Friday, February 27, 2009

WW: Watchmen (the movie)

Now, let me just point out that I haven't seen the movie yet even though there's apparently been a preview screening and some people have watched the movie. And I can't say that I've seen every photo, trailer or piece on the Watchmen movie. But what I've seen looks pretty good.

They've certainly managed to capture the look of the comicbook series, that's for sure. I suppose it helps when you've got the artist on the original comics, Dave Gibbons, working with you (one wonders how things would've turned out if Alan Moore was also on board?). So, for the most part, the Watchmen movie looks as close to the comicbook series as a film of moving images and real life actors / locations can look like.

There are differences though. For some reason, they've changed some of the costumes. Rorsharch, Dr Manhattan and the Comedian's costumes and looks are close to the originals. However, Silk Spectre, Nite-Owl and Ozymandias have variations on their comic book looks. To me, Ozy's costume has been changed the most, incorporating more black and less gold, resulting in a costume that doesn't look regal enough. Strangely, they've also changed the shape of the iconic blood splatter. Yes, this is a bit geeky but, still, it is different - albeit more realistic.

It's the story that seems to have been modified the most, from all accounts. Okay, it's difficult to tell from a bunch of trailers, but from various interviews with Zack Snyder and some initial reviews of the movie, it's obvious that some things have changed.

One of the main changes mentioned is, of course, the lack of the Squid. Why they decided to remove the extra-dimensional and psychic creature I'm not entirely sure. It does mean a number of things will have to be changed. The lead up, with reports of artists and writers going missing, is out (supposedly replaced by reports of scientists disappearing). So the link to the Black Freighter comic, which was written by Max Shea and who, in the comic, we saw involved with creating the "alien", is weakened. Also, what did the Comedian see to make him become a target of Ozymandias? He wouldn't have seen the alien on the island and wouldn't have witnessed the genesis of the biggest, cruellest joke on the planet.

The lack of a squid appears to be due to time considerations. I guess explaining to how and the why of this alien being would take up some much-needed time whereas a technological solution (a Manhattan reactor) is easier to explain - even if it doesn't have the horrific impact. Still, apparently a S.Q.U.I.D does appear in the movie. :)

There are probably going to be many more (minor) differences between the graphic novel and the film but, then again, I was kind of expecting that. The fact that the two mediums are vastly different already means that they are not going to be the same and never could be. The couple of reviews I've seen of the movie seem to indicate that, although there are differences, it's faithful to the look, atmosphere and overall story. And that it's a pretty good movie whatever it's origin. That, I think, is the important thing.

So, as Watchmen Week here at PRN starts to draw to a close, there's now only a week to go before the movie is officially out. I'll probably end up seeing it a week or two after that - if I'm lucky. I may even have to wait until it's out on DVD knowing my luck (we'll see).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

WW: Just some random Watchmen pictures

Firstly, a scan of a Watchmen article from the Amazing Heroes Preview Special, January 1985.

And now a Lego version of naked Dr Manhattan:

Which is taken from the following picture:

(the left side shows Dave Gibbons' original sketch whereas the right side shows an image from the movie. They're surprisingly close)

And finally some more "cute" Watchmen toys:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

WW: Watching the Watchmen Dave Gibbons (design by Chip Kidd and Mike Essl)

With Alan Moore severing all ties with DC due to various reasons, it looks like we're not going to get a discussion by him of how the story of Watchmen came about or how he plotted the series, page-by-page and panel-by-panel. However, what we get here is Dave Gibbons' take on things, though primarily concentrating on the glorious artwork that he created over 20 years ago.

And my! What a lot of artwork there is. Firstly, this thick, oversized book is a lot bigger than I'd thought it'd be. It feels like it weighs half a ton. It also seems that Mr Gibbons has saved 95% of all his notes, doodles, rough drafts, and layouts (though none of the actual artwork used in the series) that he produced for Watchmen in the mid eighties. Does this guy throw nothing away!? Of course, nowadays he could sell this stuff for a lot of money - even the rather scribbly bits. In fact, in part of the book Gibbons laments the fact that he sold all his original artwork for the comic book series for a very reasonable sum during the early days.

Together with the treasure trove of art from Gibbons' Watchmen box, a number of other pieces of related artwork and photos of memorabilia are collected. Shown are the various posters used to promote the original series, lead minatures of the main characters, artistic material from the role-playing game and even a picture of a smiley face carrier-bag. I must admit that I quite like the Marvel version mock-up of the Watchmen. Very Kirby-ish.

Most of the book is taken up with Gibbons' roughs showing the layouts for each individual panel. Nearly all pages from all issues are shown in these little sketches. To begin with, it was quite fascinating to see these. But then, after a couple of issues, you realise that they're just rough versions of the art you've already seen and so start to skip over them. Still, it's certainly comprehensive.

