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five things, 11.4.10.

Five non-Halloween related things I’ve been enjoying recently.

1. Dark City


This is a film I’d intended to see for some time. When detractors kept saying Inception was basically a remake of Dark City that pretended not to be, it moved higher up my queue. I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

This movie is pretty fantastic. A sci-fi noir story where a man wakes up in a strange city where it is always night and people are having memory issues. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that when he wakes up he’s in a hotel bathtub, there is a dead hooker in the other room, and he has no memory whatsoever.

The idea that Inception ripped this movie off is stupid. The similarities here aren’t any more pronounced than they would be if you compared any other films in the same genre or subgenre, to be honest there is probably even less. Yet, have a movie where reality isn’t exactly what it seems and memories are being stolen and you must be a straight copycat right? The Matrix is actually influenced by this film far, far more than Inception was. Also, David Goyer was one of the writers for Dark City and he is a friend and collaborator with Chris Nolan, so if he ripped it off completely I’m surprised Goyer never said anything. Although, their friendship is most probably responsible for the fact that they both write about similar themes.

The film does find a creative way to tell a noir story with totally different rules, much the way Inception did the same thing to create a completely different sort of heist film.

But anyway, Dark City really was quite good. As I said, lots of common themes and ideas with The Matrix, but much, much smarter. Also, the noir aspect of the whole thing was delightful. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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2. Fable III

The first game from my ‘ten things’ video game post to be released, and I even got to pre-order it. Yay!

Nothing deep or profound, just a fun story played out through silly, enjoyable gameplay. Fun times.

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3. RED

I like good action movies, I just have a really small pool of action films that I actually consider ‘good.’ I’ll never even bother seeing films like The Expendables, or The Transporter: Parts 1-1,000, or anything that feels remotely like those films.

It’s sad that there are so few films from this genre that I like, because I have such a great time watching the ones that, to use a decidedly non-action phrase, tickle my fancy. What is a fancy anyway? Do I actually have a one?

Anyway, RED is definitely in the category of action films, or action comedies, that I really enjoyed. Great cast, fun uses of the genre standards, certainly nothing awe-inspiring, but for the genre, it’s smart, funny, and sharp. Plus, it has the wonderfully sexy Mary-Louise Parker.

If you’re looking for a fun way to spend two hours, you could do a whole lot worse.

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4. The Social Network

The Social Network is a brilliant film. The acting is impeccable, the direction is really tight all the way through, and screen-writing doesn’t get better than this. In the words of Josué Blanco, “God, I love Aaron Sorkin.”

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5. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

I should probably dedicate an entire ‘Graphic Content’ post to this once I’ve read the whole series, because this shit is for real.

The movie adaptation was a special kind of horrid in literally every way imaginable, and this is made all the worse now that I’ve read the first volume of the graphic novels. Alan Moore is a fucking genius. An homage/satire/commentary on Victorian literature and culture, Moore takes public domain literary figures and imagines a steam punk sort of alternate version of Victorian London in which Alan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, The Invisible Man, and Dr. Jekyll are assembled to thwart a plan which threatens all of England. The literary references abound, I spent probably four times as much time on the internet looking up what all the more vague references meant than I spent simply reading the book. I mention that because it was really fun, not because I’m complaining.

I can’t wait to get my greedy little hands on volume two!

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i kill giants. [graphic content.]

It’s really hard to explain why you need to read this book, but you do.

It is absolutely stunning. I literally knew nothing about it going into it, I saw it on a list of great graphic novels, the art looked intriguing, so I gave it a try. I am so very glad I did.

This story is heartbreakingly beautiful. It’s officially the first comic or graphic novel I cried reading.

Kelly and Niimura’s story is about a 5th grade girl determined to kill giants. I don’t want to give away any more details than that, but trust me when I say this is powerful storytelling about the real world.

It’s not hyperbole to say that stories like this make the world a better place. You should read this as soon as you can.

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the walking dead. [graphic content.]

Have you read The Walking Dead yet? If not, you are in for a big treat my friend. It’s a fantastic comic series written by Robert Kirkman about life after the zombie apocalypse. The main character is a police officer named Rick Grimes who gets shot in the line of duty, goes into a coma, and wakes up after the proverbial shit has hit the fan (a la 28 Days Later). It is the perfect way to introduce the series, because it’s about life after the zombie apocalypse, so using the coma technique is a clean way of allowing us to adjust to the post zombie world along with our hero.

