Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Strange Art

Strange art, literally:

Phantom Stranger, Dr. Strange, and Adam Strange by Dave Wachter.

Now all we need is a sketch of The Atom, Captain Atom, and Adam Strange, so there would be an "Adam" sketch in addition to this "Strange" sketch.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

52 Good Things About The New 52: Number One

I am no fan of the New 52.

I do not like retcons, I do not like grim n' gritty.  I have no respect for heroes who engage in senseless violence in order to prove how "serious" they are.  I read comics mainly for the purposes of escapism and entertainment, and from what I have read about the New 52, both are lacking.  (Not to mention decades' worth of continuity having been erased.)  I value a good story above all else, and I want those stories to be built on a foundation which remains true to the characters they represent.

However, after reading through some trades published within the last ten years or so, a notion hit me: the pre-New 52 years hadn't been very kind to my favorite characters, either.  Yes, the New 52 erased a lot of history, but that history contained a plethora of less-than-sterling moments.  So, I am endeavoring upon a little quest: to force myself to find 52 good things about the New 52 and its subsequent retconning of so many events.  I'm not sure I'll be able to do it, but here goes nothing.

[Note: Having made up my mind about not liking the New 52, I decided not to read any comics set in the New 52.  Therefore, this information may be inaccurate.  If it is, let me know.]

Here we go:

Number 1: Wonder Woman never had to kill Maxwell Lord in cold blood.

This was cruel, cold-hearted, and absolutely unnecessary.  Nothing but an empty, violent moment which equated shock value with storytelling.

I feel better already knowing that this never happened.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Captain America Sketches by Mike Zeck

I stumbled across this today on Pinterest, which is a great coincidence in light of today's Episode #0 of The Marvel Superheroes Podcast, which put me in a Mike Zeck mood today.  So here are some lovely Captain America sketches by Mike Zeck.

Talk about polished.  Not only are the figural lines as smooth as silk, but I think Zeck practices some sort of secret artist's magic when it comes to expressions and facial features.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Iconic Panels: Martian Manhunter

Following a query over at The Idol-Head of Diabolu prompting readers about iconic Martian Manhunter panels, I submit to you this:

A splash page from the second volume of Martian Manhunter: American Secrets (by Gerard Jones and Eduardo Barreto.)  The tone of this book is one of its strongest points; in true noir form, its tension derives from the necessity that J'onn keep his true identity a secret.  What results is a harried, tense, nail-biting plot line which is almost brutal in the severity of its relentless suspense.

Spectacular art by Eduardo Barreto
This particular splash page bursts through all of that tension into one dizzying scene: his hand being forced by his pursuers, there is no other way out but up.  The result is almost a palpable catharsis: the narrow claustrophobic tension of the preceding pages gives way to a dizzying, vertiginous freedom.  The problem, however: J'onn's companions don't know his true identity, and now the cat's out of the bag: their savior is a Martian.

I won't say anything more about this spectacular book, lest I spoil any of its delightful surprises.

*All the more reason that I believe secret identities yield a level of tension and nuance to superhero comics--and writers seem to have forgotten this.  But that's a discussion for another day.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Thoughts on Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I finally got around to see The Winter Soldier.  I'm about six weeks late to the game, but better late than never!

Walking into the theater I had to marvel* at the fact that there were three comic book movies playing simultaneously.  And all based on the Marvel Universe.  (*Pun not intended.)

Going in:
I had to marvel at the fact that there were three comic book movies playing simultaneously.  And all based on the Marvel Universe.  (Pun not intended.)

Guardians of the Galaxy.  Oh my sweet goodness, but not only can't I get over this raccoon* with a gun, but I had a Walkman just like that.  Does this movie take place in the 80's?  Could that make it even more awesome?  This movie looks like what I imagine R.E.B.E.L.S. or Adam Strange: Planet Heist could be.  And the-motley-crew-saves-the-world really speaks to the Star Wars fan in me.  *I'm completely fixated on Rocket Raccoon.  I don't know what it is: because it's so different?  So comic bookish?  So adorable-yet-deadly?

Marvel Logo: always my favorite part of any Marvel movie.  Really, it is.  Every time I see one of these movies, I have to say, "This is my favorite part!"  No one's as entertained by it as I am, though.

