter with half of his face deformed/injured.  His eye is bright red, so it's easy to give a nickname based off of that, but I'd rather call him "Alien Two-Face" from now on.  

The Overlord claims the resistance doesn't pose a threat, but this conversation makes it pretty transparent that we pesky humans are proving to be quite then nuisance.  Tom gives the extraterrestrials a piece of his mind with what appears to be a giant cattle prod before ultimately being allowed to leave.  As Tom exists the ship, it's surprising to see he's with a large group of resistance leaders.  Based on a short conversation, it seems like the Overlord offered each human the same deal.  However, this conversation is cut short when a mech opens fire on the crowd and Alien Two-Face is by its side.  Tom is the only one to escape, and soon we'll see why.  I can't help but wonder if this means several other resistance groups are still fighting the good fight, and if so, if the 2nd Mass will bump into them.  Regardless, it was nice of them to let Tom go, but they dropped him off over a hundred miles from home and without any cab fare.  Not cool.  

On his walk back home, Tom encounters a girl struggling with a large man.  Always the hero, Tom saves her and eventually convinces the girl to let him use her motorcycle.  While the survivor is terribly obnoxious and defensive, the character does a good job reminding us that the resistance militia actually has it easy in comparison to the other survivors.  They've lost all hope and have been reduced to only looking out for themselves and their immediate family, without a care in the world for their fellow humans.
We're shown a decent chunk of Mason drama as Ben and Hal go at it over the chain of command.  Hal's pissed at Ben for going on a killing spree after he was told to cease fire, and to top it off, Ben went behind his back and started teaching their youngest sibling, Matt, how to use a firearm.  It isn't exactly the most original feud around, but it absolutely beats hearing Matt always whine about how he's being treated like a child.

The highlight of the first hour has to be when Dr. Glass and a few others hide from a passing mech.  The few stayed behind to finish up medical work on Tom, and as they focus on digging a bullet out, the flashes of lights and thunderous stomps of the mech get closer and closer.  The noise these giant killing machines make is awesome and would definitely make any survivor wet their pants.  It's almost like a T-Rex with a sore throat.  Despite that, a decent chunk of the first hour was dedicated to the theory of alien ships tracking heat from vehicles.  A plot device or two later and the problem is solved.  It honestly felt like filler to me and I'm shocked the aliens didn't think of using this method sooner.  The first hour ends on an important note I've been thinking of for at least half of the episode now... why aren't they more concerned on how Tom made it back to them?

Tom is concerned over blanks in his memory from his time with the aliens, and it looks like his fears are justified.  The second hour delivers one of the creepiest moments you'll see in recent TV history (it'll be familiar if you watched Prometheus) as we discover the aliens did indeed put something in Tom.  What can only be described as a mechanical bug slithers around the hero's eyeball before being gruesomely ripped out.  Was this a tracking device?  Can it control him? Are there more inside him?  We won't receive any answers in this episode, but it's likely we will next time around.  Regardless, Tom has always been the wisest among the bunch, so he immediately knows that he needs to be restrained.  Despite this, Weaver still demands for Tom to be his second in command, and frankly, we can tell if it's because he needs Tom.  When he has a foolish plan prepared, he knows Tom is there to point out all of the flaws and even suggest something superior.  I can't help but feel as though Tom will eventually replace Weaver during this season.  We'll just have to wait and see.  
In spite of Pope serving with the group for months now, he's still being treated like a man they can't trust and they constantly give the dude a hard time.  Every now and then it's cool to play on that if he's being an overly sarcastic jerk, but when he's questioning their safety over Tom's mysterious return, I'd say it's a perfectly legitimate question to pose.  I really hope they're not going to play the whole "he's a bad boy and we can't trust him" card this entire season.  The man has had their backs for at least three months now.

We also see that Ben is getting hardcore headaches every time he approaches an alien base, but he's hiding that information from Weaver and his peers.  I understand he's likely concealing this information because he's insecure about his slow mutation or fears they'll treat him differently, but the pros massively outweigh the cons.  It seems painful for him, yet tolerable, and can provide a key tactical advantage in the war.  Getting a headache again?  Heads up, it means there's a big ole' base nearby!  At any rate, there has been a key focus on Ben, so I'm certain we'll have a chance to explore why he's hiding that from the humans.

The final action sequence of the two-hour premiere must have cost them a pretty penny or two.  There's plenty of gunfire, explosions, and more mechs and skitters than I recall seeing in any other scene so far.  Once again there's a scene where Pope is treated as the sketchy guy even though his decision to blow up the bridge was completely rational. 

Complaint time.  What really killed the adrenaline heavy moments for me was the hero-factor surrounding Tom.  We know skitters have us completely outclassed physically, yet he decides lunging and trying to grapple with one is a wise idea.  When said skitter decides to effortlessly toss him against the wall, tis but a scratch!  Later on, he'll evade gunfire from a mech that mowed down 6 or so gunmen.  That same mech was smiling in the face of .50 caliber bullets, but when Tom decides to man the turret, it's serious business time and that huge robot takes some damage.  I found this especially peculiar because Dai (who has a shining moment with a RPG) previously revealed the pick-up truck mounted guns were packing the anti-armor rounds.  It's unclear if it was just one specific truck of if they ran out of the ammunition, but I imagine if they have the ammo, each one of those heavy weapons will be equipped with the special rounds.  Matt also has Hawkeye-like accuracy as he saves his father from a close range skitter attack.  Recoil be damned for a child who apparently trained with a gun once!  Overall, these are all pretty minor complaints and I must admit I'm excited for the next episode.  

For me, this show isn't even close to the quality of hits like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, but I'm a sucker for a good alien invasion and it's keeping me thoroughly amused.  It's cheesy at times, but they've created the groundwork for some interesting topics during this premiere and hopefully they'll continue to do so.  The main cast does a solid job and I was happy to see they're beginning to expand on the secondary characters.  Hopefully Season Two can continue with this kind of momentum.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bane Comic vs Movie Info

There's a lot of misconceptions surrounding the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises villain.  Some think he's an idiotic 'roid head, while others think he's some absurdly muscular creature that could grapple with the Hulk.  I'm here to set the record straight on all things Bane.  Consider this your go-to guide before walking into the third (and final) Batman movie by Christopher Nolan on July 20.