The comic book/graphic novel medium is perfect for exploring this subject matter, because the story goes on and on, and thus it can take us so much deeper into the questions and metaphors inherent in the zombie genre.

There are tons of reasons why zombie stuff is great, but one of the more important reasons is that it is rife with metaphor at the heart of American culture. It wasn’t an accident that Romero set the sequel to Night of the Living Dead at a shopping mall.

At the moment, our culture is in the midst of this bizarre war where a huge portion of the population refuses to let go of American mythology from the 50’s. We have these ideas of what it means to be American, of what “real America” looks like, and while that ideal never existed, it is even more dangerous now because it should have died a long time ago, it’s alive and kicking even though it shouldn’t be, it is undead now. Actually, Bill Willingham used this as a tiny portion of his Fables storyline, and it was utterly brilliant, but Fables must be left for another post.

Zombies represent something terrifying because they are us. They are our fear of death, our fear of our appetites, our fear of the nagging thought in the back of our minds that we are our own worst enemy, that we will bring about our own destruction.

Yet, what are we left with on the other side of that? We play with the zombie genre, and lets say we make it to the other side of the cataclysm, doing our best to survive long term in a world overrun with a horde of the undead. Then what? Well, that’s what The Walking Dead offers a potential answer to. It’s a band of survivors trying to make life work, trying to keep their children safe, trying to fall in love and find a reason to wake up each day. If everything that we think makes up our world is taken from us, where do we go from there?

Kirkman’s writing is fantastic; tense, well paced, and constantly engaging. I almost always buy what characters are doing, how they are treating each other, etc. That’s rare.

Also, it just may be the best panel work I’ve seen. The art is all black and white, and the way Kirkman and Tony Moore, followed by Charlie Adlard, lay out the panels is perfect. It’s sparse, often with very little going on within each page, creating a great relationship between the story and the art. Also, they avoid the common pitfall of accidently giving away a big moment by placing a full panel event on the right page. What I mean is that so often I accidently learn something I don’t want to know when I turn the page, because as your turn a page you see page 35 on your right before you look back to 34 on your left. If there is this huge, full color death scene (or whatever) before my eyes as I turn the page, I can’t help but see it, so even though I haven’t read the stuff on the left, I know what happens on the next page. In The Walking Dead I am consistently impressed that they build up the big moment, and then make you turn the page to see what happened. It seems like it would be a simple, obvious thing to make work, but it is rare in my experience. They take the medium seriously, and realize what the reading experience will be like.

I really love this series. In the coming world, post Z-Day, the undead won’t be our only enemies. Other humans in the world, people in our own group of survivors, even our own sanity and grip on reality becomes tenuous and dangerous. Kirkman engages the potential for story in this realm with great attention to detail, honesty, impressive character psychologies, and gifted artistic help. You should read these! (And watch the show on AMC when it finally arrives in October).

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runaways, vol. 1-3. [graphic content.]

Six teens find out their parents are super-villains, then go on the run to thwart their ‘rents evil plan to destroy the world. That’s about the gist of what gets things rolling in Runaways.

I just finished the initial story arc, written by Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina) which is covered in the first three volumes of the graphic novel form of the comics.

These books are really fun and original. It all takes place in the main Marvel universe, but does so with entirely new characters. Among other things, this makes it more exciting than normal when characters from the main universe cross over into the Runaways title, because we get to slowly see these kids become part of the fabric of the rest of this world of superheroes and villains.

Having only read the first three volumes, I’m not sure exactly how often this happens, but the first characters to show up in their book are Cloak and Dagger, so I wonder if writers continue to use the title as a place to play with fun B-List characters.

If the initial arc is any indication, they aren’t afraid to kill off major characters, but who knows if it will be the typical comic book/soap opera ‘no one is ever really dead,’ sort of thing.

The initial arc was great, but I’m curious to see what happened when other writers took over. Brian K. Vaughan is kind of a big deal, so he could probably make anything good. Vaughan wrote the first seven volumes, then #8 was written by none other than JOSS WHEDON!!!! After that, I’ll be interested to see how the series holds up when it transitioned from writer to writer. Either way, I am damned sure looking forward to what is in store for me over the next four volumes.