The theater:
I couldn't believe how crowded it was: the theater was full, except for a few open seats in the front row.  I was stunned.  And I went in thinking, "Oh, I'll be able to sit anywhere."  Nope.  We got separated.  I've never been to a movie by myself, and that's kind of what this was like, and it was odd.  Not only am I one of those obnoxious people who makes comments during movies, but I am also that person who needs to have the plot explained to them, just like that Jerry Seinfeld bit.

I'm surprised this theater was so packed six weeks after the movie opened.  I think that's kind of a beautiful thing; I think people came to see it more than once, and people came dressed up.  People really need superheroes now, I guess.

I'm happy I noticed:  (Keep in mind, I'm very new to the Marvel universe)
Sam Wilson!  I know who that is!  I'm glad Falcon and Cap teamed up here.  Just like in the Stan Lee run.  I'm not too crazy about the Falcon wings...they were a bit "meh."  Now, if only Redwing can show up in the next movie...

And...Batroc!  Hey, I know who he is, too!

Surprised by:
Whoa!  Peggy's alive?!  I honestly wasn't expecting that.  And I thought it was a very touching scene.

And wow, Nick Fury, holy cow....well, you had me convinced up until the end.  Really.  (See, this is why I don't want to read any recent Marvel comics before seeing the movies.  I love being surprised.)

Agent 13!  I didn't see that coming, either.  I hope she gets a bigger role in the next movie.  The bit about the laundry was nice.

Winter Soldier version of uniform.

What wasn't as good as the first film:  There was a lot of surprises here.  Nice big, comic-book proportioned surprises.  And lots of great action and fight choreography.  But I didn't feel any true depth of character.  The sweetness of the first film was missing, as was the connection to the characters.  Black Widow, to me, is always a riddle wrapped in a mystery, like her native country.  There was also no Coulson, and that's just hurtful.

The real problem was that no "regular folks" were featured in this movie.  The result was that all of these things seemed to happen in a vacuum.  There was no one to care about other than the heroes, there was no regular person I could relate to.  The Avengers managed this superbly: from the woman Cap saves to the older gentleman who refuses to kneel to Loki.  The only analogue here was that guy in the missile command center who refused to put in the launch codes.  On the whole, this movie was missing the charm and soul that I loved so dearly about the first movie; luckily there are still echoes of this in Chris Evans's performance.  I was expecting a little more in the way of Cap adjusting to life in the 21st century; sort of what was done in Mark Waid's excellent Man Out of Time.  But I think there was just too much plot for this.  Even the bit with The Winter Soldier (a concept I'm not too happy about) was lacking a certain emotional pull.  (Also could be related to the fact that I mixed up two actors...)  I was also expecting Cap to be a bit more sullen, or at least have a little more trouble adjusting to modern life than he did; in the Stan Lee run, I'm pretty sure his day job is "moping," and he spends a lot of time thinking about his place in the world, the ghosts of the past, and his love life.  The movie Cap is a little more resilient, or at least more reserved about whatever's on his mind.  I rather like the drama of the comics.

Maybe I missed something, but there also wasn't any real strong character growth here, and no one seemed to make any decisions based on the story's events.  It was kind of like Thor in that respect: Captain America's moral decisions regarding the nature of modern politics are jettisoned by this being a fight for a survival and mystery.  No one ever stops to ponder what's the right course of action; it's just assumed that such-and-such needs to be done to get from Point A to Point B without any moment to reflect and weigh the available options.  Even the redemption of the Winter Soldier felt a bit shoe-horned into the plot: the reveal was too late, and the moral choice far too easy: had Cap been actually forced to choose between saving a friend and saving millions of people, that would've been a tough choice.  This decision was teased by the Falcon, but the story never plunged that deep.  You know, now that I think about it, maybe I wouldn't want to see that, because then we're getting into Batman One Rule Territory and Man of Steel-style endings, so I take back what I just said.  However, I do wish The Winter Soldier's redemption was paced differently—it needed to be much earlier in the movie, and it needed to be better tied in with the climax, rather than being a sidetone that operated independently of the main storyline.  Also, I'm just not particularly happy about the whole Winter Soldier thing in general, but having just read the first two-and-a-half volumes of Cap's Essentials, I can point to several storylines that it echoes.