Comic Origin vs Movie Origin

Bane and Bruce Wayne were born into this world under completely different circumstances.  Little baby Bruce was brought into an environment of luxury and wealth.  Meanwhile, south of the United States, Bane was born into the dark and violent setting of an island prison.  But why was Bane born into a prison?  What could possibly be the reason to force an innocent child into such a life?  Well, Bane's father was a revolutionary and was able to elude Santa Prisca's authorities.  They weren't too fond of that, so the flawed government decided that his son would be sentenced for his father's crimes.  The Batman villain had a life sentence before even learning to walk.  

It was adapt or die for Bane.  Surrounded by death and brutality, it wasn't long before that cruel world came crashing down on him.  While wee Wayne was enjoying a play, Bane was hiding a knife in a teddy bear he named 'Osoito.'  A man by the name of Trogg saved the young Bane from an attacker, but in the process Bane was hit off a ledge and knocked out.  While unconscious, he had a vision of his future-self and the grown up version delivered a powerful message.  He said the world was his to conquer, but only one thing stands in his way: fear.  Abolish that emotion and he will be second to none.  Bane woke abruptly and took the message to heart.  He equipped his knife and paid a visit to the man who tried to attack him.  He slaughtered the man and as a result was thrown into the hole, an isolation well that would flood every night and was infested with rats.  This experience made him tough as nails, and when he was finally released about ten years later, the inmates viewed him as a living legend. 

Bane then carried on the path his future-self spoke of.  Not a moment of any day was wasted for Bane.  He read every book he could to sharpen his mind.  He learned multiple languages and soaked in every bit of information that he could.  His mind wasn't the only part of his body getting a workout either.  Bane did a ridiculous workout routine daily which consisted of a thousand push ups, a thousand sit ups, and a thousand pull ups. 

Inmates often spoke of Gotham City, and since he had never seen anything beyond the island first-hand, the city fascinated him.  What especially interested him was hearing about the man who rules the city: Batman.  Bane was determined to destroy this man, and in turn, rule the city.  In the meantime, he regularly killed any challengers, but one day authorities had to take him down when the body count reached over thirty.  It turns out they were experimenting on the inmates with a drug called venom.  Bane was the first subject in the prison to survive the injection of strength enhancing fluids to the brain, but he knew there was only one way off the island... and that was death.  The man was able to will his vitals down to the point where machines declared him dead and they tossed his body out into the sea.  Bane killed a shark or two (take that, Jaws) and then was able to break his friends out of the prison (Trogg, Zombie, Bird).  From there, he heads to Gotham and aims to "break that bat."

Not much has been revealed yet about the villain's origin in the movie so far, but we have heard a few tidbits of information.  Recently a TV spot was released and it appears Alfred knows a bit about Bane.  During the 30 second spot, Alfred remarks that Bane was "born and raised in Hell on Earth."  While it might not be an island prison, it definitely sounds like Tom Hardy's take on the character has faced a life of misfortune that has crafted him into smart and tough Bat-baddie - one which seems to pay respect to the comic counter-part's origin.

Comic Venom vs Movie Venom

In the primary DC universe, Bane was used as a test subject for the drug venom.  When the fluid pumps into his brain, it essentially works as a superhuman steroid.  His muscle mass increases, thus making him stronger (he can lift a maximum of 2 tons or so), slightly more durable due to the muscles growing in size, and he claimed it would also kill his pain.  Despite what many think, using venom doesn't turn Bane into a rampaging mad man.  He's lost his cool while using venom a few times, but those were totally different circumstances (his first case of withdrawal from the drug turned him into an emotional wreck, and another time it brought him back from death's door and he was pissed over how he was being treated).  Long story short, it just makes him stronger than any human, but not nearly strong enough where he's going to be throwing down with some of the more popular powerhouses, like Superman and Doomsday.

Director Christopher Nolan's movieverse is dark and grounded in realism.  Having a superhuman strong guy throwing down with Bruce feels just a bit out of place, doesn't it?  So, it looks like movie Bane is on a drug (they haven't said whether it's being called venom) that does take one attribute from the comic counter-part: it numbs his pain.  Nolan's Bane suffered a critical injury at a younger age, and apparently it was so severe that he requires a constant dose of the anesthetic so he can cope with the physical trauma.  So as far as I know so far, the drug does nothing to boost his strength. 

However, in The New 52 (basically one big semi-reboot to DC Comics) Bane's venom makes him stronger than before (to an unknown degree), faster than Batman, and he claims the drug even makes him smarter now.

Story Similarities

As shown with the trailers and the viral marketing map of Gotham, Bane has rather destructive plans for Gotham City.  He claims to be "Gotham's reckoning" and has an elaborate plan set-up across the city.  From apparently creating a hostage situation at their equivalent of Wall Street to blowing up bridges and other locations, Bane's goal of using chaos to rule the city is quite similar to "Knightfall."  In that '90s event, Bane released a flood of villains to wear down Batman physically and mentally.  When Wayne's body and mind was drained, Bane broke his back and tossed the hero into the street for all to see what he had accomplished.  We've already seen a break-out in Arkham Asylum (Batman Begins), but we do know Bane releases the inmates from some kind of incarceration facility.  Whether or not it's Arkham Asylum has yet to be revealed.

There's a lot of rumors circulating around actress Marion Cotillard's character.  She's credited on IMDB as playing Miranda Tate, but it seems more and more likely that the character is really Talia al Ghul.  Liam Neeson is confirmed as making a return as her father, Ra's al Ghul, but we don't know how significant his role is.  It might just be a flashback.  However, if that's the case, this appears heavily inspired by the short series Bane of the Demon.  Bane teamed up with the legendary Batman villain and had a rather awkward relationship with his daughter.  It's possible this flashback will connect Bane to the villain from Batman Begins and he'll strike Gotham with Miranda Tate's character at his side.