For those interested in a quick intro to the team, you’ve got Alex Rider, a tactical prodigy who leads the group; Nico (a.k.a. Sister Grimm), she has a staff which gives her magical powers; Chase (a.k.a. Talkback), he is a dumb jock, and he has x-ray goggles and gauntlets that manipulate fire; Gert (a.k.a. Arsenic), she has a telepathic velociraptor named Old Lace, Karolina (a.k.a. Lucy in the Sky), she is an alien and she has all sorts of powers; and Molly, (a.k.a Bruiser, a.k.a., Princess Powerful), she is a super-strong mutant who is also, well, an eleven-year-old girl.

If you’re in the market for a graphic novel to read, you could do a hell of a lot worse than this one. Fun times!

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scott pilgrim. [graphic content.]

If you know me at all, you are probably aware that I love the English language enough that I never, ever use instant message speak. No ‘ty,’ ‘rotf,’ or ‘ttyl.’ You’ll never get even the occasional ‘lol’ or ‘brb.’ That is why what is about to happen is a big deal. And it is all because of Scott Pilgrim.

The in-game nerdspeak, the ‘pwned’ sort, just comes bubbling up at the sheer awesomeness Bryan Lee O’Malley has unleashed on the world.

Let’s pretend you can ask me what I’ve thought of the Scott Pilgrim series so far.

“Hey, Scott. How’s Scott Pilgrim so far?”

[*Head glowing from awesomeness*] OMGWTFBBQLASERS!!!

Scott Pilgrim is amazing! No, seriously. Listen. Well, read. IT. IS. AMAZING.

Epic!

The word ‘original’ has been around for a long time. As have the words ‘awesome, ‘hilarious,’ and ‘magicawonderfulnerdtastic.’ Okay, so I made the last word up, but if it was a word, it would apply to what I am saying. We have been using those words all this time without realizing that they were invented just so that someday there would be the proper adjectives to describe the Scott Pilgrim books.

They are so fucking good. My whole life has simply been biding time, waiting until the day when I finally read about the adventures of Mr. Pilgrim.

I know what you are thinking. “Hey Scott, c’mon. You use hyperbole all the time. They can’t really be that good.”

To that I can only respond with: Shut the hell up, dude. If you ever open your stupid, blasphemous face and talk about Scott Pilgrim that way again, I will come to your house and crack an egg of knowledge all over you.

Seriously. It’s like O’Malley took all the awesome, lame, wonderful parts of the average nerd’s brain, influenced by the fact that we are the first generation to grow up completely immersed in video games, and he created a world out of it. A world where things actually happen the way I pretend they happen in my mind.

If you ever wanted to Level Up for doing the right thing, or have a weapon that offers +2 against Vegans, or get EXP points for going to work, then this is the series of indie comics for you.

These books are absurd in the best way possible, surreal and delightful. There isn’t really a way to describe how different they are from any other graphic novel or comic book I’ve ever read. Sooo good.

I already couldn’t wait for the movie to come out this August. Now I think I might have to get a doctor to place me in a controlled coma to get me from now to Inception, and then from that until Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

I’m already mentally preparing for a trip to Toronto to make a (please forgive the pun) pilgrimage.

That glowing review, and so far I’ve only even read Vol. 1-4. I had no freaking idea that Volume 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour wasn’t out  as a graphic novel yet. It doesn’t come out until JULY?!?!?!?!? Terrible. My heart aches for it. What was that I was saying about a coma? I need to check with my local hospital about that.

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wolverine: old man logan. [graphic content.]

I love it when people take a well-known, fictional universe, and then imagine a dream or nightmare scenario that turns the whole thing on its head. When this sort of thing is done poorly, it rightfully draws the scorn of those who love said fictional universe. However, when it is done well it can be loads of fun.

This sort of thing happens most often in the wonderful world of comic books. The long-term, serial nature of comics makes them the best medium for asking, “Hey, what do you think would happen if [insert insane hypothetical situation]?” I have my own idea for a just such a situation, a whole story arc that imagines what Bruce Wayne would be like if his parents had lived. What would the ‘world’s greatest detective’ look like without all that misplaced rage, guilt and insane drive to repair what can’t be fixed. Yet, that is for another post.