There was also emotional climax, no rallying point (like Coulson in The Avengers, no point of decision, no turning point whatsoever; I was expecting a scene of Cap taking charge and giving a speech about what was the right thing to do.  It seemed like something he should be doing.  Maybe.  Instead, he simply decided this was the right course of action and he'd just go ahead and do it.  I'm still deciding if this is what I wanted to see or not.  This film was all about subtlety, and maybe I'm more used to overt displays of storytelling.

I liked the commentary on contemporary politics, but I think the Comics Alliance review put it better than I ever could: this movie used politics to comment on its characters, rather than the other way around.  The politics and the intrigue seemed to take a backseat to the running away from the bad guys.  I wanted more of the former.

What was better than the first film:
The use of Cap's shield!  Wow!  The use of the shield was excellent.  I just love it in the comics when Cap throws his shield; there's just something so gleefully delightful about it.  I know that in origin films, heroes are still getting their bearings, but even in The Avengers I don't think Cap used his shield to its full advantage.  This movie remedies that.  Also, the fighting style was better: more acrobatic, full of leaps and tucks and rolls and flying kicks.  The editing was maybe a little too frenetic for my taste, but on the whole it was great.

Avengers version of uniform.
What was better in The Avengers:
The version of Cap's suit in The Avengers is, I think the best of all three films: sleek and bright.  That chin strap annoys me to no end.  The version in The Avengers looks the closest to the Silver Age comics than any of the costumes used in the solo movies because of the "turtleneck."  (But I like the gloves better from the first movie.  I'm just hard to please, I guess.)

The kid who notices Steve at the Smithsonian.  I wanted more scenes like this: heroes interacting with regular people.  You know, more superhero-ey and less Bourne Identity.

Not quite sure about:
Cap had a bit of a temper here in a few scenes with Black Widow.  I'm not sure I liked that; it felt a bit off, too "modern."  He also had to lie, but I think it was excusable, and Black Widow called him out on it pretty quick.

I'm confused by:
Why is the shield darker in the beginning?  Is it like camo-paint or something that he uses for covert night ops?  Can anyone explain that?  (Mother: "It's because he forgot to polish it."  Okay?)

Also, does everyone know that Steve Rogers is Captain America?  I think I missed something.  (Maybe in that Smithsonian Exhibit....?  I zoned out during that scene because I was so excited by the fact that I had actually been to the Air & Space Museum and seen some of those aircraft; it is awesome.)

What does the ending mean for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?  I need to find a way to catch up on that show...

The plot lost me a bit in the middle (the explanation of the hijacking, specifically.)  And then again towards the end: I've always had trouble mixing actors up in movies, so I'll spend twenty minutes thinking this guy was the guy who did that really important thing from before, when really it was a completely different guy the whole time.  My problem this time around?  I thought Sebastian Stan was Frank Grillo.  Obviously that made the big reveal kind of confusing.  (Eventually I figured it out.)  I just have a terrible memory for faces, what can I say?  People kind of look the same to me.

Black Widow wasn't a love interest.  You cannot understand how happy this makes me, because although it goes against all action movie tropes, it speaks to the nature of both characters.  More importantly, Black Widow's role isn't reduced to that of romantic subplot; she is on equal footing with Cap and is a character in her own right.  For a minute there, I thought this was the direction they were going in, but it was just a red herring.  Marvel movies are making leaps and bounds for strong female characters (all of whom are very unique,) and that makes me so happy.

What was missing:
Humor!  This was a pretty somber film.  And yes, I know, that's in keeping with the subject matter, but I was just expecting a little more wit.  Or a few physical puns.  Something.  Or maybe a few one-liners during some of the battle scenes.

Best scenes: The elevator fight sequence, by far.  I loved it because it showed how Steve Rogers really is a one-man army.  Also, it was one of the few times the movie allowed Cap a witty one liner.

I also really liked the scene with the vending machine.  I don't really know why.  Also, it made me really want Starbursts for subliminal reasons.

The "catch-up list" was a nice touch, and there was this guy behind me who laughed SO hard at this scene.  (He was laughing at pretty much everything, though.)  Did Steve like <i>Star Wars</i>?  We'll never know.  But it was a clever nod on Marvel's part now that they are both under the Disney banner.