At the moment there's limited information on Tom Hardy's Bane, but from what we do know, it's clear he's going to make the comic counter-part proud.  Regardless of your feelings surrounding the costume changes, he looks like he'll have the might to put a beating on Batman (seeing him drop that cowl gives me goosebumps) and the raw intellect to bring Gotham to its knees. And hey, 
even if you don't like the costume, we can at least agree it beats the hell out of his appearance in Batman & Robin.

Related links to feed your fanboy fix: 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bane's Must Read Stories

The Dark Knight Rises is almost here and I feel obligated to help prepare others for his appearance in director Christopher Nolan's final Batman film.  There's a lot of misconceptions surrounding the character (he's just a muscle head or he's insanely strong), so I'm here to set all of the facts straight and point you in the right direction before The Dark Knight Rises comes out on July 20.  

Today, I have a look at Bane's must read stories.  I'll tell you what they're about and how you can get your hands on a copy to read.  These are barely scratching the surface of Bane's history in the DC Universe, too. In my opinion these are his critical stories, but if you're interested in reading more with Bane, leave a comment and I'll gladly list all of his other appearances that are worth reading (and there are plenty).

Tomorrow (5/24) I'll have another feature detailing all of the misconceptions about the villain and all of the basic information you'll need to know.  You'll walk into The Dark Knight Rises feeling like a comic guru.

Batman versus Bane (trade paperback)
This new release collects Batman: Vengeance of Bane and the four issue run Bane of the Demon.  If you want to learn about the character, this is an absolute must buy.  Batman: Vengeance of Bane is Bane's first appearance and the entire issue is dedicated to his origin story.  Written by Chuck Dixon and with art by Graham Nolan, we get to see the villain's dark beginning as he's born in an island prison in the fictional South American nation of Santa Prisca.  You'll learn about the man's motives, how he started taking the drug venom, and there's plenty of action.

Bane of the Demon follows Bane's history with the villain Ra's al Ghul (played by Liam Neeson in the films) and his rocky relationship with Ra's daughter, Talia al Ghul (allegedly also in the upcoming film).  For the fans that'll want to read all of these events in proper order, it's important to note that this story takes place after Batman: Vengeance of Bane II - Redemption.

How do you get a copy?
Midtown Comics:

Knightfall (Part One and Two)
"Knightfall" is the massive story that helped put Bane on the map and define the character for the general audience. Free from his life in prison, Bane has but one goal set in his sights: to destroy Batman.  Kicking-off  the story by creating a massive breakout at Arkham Asylum, the masked villain sits back and watches as the onslaught of villains create chaos across the city, forcing the Dark Knight to his physical and mental limits.  The story definitely feels a little dated at times, but it's fun and mandatory reading if you want to know more about the character before The Dark Knight Rises.

How do you get a copy?
(Pt 1)
(Pt 2)
Midtown Comics:
(Pt 1)
(Pt 2)

Batman: Vengeance of Bane II - The Redemption (issue)
Bane is back in prison after the events of "Knightfall" and he has a whole new agenda.  Once again he's hunting for venom, but this time around he's not seeking to use it, he wants to destroy the steroid.  This issue proves that Bane can become one of Batman's ultimate threats even without the aid of the muscle boosting drug.  Witness Bane's recovery from chubby and defeated villain to a physical and intellectual beast that many will come to fear.

How do you get a copy?
Midtown Comics:

Detective Comics #701 (issue)
Now working with Ra's al Ghul (read Bane of the Demon for details!), Bane heads to Gotham City and encounters Batman.  Prepare for many punches and kicks.  If you're looking for an epic Batman and Bane fight, then this is your go-to issue.  That really should be enough to make you want to read this one, right?

How do you get a copy?
Midtown Comics:

Batman: Bane (issue)
Beaten down by Batman and drifting into the sea, Bane bumps into a ship and hops on.  Except this isn't your every day vessel... it has nuclear supplies.  Bane commandeers the ship like a boss and plans to use the weapons on Gotham City.  Naturally, Batman and Nightwing (the original Robin all grown up and awesome) won't stand for it and face off against Bane once again.  Guess who wins? Bane, and he nukes Gotham City, too!  Okay, maybe not, but the story's by one of the men who created the character (Chuck Dixon) and definitely worth owning.

How do you get a copy?
Midtown Comcis: n/a

Azrael #36-40 (issues)
Jean-Paul Valley beat Bane into a coma awhile ago, so you can bet Bane has been waiting for a chance to pummel JPV's face with his over-sized fists.  Some years later, we finally get the rematch we've been waiting for.  But it's not just one match, it's a handful and they're all well worth the wait.  Bane doesn't want Azrael dead, he wants him to suffer.  And to do so, he tries to make the hero addicted to venom.  Brutal battles ensue.

How do you get a copy?
Amazon: (then search manually for other issues)
Midtown Comics:

Batman: No Man's Land Volume 4 (trade paperback)
A powerful earthquake strikes Gotham City and the government declares the location uninhabitable.  Citizens are forced to leave while the villains rise and begin to battle one another for control over turf.  For video game fans, it's pretty much Arkham City but spread across the entire territory.  Superman villain Lex Luthor wants to conquer and re-build the large city and he sends in Bane to do some dirty work.  This trade paperback is packed with tons of familiar faces and is sporting a solid Bane and Batman fight which is illustrated by the excellent Mike Deodato Jr.  Oh, and did I mention Bane also lugs around a minigun?  Few things are scarier than seeing this huge character casually walking around with the massive firearm.

How do I get a copy?
Midtown Comics:

Batman: Gotham Knights #33-36 & #46-49 (issues)
Bane has wanted to demolish Batman for quite a long time now, but will that all change when Bane finds out they could actually be... brothers?! Bane teams up with the Cape Crusader to find the truth behind who his father really is.