One of the masters of the sort of imaginings mentioned above is Mr. Mark Millar. He brought us Superman: Red Son, wondering what the Man of Steel, and the world, would be like if Kal-El had landed in the U.S.S.R., instead of the United States. He brought us Civil War, in which the US government passes a law forcing all superheroes to present themselves for registration. Heroes take sides on the pro-reg and anti-reg sides, and all hell breaks loose.

Recently, thanks to the Seattle Public Library, I got my hands on a copy of the fairly recent, Wolverine: Old Man Logan. In this, we move two generations into the future. That is, two generations after the bad guys finally realized there are, like, 20 villains to every one superhero, joined together, and took over the world. We find Logan as a simple farmer and family man in California, or, what used to be California. He does nothing at all to set things right. Why? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.

I can’t go into much more detail than that without ruining some enjoyable twists and plot developments. Suffice it to say, it’s a really fun read, albeit, a noticeably darker and more violent one than is often the case, provided by one of the best writers working today, tackling one of the best heroes comics has ever had to offer.

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astonishing x-men. [graphic content.]

An open letter to Joss Whedon:

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Dear Mr. Whedon,

Hey, it’s me, Scott.

First off, I need to apologize. I’ve been an absentee fan.

We both remember how addicted I was to Buffy the Vampire Slayer back in my younger days. That was when I would have given anything to be a hilarious smart-ass like your characters were, especially Oz and Xander. Although, if I’m being honest, I would still give anything to be a hilarious smart-ass like your characters.

Those days my devotion to the fledgling Whedonverse was unswerving.

Spike was the first instance I can recall where a villain was my favorite character in a show or movie. Angel was the first spin-off show I actually watched. And damn was I glad when Cordelia went from the vapid bitch to the clueless heroine so that I didn’t have to feel bad for thinking she was so damned hot. Although, I was still in love with Willow, even after she came out of the closet and made it clear I didn’t have a chance.

I loved every minute of it all.

But then, something happened. Somehow, we drifted apart, and we both know it was all my fault.

I missed Firefly and Serenity until 2009… 2009, Joss!! What’s wrong with me? I can’t really explain my actions because I don’t understand them myself. I’m ashamed, really.

I still haven’t seen Dollhouse. I know, not having cable is no excuse, neither is my mild aversion to the acting of Eliza Dushku. There is really nothing I can do to make it up to you.

Yet, that’s not why I am writing to you, but we will get to that in a moment.

First, I need to apologize for one more thing. Remember back in 2004, when you relaunched Astonishing X-Men for Marvel? That brilliant story arc where you resurrect Colossus, kill one X-Man (whose name I shouldn’t mention so I won’t spoil it for anyone else), and shoot another off into space with little hope of return? Well, I actually got to that party late too, and by late to the party, I mean I just read them last week.

Take some solace in the fact that no one has suffered from my neglect more than myself. I lived for six wasted, useless, futile years without reading your take on the X-Men… I was an idiot.

Yet now, oh Joss, now I have seen the light. It is so glorious! How is it possible to make the X-Men even better than they were before? By making them talk like fucking Joss Whedon characters, that’s how! Even with a fairly small cast of characters, you really turned out a shiny X-Men yarn. You let Wolvie be Wolvie, you offered the very best possible incarnation of Beast, you introduced some great new characters, and you never let us get comfortable, mostly by proving you were willing to kill off innocent kids and such.

Every last bit of it is solid gold!

However, I think your greatest achievement was what you did with Cyclops. How did you do it?

You turned the biggest pussy in the history of comic books into an honest to goodness super-hero. Most of the time, Cyclops is just a flat, boring, vanilla lump who works as a contrast to keep reminding everyone just how badass and unpredictable Wolverine is. And sure, that is how he started out with you, but by the end, Gorram. Joss, by the end he was a real character. He had depth, he was flesh and blood. I ached with him, I felt what it was like to wonder if you’re just a punch-line, to assume Xavier put you in charge of the X-Men because he felt sorry for you.

I believed it when it turned out none of that was true, when it was clear the Cyclops is exactly the sort of man who should be leading by order and example.

By the end of your arc there wasn’t anyone else I wanted leading the X-Men. I would follow your Cyclops into battle any day. Joss, that is nothing short of a miracle.

So, that is why I am writing you this letter. Please, please, please write some more X-Men titles. I promise, this time I wouldn’t be late to the party.