Stan Lee is a security guard!

What I still wish they would let Cap do more of:
Silver Age Cap does a lot of talking while fighting.  I know, I know, this is a serious movie.  But I wish he could have a little more fun at his enemies' expense.  I guess that's just Spider Man's thing.

Score and Main Titles:
The score was one of the weaker points of The Winter Soldier, I have to admit.
It was, on the whole, pretty pedestrian, with no clear theme or emotional pull.  Perhaps this is why I thought the movie lacked some emotional resonance.  Movie soundtracks are a hobby of mine, so it's something I tend to place a lot of importance on.

The main titles, however, were excellent.  I wish they made wallpaper out of those!

Best Line:
I can't really remember any lines!  Which says something.  I liked the bit in the Apple Store about New Jersey.  Oh, and the line Cap says before the elevator fight; I can't remember it exactly, but it was something to the effect of, "Anyone want to leave now?"  It spoke to his confidence in his fighting ability.

I tend to fixate on very small details, I know.  It's just the way my mind works.  Besides costumes, the other thing I fixate on too much is characters' hair.  (I once got in a heated debate with a coworker about how it was really Ryan Reynolds's hair that ruined the Green Lantern movie.  It was a while ago, but the response was something like, "You're nuts."  Guilty as charged.  Also why I'd rather read less of Marvel before seeing the movies: less to be disappointed by.)

Anyway—I didn't like Black Widow's hair straight instead of wavy.  At all.  I just didn't think it suited Scarlett Johansson, who sported those short, luxurious waves while knocking out bad guys in The Avengers.  (Superhero-strength hairspray, I guess.)  The color was also too orange; maybe it was just how it photographed here.  Also, while we're at it: Chris Evans's hair was too short and too dark—I'm guessing they wanted him to look a bit more "modern," but hair color shouldn't be changing.  I still wanted him to look (and act) a bit more vintage.  I'm very, very picky, I know.

The non-sequitur of the evening:
My mother asking me if Chris Evans's build was computer-generated.  I'm going to guess, "No, it had something to do with eating a lot of protein?"  (Response: "No one can get that big just by eating a lot of protein!")  She also thought this film was better than the first one.  And she liked the Falcon and though the actor who played him was a real "natural."  I liked him, too.

The end:
Clapping at the end.  I LOVE it when people clap at the end of a movie.  I don't know why, but I just absolutely love it.  People clapped.  I clapped, too.  I couldn't believe it.  The last time I remember people clapping at the end of a movie?  Toy Story 3.  And the theater was full, so it wasn't like a handful of over-enthusiastic people were clapping; everyone was.  I teared up a little.  (Movies like this always take me on an emotional roller coaster ride to begin with.)

Outside the movie:
There was a group of guys there in costume—I couldn't get a good look at everyone, but there was a Superman and a Captain America (complete with shield!)  Somehow, Cap and Superman have a certain sort of resonance.  After the movie, I tried to give them a look that said, "I think it's really cool when people dress up to see superhero movies" but I think my look may have come off more like, "Hey, I think this girl is going to report us to mall security."  Unfortunately they were heckled quite vociferously on their way out of the theater—I turned around and wanted to say something to the bullies, but, well, they looked like they could snap me in half.  Thankfully, they ignored the taunters.  Good for them.  I was almost going to wear a comic book t-shirt there, but I only own DC ones, and I thought that would be too snarky.  So I opted for a retro 40's kind of look instead.  It's time for me to get some Marvel merchandise, for sure.

So glad I finally got to go see it.  I was so exciting towards the end, I was shaking, which hasn't happened since The Avengers.  It's not going to replace the first Captain America movie as that movie holds a very special place in my heart (it was my very first Marvel Studios movie.)  I'll take the charm and nostalgia of the first movie over this one; but The Winter Soldier is a close second.  The Avengers is still, I think, the pinnacle of all Marvel superhero movies.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

I've missed you, comics.

Up until a month ago, it's been years since I've read a comic which I found enjoyable, let alone happiness-inducing.  What a long time to wait.  DC, you've just broken my little comics-loving heart too many times.