How do I get a copy?
Amazon: (then manually search for other issues)
Midtown Comics:

Be sure to check back tomorrow for another feature about Bane's misconceptions and information you'll need to know before the movie.

In the meantime, take a few minutes to enjoy some madness with Bane's Best Battles.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Color Classics #1 Review

Holy sweet nostalgia, Batman!  This is the best $3.99 you're ever going to spend.  If you're a Turtles fan, there's literally no reason not to buy this.  Even if you own an original copy of the 1984 Mirage issue by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, this will give you the chance to keep that copy nice and clean and use this fresh one for reading.  And, if you've never had the chance to read the very first Turtles adventure (understandable seeing as the back issues are expensive and graphic novels are costly as well), then this is going to be quite a delight.

This is what started it all; this issue tells the origin story of the heroes in a half shell, Splinter and their most popular nemesis, Shredder.  Some might be surprised that this franchise wasn't for the kiddies at first.  Right in the opening sequence we see that the Turtles get full use of their deadly weapons, showing no mercy on thugs in the Big Apple.  From the battle on the first pages to the rooftop showdown with the Shredder, we're treated to some bloody and brutal encounters.  In spite of how dark the world is,  you can't help but have a smile on you're face as you read through this classic first issue.
I really have no serious complaints surrounding this issue.  Obviously, Eastman's style may not be for everyone, but I mostly love it and think the color brings so much more energy to these panels.  The proportions tend to fluctuate at times, and while most of the action is illustrated incredibly well, there are a few panels that don't do the motion and impact full justice... at one point it actually looks like Michelangelo attacks Shredder with a hug (a devastating attack indeed).  Overall, that's a very minor complaint, especially seeing as most of the art is fantastic.  The splash pages would make for awesome posters and the details on the war-torn Turtles definitely catch your eye.

If you even remotely consider yourself a Turtles fan, I highly recommend picking this up.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Big Events: More "Night of the Owls," Less "AvX"

A big event should be something that the publisher is proud of and the fans should crave.  These are the pay-per-view events of the respective comic universes.  The stories should be inspiring and exceptional, the art detailed and fantastic, and most important of all, it should be something that loyal fans of the company will love as the event will further cements their support for the publisher. Unfortunately, it hasn't been that way for awhile.  I haven't enjoyed any of Marvel's big events since "Civil War," and it seems as though a fair chunk of fans agree.  In fact, many go a step further and loathed "Civil War." To make matters worse, the most recent event ("Avengers vs X-Men") is being bashed by a noticeable amount of comic fans I chat with, and I have to say I agree with their fading interest in the story.  However, over at DC, "Night of Owls" has been a huge success, generating lots of love and finding a fun way to mesh into other titles.  They're both big events, but what is it that makes "Avengers vs X-Men" so mediocre and "Night of the Owls"such a hit?

The Scale
I know this might be hard to swallow for Marvel, but not every big event needs to have massive scale or such drastic odds.  The Phoenix is coming (for the millionth time) and the world might be destroyed if Hope can't harness the power!  Do you really think the Earth will be destroyed this time around?  And, if Marvel's true objective is as simple as giving the fans some hero versus hero encounters, then why not just give us "Contest of Champions III?"  After all, that's the friggin' premise of the book and it does so without trying to come off as some grand event.  Sure, this event is appealing for longtime fans of Phoenix or people who have grown fond of Hope, but aside from that, we're four issues in and quite literally nothing has happened to make us give a damn.  To call that unfortunate would be a pretty big understatement.  On top of that, the primary titles alone don't suffice if you want a better grasp on the story.  The tie-ins are mandatory for extra details.  Otherwise, Cap doesn't seem like all that fantastic of a tactician if you're limited to his actions in AvX #1.  "Hey Wolverine, Phoenix is bad, right?  Alright, let's go steal that girl."

"Night of the Owls" has a very simple premise that allows it to seep into other books without feeling forced.  The Court of the Owls want to re-take Gotham, so they're sending out a flood of assassins to take out a host of targets.  Which will live?  Which will die?  How will Batman stop them?  This isn't shoving all of the characters into one big shindig while they're still off doing other matters in other titles.  Instead, it has managed to fit organically into every title it impacts (in this case: everyone in Gotham).  These tie-ins have a clear objective: prevent the Talon from killing his/her target.  While none have truly been great, so far each has been quite fun and it's enjoyable seeing how the assorted heroes would handle facing the regenerating assassins.  More importantly, they're not mandatory if you want to understand the majority of the main story.

The Creative Team
No, I'm not going to jump on the Bendis hate train.  While I'm not a fan of most of his recent work, there's no denying his time with Daredevil, the earlier work with New Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man was some  quality material.  So, credit where it's due.  Then we have some other big names in Marvel (Aaron, Brubaker, JRJR), but despite these being the "heavy hitters" of the company, this event (just like the handful before it), don't stand out as anything exceptional.  Like I said before, we're already 4 issues into AvX and not much has happened to push the story forward.  And, seeing as I'm on a budget, the $3.99 price tag per issue means it's growing costly to stick around only to be continually letdown.  John Romita Jr's art is something that has grown on me a lot over the years.  I wasn't a huge fan at first, but I've come to really appreciate his incredibly unique style in many titles.  However, there's a significant lack of detail here, especially when a handful of characters share a panel.  This is a big-freaking-event and it should look great and it should keep our interest.  It shouldn't appear rushed (when it comes to the visuals, that is) and move at a snail's pace.

It's widely agreed that Snyder and Capullo have been dominating with Batman.  Introducing the Owls was a tricky move and risked making WTF-worthy retcons to Gotham's history; however, they completely pulled it off.  Their existence is believable and continually fleshed out as we carry on in the event.  To make matters even more impressive, almost every issue we get an interesting set of facts about the history of Wayne's family or the city itself.