Of course, I am damned sure looking forward to the Shepherd Book comics, whenever they finally come out. But Joss, if you write some more X-Men titles, hell, any comic title for that matter, I will be in on it from day one. I don’t care if it is a fucking Wonder Man comic, I will be in a rutting tent outside Zanadu, here in Seattle, waiting to get my hands on a copy.

I know, there is no way I should be asking you for something, not after how I have failed you as a fan. Yet, I would be remiss if I didn’t try.

Please Joss, do it for the kids, so that they might grow up in a world filled with astonishing Whedon X-men goodness.

Thank you for your time.

With equal parts remorse and pleading,

Scott


 

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y: the last man. [graphic content.]

As a brief intro, this is first post in the ‘graphic content’ series. We’ll also post these with the book posts which still don’t have a title, as well as in the nerd candy category. ‘Graphic Content’ posts will all be about graphic novels/comic books.

In case you haven’t figured this out by now, I’m a huge nerd, and, like many other nerds, I love graphic novels and comic books. Feel free to judge me accordingly if you like, I’m used to it.

Anyway, on to the post.

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The Y chromosome has self-destructed. Every male mammal on the planet has dropped dead in horrible fashion, killed by what appears to be a mysterious virus. Every male embryo is dead, sperm banks are filled with lifeless sperm, there seems to be no present or future for men. Yet, every female on the planet who has survived the crashing planes and such has been left untouched. In some sort of macabre gender-rapture, mankind has become extinct. Extinct, that is, except for the last man on earth, Yorick Brown, and his male Capuchin monkey, Ampersand.

That is where the story begins in Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra. What follows in the graphic novels are the adventures of a lone man and his monkey in a world full of women. No, it’s not porn. It’s a post-apocalyptic rumination on what the world might look like in the wake of the death of men.

Yorick travels across the country and around the globe in search of his girlfriend Beth, some answers as to why all the men died while he and Ampersand survived, and hopefully a cure. His travel companions, aside from Ampersand of course, are Agent 355 of the Culper Ring, assigned to keep Yorick safe, and Dr. Allison Mann, a genius who specializes in genetics and hopes to find a way to save humanity.

I can’t go into much detail beyond that without ruining the story for those who decide to read it for themselves.

For the most part, the characters are flawed and likable individuals wrestling with the aforementioned catastrophe. Vaughn does a great job offering one imaginative possibility of what would happen if all the men died in a world which still slants heavily toward patriarchy. Again, I don’t want to go into much detail.

The story Vaughn and Guerra tell is engaging, and it continues to gain momentum throughout the ten volumes. The tenth and final volume is strong, unexpected and fitting, it also pissed me right the fuck off. Vaughn sticks with a semblance of realism, which sucks when you want the characters you have grown to love to have a happy ending. Instead, the ending is a mixed bag, like life. There are moments in the final volume that genuinely moved me, even though I did kind of want to punch Vaughn in his big fat face.

So, you have been warned, if you decide to read these and you want a nice, clean, Hollywood ending, stop reading after Vol. 9 and make up your own ending.

If you don’t read graphic novels often (or ever), try to get through the first four volumes before you make up your mind about the series. It can take time to adjust to the style of graphic novels in general, and this particular story takes some time to get up to full speed.

Y is a good introduction for those who want to dip their toes in the comic book medium outside of capes and tights. This is a fun post-apocalyptic story, and the fact that it is told with more than just words, but also with artwork, shouldn’t count against it.

As with any sci-fi/post-apocalypse lit, we get to play with several questions, so you might especially like Y: The Last Man if you feel you would enjoy story/conversation/dialogue around such questions as:

What if there was only one man alive, and that man were both an an amateur escape artist and a smart-ass, pop-culture quoting fanboy?

How would women organize the world without men?

What would hope look like after the apocalypse?

Also, Vaughn does a great job playing with the sexism and gender roles in our current culture through the story of what would happen if the world as we know it became purely past tense. Most obviously he does this with his primary characters.

Yorick is a sweet, sensitive, laid-back, non-violent type; Dr. Mann is an insensitive, fairly closed-off, outwardly angry person; and 355 is a strong, dangerous, well-trained killing machine, and also the story’s anchor of courage and goodness. None of the three fit the typical gender slots characters normally get slotted into.

I can’t really tell you anything else, otherwise I would spoil things for you, something I intend never to do. Suffice it to say, Y: The Last Man is worth a look. Check it out.