What To Do?
In my eyes, Marvel is suffering from a quantity versus quality issue.  They're pumping out a lot of events, but none will really go down as a must-read story, and as a long-time Marvel fan, that's a huge disappointment.  There's no quota for big events, so perhaps it would just be best if Marvel took a step back and began reducing the volume of these stories and treated each one as their next masterpiece.  Yes, sales are incredible for them (how could the majority not want to pick up a book with Wolverine and Cap fighting on the cover?), but at the same rate, pulling in more cash doesn't mean all of that green should blind them from a pretty loud outcry from their loyal fans.  A big event doesn't need to feel big, and "Night of the Owls" is proof of this.  Now, this isn't to say DC isn't guilty of the same mistake and Marvel has never succeeded with "smaller" big events (Spider Island, Messiah CompleX).

What do you think?  Do you agree that Marvel needs to cool down with the big events and focus on fewer and better stories?  Or, are you loving AvX and think I'm a fool for believing otherwise?  And, do you agree or disagree that "Night of the Owls" should be a standard for more events?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Avengers vs The Dark Knight Rises - Who Will Win The Box Office?

I'm pretty confident that Marvel's The Avengers will make more at the box office than The Dark Knight Rises.  Marvel Studios latest (and fantastic) effort reaches to a much wider audience, and honestly, it's easier to digest for the masses. It's not dark, it's not deep, and it's not complex.  This isn't calling it stupid or claiming it's a terribly basic film; it's simply fun from beginning to end and, based on other reviews/word of mouth, a vast majority seems to agree that it's an epic blockbuster worth checking out.  

Why is this?  The factors working in its favor cast out a wider net than The Dark Knight Rises does.  Director Joss Whedon's team-up is easily accessible by anyone and everyone.  Regardless of your publisher preference, we all want to see a group of super heroes we know team up on the big screen, and more importantly, see if it can be pulled off.  While this is a follow-up to all of the previous efforts by Marvel Studios, you don't really need to see them to appreciate this film.  It was more than clear during both my viewings that some of the crowd likely only saw Iron Man.  While leaving the cinema I overheard plenty of conversations including remarks such as "what's the Destroyer" and "was Iron Man that funny in his own movies?"  

The Dark Knight Rises is being promoted as the conclusion of the trilogy, and while already existing fans of the franchise are going to rush to see it opening night, I question its ability to pull in the much younger and/or older crowd that hasn't watched Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  That, and the vast amount of now familiar faces to the general audience (thanks to Marvel Studios tactic by kicking off their films with the excellent Iron Man in 2008) should assure Avengers' power to pull more cash.  It just flat-out has more star power when it comes to characters.  And then there's the most obvious reason: 3D.  That alone means it'll generate more cash per ticket. 

This isn't by any means saying that Marvel's The Avengers will be a superior movie to The Dark Knight Rises (even though it's more than transparent they'll be drastically different).  We'll just have to wait until July 20th for that conversation.  I'm sure TDKR will earn a monumental amount of money as well, and regardless of which film makes more cash, we should just be happy we're alive in a year that has not one, but two amazing comic book movies (yes, I think it's safe to assume TDKR will probably be great).  

Do you agree that Marvel's The Avengers will earn more, or do you think Christopher Nolan's final Batman film will knock out Marvel's best movie yet?

Will I happy eat these words if I'm wrong? Absolutely.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Marvel's The Avengers Review

Marvel's The Avengers Review

Marvel's The Avengers is a movie we've been anxiously waiting to see for years now.  If you're a comic book fan, the dream of watching this A-list team together on the big screen could be over a decade old.  What really hit home was when Nick Fury came out of nowhere and blew our minds with that post-credits scene in Iron Man back in 2008. It was the collective fanboy jaw-drop heard around the world.  The Avengers was a reality that was continually teased in the other Marvel Studios movies, and now, it's finally here.  Does it live up to the Galactus-sized hype or fail harder than the Red Skull's attempt at world domination?  I'm beyond thrilled to say it not only meets the expectations, but also completely smashes them.  Marvel Studios has managed to create a ridiculously fun superhero movie that'll make both fanboys and casual fans want to see it over and over again.

The story here is absolutely big enough to justify the gathering of the team and manages to keep you engaged the whole time as it takes elements from both the classic Avengers stories and the second volume of Mark Millar's The Ultimates.  The mischievous Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is looking to conquer Earth, and to do so, he's aligned himself with an alien army (I won't spoil who they are).  With the tesseract (cosmic cube), Thor's "brother" is a cosmic force that would require a miracle to stop. Luckily for us humans, Nick Fury (Sam Jackson) has this little thing called The Avengers Initiative on file.  And yes, this movie positively lays out the groundwork for a follow-up.
A film like this is insanely difficult to pull off.  The chore of juggling so many characters isn't easy and we've seen it play a role in obliterating comic book movies before (you know what you did, X-Men: The Last Stand and Spider-Man 3).  Thankfully, director Joss Whedon ( The Cabin in the Woods, Firefly) was the perfect man for the job. "In Whedon we trust" is a common phrase by Whedonites.  If you weren't  saying it before, I'm damn sure you will be after seeing this film.  The roster is packed and Whedon is able to give the varied characters the respect they deserve. Each hero (and villain) is given a good amount of screen time for depth and they definitely have their fair share of incredibly bad-ass moments.  I've always said that Whedon's greatest talent is his ability to craft top-notch banter, and Marvel's The Avengers is proof of this. These characters are all so drastically different when it comes to their personalities, so when they go at it verbally, the result is pure gold most of the time. There are countless laughs to enjoy in this one.

Regarding the rest of the talent, no one really falls short.  We've already seen most of these actors in their respective roles before and they do every bit as well, if not slightly better due to the sharp writing giving them more to work with.  Robert Downey Jr. continues to bring the laughs as the sarcastic Tony Stark, Chris Evans pulls off the confidence Captain America requires, Tom Hiddleston continues to make Loki the most interesting Marvel Studios villain to date, so on and so on.  If they're not exactly like their comic book counter-part, then they're certainly close enough to make you feel as though they've been stripped from the panels.
The action in this movie will make you feel like a kid again and leave you completely in awe.  We get just about every hero versus hero combination we've been dying to see and the final act is absolute perfection. War breaks out in New York and every Avenger is right in the middle of it.  This battle has a beautifully organic flow, moving from one character to the next as they continue to amaze us with what I can firmly call the best action sequence I've seen in a long time.  It has too many top-notch crowd-pleasing moments to count.

Hulk is without question the highlight of this movie.  He's the physical powerhouse he needs to be, and Mark Ruffalo does a fine job as Banner.  The CGI holds up the entire ride and it's amazing how this literally looks like a 'roided-out Ruffalo.  To go into detail would totally spoil his moments, but let's just say there's plenty of smashing and even more laughs to be had.  Hulk gets the amount of battles he deserves, and I can confidently say these will be the scenes you'll be talking about when you walk out of the theater.  It would be madness to not give this version of Hulk a solo movie, so they better make that happen in 2015.

Marvel's The Avengers will be heavily debated as the best comic book movie, but it's definitely not perfect (then again, what movie truly is?).  The first few acts are the low points as they go through the mandatory steps of establishing the overall plot and bringing the characters together.  It simply didn't feel as big or superb as the movie needs to be. The resolution also felt pretty standard and wrapped up a little too easily.  That said, these are minor criticisms and ultimately won't matter all that much because the rest will blow you away.

Marvel's The Avengers is sporting Hulk's strength and raised the bar for comic book movies.  So, unless you severely loathe the genre, there is no reason at all to not rush out and see it as soon as possible.  When the movie comes to end (sit through the credits for two extra scenes!), you'll want to go through the must-see experience all over again.  


Friday, April 27, 2012

Moon Knight - Where Do We Go Now?

Moon Knight - Where Do We Go Now?

Moon Knight can't seem to catch a break.  Marvel's street level anti-hero has always had a decent fanbase, but Marc Spector apparently can't hold his ground with Marvel.  Over the past few years, The Fist of Khonshu has had no luck with keeping a strong ongoing.

The fantastic 2006 series brought the hero back in an extremely dark and powerful way.  He was at the bottom and readers religiously followed the stories of Marc's increasingly difficult life.  This bleak period in his life spawned 30 issues (plus a special and an annual) before coming to an end with the entertaining stories "The Death of Marc Spector" and "Down South."

Marc would return with his own title in 2009, Vengeance of Moon Knight.  This had a promising start, sporting a heavily armored Marc with a renewed sense of justice.  He came back to New York in the Dark Reign infested world and was looking to make a difference.  But, a man can only do so much with just 10 issues.

For the latest take on the character, we have Moon Knight by the immensely popular writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev (cue raving about their take on Daredevil).  This run brought some huge changes to Marc.  He left his entire supporting cast behind in New York and traveled to Hollywood where he wanted to become a producer.  His mental well-being and case of multiple personality disorder went off the deep-end.  He was no longer restricted to being just Marc, Jake, Steven, and Moon Knight - he was now hallucinating and trying to be other Avengers.  But, with drastic change comes mixed results.  Lasting only 12 issues, this series received some pretty solid reviews.  However, a good chunk of Moon Knight fans (based on my conversations across multiple forums) weren't happy with such a massive change to the character.

You try to change the character too much and a good deal of the long-time fans protest... but if you try to do more of the same, it never seems to work.  So where do we go now with Moon Knight?  Is he simply a character that'll never stick, or is there a formula that can boost him to A-list status?  As a Moon Knight fanboy, I feel obligated to weigh in and share what I'd love to see for the character next time around.

-The Creative Team-
Moon Knight needs to strike a great blend of dark action and a strong connection to his supporting characters.  We know he can be more violent than the traditional hero, but we need a cast that'll evoke our emotions and make us give a damn about what's going on in his life.  Personally, I think Mike Benson (second half of the '06 run, Deadpool: Suicide Kings), Rick Remender (Venom, Uncanny X-Force), Christopher Yost (Scarlet Spider, X-Force) or Ed Brubaker (Captain America, Daredevil) would all be excellent picks and they could create exceptional Moon Knight stories.  As for the art, Mike Deodato Jr. or David Finch are without question the top picks.  Ryan Stegman has been absolutely delivering with Scarlet Spider, so he'd also be a great fit, too.

-The Character-
We've seen Marc at his worst (Civil War era) and we've seen him at his craziest (recent run), so how about we give the man's emotional scars a break and focus on returning him to a place inspired by his classic era (a la Dan Slott & Amazing Spider-Man).  He's once again loyal to Khonshu and a full moon increases his strength. But unlike recent events, this time around the God (who is real) doesn't call for Marc to create a body count... but instead demands for Marc to spread fear and respect for his deity.  This takes away the conflict he has with his agenda because that's something we've seen too many times before.  That story feels like it's on loop at this point and it would be nice to see a clear minded and focused Moon Knight doing what he does best: knocking out villains.

When it comes to his multiple personality disorder, I say throw the whole thing out the window.  He was never truly that crazy (before the current run, of course); he created Jake and Steven for tactical reasons.  Jake was around to obtain information at a lower level, and Steven was there to get high level information and pose as a front for how he obtained his wealth (which was done through his years as a mercenary).  The different personalities would sometimes suggest different things, but he was always able to take full control (best displayed in West Coast Avengers).  While I applaud Bendis' effort to bring new dynamics to the character, giving no solid explanation for the big change wasn't overlooked by many and I feel as though it was banking on most believing the stereotype that Marc is indeed bonkers.  After boosting the craziness in Hollywood, I say have him return to New York with a clear mind and finally realizes he doesn't need the personalities.  In the end, he's simply a hero, and his real personality (Marc Spector) proved that a long time ago in Egypt by doing everything he could to stop Bushman.  Casting aside these personal issues we've seen time and time again will allow the writer to provide a heavier focus on the supporting cast (Marlene, Frenchie, etc) and greater plots surrounding villains posing the real threat instead of his own emotions.

-The Villains-
His rogues gallery is in dire need of the New 52 treatment.  Many haven't been seen in awhile and others just aren't exciting.  Bushman is his main foe, but at the end of the day he brings nothing special to the table.  He gave Marc a deliciously brutal fight in Vengeance, but aside from that, the guy was never that big of an obstacle.  When we last saw the villain he was losing his mind, so it might be interesting to see Bushman be the man to fill the title's crazy quota.  Seeing the likes of Morpheus and Deadzone return would be most welcome, and, dare I say it, find a way to give him an equivalent of the Sinister Six.  If these villains with an agenda against Moony aren't stacking up individually, have this crazy Bushman unite them. Ultimately, Mr. Spector simply needs bigger adversaries with bigger agendas.  In my opinion this will be one of many critical elements for his success.

-Increase His Role-
Moon Knight has a rich history of interacting with a lot of characters, but as of late he hasn't really done anything of any importance in the 616 Universe. This should change if you want more people interested in him and having him fill the role of "supporting character #7" on a team book likely isn't going to cut it.  Giving him more respect and time in the spotlight among the superhero community will hopefully lead to more readers being curious about the character.  As much as I dislike forced cameos, make an effort to have him a part of the world he's in. New York is packed with characters and it shouldn't be uncommon for him to be bumping shoulders and appearing in other titles. 

Are these suggestions something you'd like to see in Moon Knight's next title or do you have something else in mind for the anti-hero?  Or, do you think it's finally time for Moon Knight to just call it quits and spend a few years in limbo?  Feel free to speak your mind in the comments section below!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods review

The Cabin in the Woods manages to throw the horror and comedy genres into a blender, and the result is a delicious product that's ridiculously fun and warrants watching at least once.
The Cabin in the Woods is a modern-day Army of Darkness. High praise, I know, but it's worthy of the title. There's not much I can say about the overall plot without spoiling all of the fun, so I'll keep it to the basics. The Cabin in the Woods follows a group of stereotypical college kids (the stoner, the sports guy, the scantily-clad hot girl, amongst others) that head to a cabin deep in the woods for a weekend getaway. Meanwhile, mysterious figures are keeping a close eye on the group and the chaos and bloodshed follows shortly after their seemingly relaxing vacation begins. 
I know what you're probably thinking. This is all too familiar and there's no reason why you'd want to see this scenario play out for the millionth time. I felt the same way after seeing the trailers and going into this movie, but that assumption is completely false. This isn't just another generic horror flick or something you've already seen before. The concept behind this film is ridiculously far-fetched in a good way and allows for tons of hilarious elements and creatures to be tossed our way. 
The film is being heavily pushed mostly as a horror experience, but it's the sharp writing and witty humor that makes The Cabin in the Woods so superb. It's absurdly funny, and that's something I've come to expect whenever the talented Joss Whedon (Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is attached to a project. The director of Marvel's The Avengers co-wrote and produced the flick, and there are plenty of standout comedic scenes that simply feel like a segment slapped with a Joss Whedon seal of approval. A Whedon vibe with banter is almost never a bad thing and there's plenty to be found here. Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard makes his directorial debut and has had an extensive history with Whedon, writing episodes for BuffyAngel and Alias. You can tell the two had a blast working on the script and the final product is one of the most entertaining movies I've seen in awhile.
While The Cabin in the Woods is going to keep you laughing the whole time, odds are no one is going to be having any nightmares over this one. It's not a scary movie, but that clearly wasn't the main focus of the film. I think it's important to note this just in case anyone believes this is a horror-heavy movie based on the trailers portraying it as such. The majority of the horror elements are indeed predictable, but I will confess that one jump scare did get me. At the same rate, keeping the trailers focused on the attempted spooks and not the smirks means you're going into this one without having the best jokes already ruined by the trailers, so that's a plus.
While the main characters are all archetypes, Whedon's ability to craft great banter and develop individuals breathes more life into these characters along the way. The tag team of Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford really steal the show. Unfortunately discussing their roles would severely take away from all the fun to be had with their scenes. Fran Kranz (Dollhouse) once again delivers as the goofy and comedic dude, while everyone else performs ably as well.
The final act of The Cabin in the Woods is truly something special. Attempting to describe it won't do it any justice. It's just something that needs to be watched to be fully appreciated. Things take a wild turn and the theater was in a permanent state of laughter and bliss as the events unfolded on the big screen. Oh, and how could I forget to mention the fact that there's a secret cameo thrown in there that sci-fi fans will appreciate as well? 
Simply put, I loved The Cabin in the Woods and had an extremely good time watching it. The CGI is a bit shoddy and it isn't all that scary, but it's hilariously fun and more than deserving of checking out on opening night.


(taken from my review at UGO)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Wolverine's Best Battles

He's the best there is at what he does, and what he does is very, very bloody. James Howlett/Logan/Wolverine has appeared in thousands of comics, and in the pages of those books, we've been treated to countless impressive fights involving the X-Man. Wolverine's decades of dedicated training under some of the best combatants has turned him into one of the most dangerous street level characters in the Marvel 616 universe. Having claws that can cut through almost everything and a virtually unbreakable skeleton doesn't hurt his odds, either. His rogues gallery (Sabretooth, Cyber, Lady Deathstrike, etc.) consists of plenty of characters that can give ole' James a fight worth watching, but Logan's A-list status means the Canadian also gets to go toe-to-toe with dozens of familiar faces in the Marvel Universe. Wolverine has been in hundreds of throw downs, but here's a collection of my favorite one-on-one battles with him.  Did your favorite not make the list? If so, please be sure to share the issue and why it's your favorite.

VS Crossbones, Fear Itself: The Fearless #7

It doesn't matter if you're one of Captain's greatest villains or just a random thug, bullets will never cut it against the runt. The heartless mercenary Crossbones (Brock Rumlow) took on Wolverine and the outcome left a major mess for the janitor to clean up. Crossbones is known for being a tough guy, so the villain pumps plenty of rounds into Wolverine before even recognizing that his tummy has been sliced open by Wolverine's foot-long claws. Instead of making a run for it, Crossbones arrogantly blasts a few more bullets into Logan, but Wolverine's healing factor and adamantium is too much for the thug to overcome. James slices Crossbones's gun apart and then, without any remorse for his human enemy, thrusts all six claws through the baddie's chest. Luckily for Brock, Hellstorm conveniently shows up and burns Wolverine. A small dose of magic later and Crossbones is back to full health, but the emotional scar of getting his ass handed to him by Logan has to hurt. 

VS Silver Samurai, Uncanny X-Men #273
Wolverine and Kenuichio Harada (Silver Samurai) go way back. Despite slashing and stabbing each other apart, they hold a mutual level of respect for one another. Harada's power lets his blade cut through virtually anything, but luckily for Wolverine, that weapon isn't putting a dent on his adamantium. Even when Harada lands a killing blow or two, Logan's healing factor gives him quite the unfair advantage. This 3 page fight in Uncanny simply rocks. Both land plenty of brutal strikes before Wolverine breaks Harada's arm and has him at his mercy.

VS Omega Red, X-Men #5
There's no shame in losing to Omega Red (Arkady Rossovich). The guy's death spores can kill a person in mere moments and his carbonadium armor and coils make him an absolute pain to deal with. But Wolverine? He spits in the face of impossible odds. Despite being outclassed by Arkady, Logan makes it a fight worth remembering. The Canadian dukes it out nonstop with the Russian super soldier for nearly 18 hours before finally going down for the count. James eventually gets his revenge, though. A few years ago the runt baseball tossed the m-blade (a sword that negates healing factors) right into Omega Red's heart, allegedly killing the '90s villain.

VS Hulk, The Incredible Hulk #340
Hulk and Wolverine have a long and blood-soaked history, but one battle stands out from the rest. Believe it or not, Wolverine actually tried to avoid this legendary battle at first. Hulk kept egging him on, and one thunderclap later, it was time for the warrior's waltz. Todd McFarlane's work makes this classic battle in the woods a gritty visual delight. Wolverine draws first blood on the grey brute and even takes him down with a horrific stab clean into Hulk's chest. But Logan's not the only one with a healing factor, and the two rush back into their dance of death. Wolverine's internal thoughts in the captions add a nice layer of depth (dealing with man vs. beast; the pain in his body and all that jazz) to this must read Hulk vs Wolverine battle.

VS Sabretooth,  Uncanny X-Men #213
If I could only read one Sabretooth (Victor Creed) and Wolverine fight, this brutal mesh of claws and stabs at the X-Mansion would be my pick. Victor humiliates Rogue and Psylocke before making his way to the main event: Wolverine. What happens next is one of the most epic stalemates in comic history. The two go blow for blow as they duke it out across the rooftops, plummet into the pool, and continue their absurdly violent bout towards the edge of a cliff. Both bruised and bloodied, Sabretooth tries to escape the X-Men by diving off of the ledge, but Wolverine quickly follows and grapples him before the two crash into the waves below.  In true villain fashion, Sabretooth manages to escape.

VS Deadpool, Cable & Deadpool #44
The merc with a mouth has a handful of solid encounters with Logan, but their swords vs. claws round at a HYDRA base is my pick. This 3 page fight is fairly short, but it's so very sweet. It gives both characters proper credit as they display just how skilled they are with their respective weapons, but ultimately, those two blades can't compete with Wolverine's six adamantium claws and the pointy things end up pinning Wade to a wall. The comedic banter from a Fabian Nicieza written Deadpool (Wade Wilson) is always a joy, too. Oh, and then there's Bob, Agent of HYDRA and Weasel in the issue.

VS Captain America, Wolverine: Origins #4
Seeing the American super-soldier and Weapon X project duke it out is a fanboy overload for many. Despite their popularity, these two fan favorites have only had a handful of fairly short fights, but their battle in Daniel Way's comic overshadows the other fights these two have had. Lasting multiple pages, the two A-listers inflict seriously damaging injuries on each other and Cap even slashes Wolverine across the chest with the m-blade. A legless Nuke (courtesy of Wolverine's claws) and the X-Men eventually interfere, but this melee is terrific. 

VS Spider-Man, Spider-Man versus Wolverine #1
The wall crawler is faster and stronger than Wolverine, but that didn't matter very much in this comic. Wolverine's confidence and flurry of claws made Spider-Man question his own abilities and even his own speed. However, the reason this throw down happens is the true gem of the comic. Wolverine is going to kill Charlie, a woman he cares deeply for. She's on the run from just about every government on Earth, and Logan was going to give her a painless end instead of torture from the KGB. But Spider-Man and his heart of gold step in and stops Wolverine before he can end Charlie's suffering. Spider-Man bashes Wolverine's face over and over against a tombstone, but he says the only thing the brutal strikes did was make Logan smile. They end in a draw, with Spider-Man's hands gripped around Logan's throat, ready to snap his neck, and Wolverine's fist under Spidey's chin, prepared to pop his claws. A helicopter shines a light on them, and in the confusion of the chaos, Spider-Man throws a blind strike when he thinks Wolverine is behind him and ready for more. Yet it wasn't Wolverine standing behind him; it was Charlie. Spider-Man ends up killing the very woman he just fought to save. Ouch.

VS Sabretooth, Wolverine #301
It looks like Sabretooth has returned from the dead just so he can get his ass kicked all over again... and I must say this is a jaw-droppingly good ass kicking. Seriously, it doesn't get much better than this. I'll let the page speak for itself. Stare at that image and enjoy just how awesome this victory truly is.