Running through the book are words by Gibbons' describing his memories of the time planning, producing and promoting this landmark series. To me, this is the most fascinating part of the book. Obviously, the actual events are over 20 years ago so things are somewhat sketchy, but what is discussed is almost exclusively positive and steers well away from the Moore/DC debacle. John Higgins also chips in a few pages discussing the colouring on Watchmen, including some words about, and examples of, the new colouring job for the Absolute edition.

Overall, the book is a quality piece of work. It's size is large enough to show off the beautiful artwork on good quality, glossy paper. Chip Kidd's design works well and doesn't detract. And there's plenty in there to keep a Watchmen fan flicking through the images for weeks. Still, it's only for those who are real fans of the original comic book series - there's no shots or discussion of the new movie.

Grade: Very Fine.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Heroes: A Clear And Present Danger (vol 4 ep 1)

Well, Volume 4 of Heroes is off to a strange, but exciting, start. As hinted at right at the end of volume 3, senator Nathan Petrelli has decided to round up all the people with powers for their own safety and the safety of 'normal' people around them. In this episode, we catch up with the so-called "heroes" and what they've been up to for the last 2 months or so and then - blam - most of them are captured by Nathan's armed goons.

I had expected the state of things at the end of this episode (all the heroes captured, drugged and clad in orange overalls, and shipped off to a Super Guantanamo Bay) to take around half a dozen episodes and not just 40 minutes! Things seemed to whizz by without much explanation. Considering the creators want to start afresh so as not to alienate people, I'm not sure this episode was a great jumping-on point. For newcomers there's no explanation of who these folk are, what they can do, nor why they're being captured.

Still, for someone like me who has enjoyed this show from the beginning is does make more sense. Although I'm still not sure why Nathan is rounding up all the superpowered people. If he thinks that anyone with a power is dangerous why isn't he rounding himself up? If he thinks he can control his power and it's not dangerous, why not just go out and grab the dangerous or unstable superpeople?

It all comes across as Heroes' version of Marvel's Civil War, with Nathan Petrelli as a version of Tony Stark. And, like that crossover miniseries, it doesn't quite click together. It's like the characters and storyline have been shoehorned into this situation without much thought behind it. Perhaps all will be revealed later in the series?

Having said all that, it was still an interesting, exciting episode that ended on a cliffhanger. Hiro, Ando and the Ando-cycle were great fun. Ando's power is indeed pretty useless unless paired with another 'hero'. Not only has Peter become a paramedic now but his power has changed too. It seems he has to touch people to gain their powers. And why is Noah working for the bad guys and happy to let Nathan take Claire away?

Enjoyable, if slightly flawed, start to volume 4. Fine.

WW: Watchmen Annotations

Watchmen Week continues as I follow on from yesterday's review of the graphic novel with some links.

Assuming you've read the Watchmen comics before - perhaps numerous times - then I find it's best to have a read of some handy annotations listed on the web to
further appreciate this fine series. Some of these annotations have pointed out things that I never knew about or weren't aware of on the first couple of readings. Here's some recommended links:

Watchmen Observations by Steven Blatt
Watching the Detectives by Stuart Moulthrop
Watchmen Annotations by Doug Atkinson (this list of annotations appears a lot on the web)
The Book in the Mirror: Reading Chapter V of Watchmen by Jessica Furé and Stuart Moulthrop

Plus here's a couple of other useful Watchmen webpages:

Wikipedia's Watchmen Page (I love Wikipedia)
Dennette's Watchmen Page

There are plenty of others out there, especially now that the film is just around the corner, but the above are a few of the best I've found in the past.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Heroes (season 4)

Yay! Heroes is back on tonight – BBC2 at 9pm.

A lot of people didn’t appear to think much of the last season. I don’t know why. I thought it was the most like a comic book (without the characters actually wearing costumes) of all the seasons. It was certainly the most exciting – right at the beginning there was a breakout of supervillains followed by a bank heist. What more do people want!? Considering how slow the first half of season 1 was – and yet folk still liked it a lot - I’m surprised people didn’t like season 3.

Admittedly, there was a little too much reliance on time-travel and precognition. And the ending was somewhat weak. But otherwise it was the best season of the three. In my opinion, of course.

And now season 4 - “Fugitives” – will be on to keep me happy on Monday evenings. (And with E4 about to start new episodes of Smallville on Tuesdays, that should cover the beginning of the week for a while).

Being Human: epsiode 5

Oh. My. Goodness.

For me, the mark of a good TV series is when you get a cliffhanger at the end of an episode and you just can't wait another week to see what happens next. I certainly got that sense of excitement from yesterday's episode of Being Human, still currently the best thing on British TV.

Mitchell joined up with the other vampires again, disillusioned with the actions of 'real' humans. They seemed to be trying to help humans, only turning those that agreed to it. However Mitchell soon found out that really, in the end, all the vampires wanted to do was feed. Meanwhile, having decided to haunt her ex-fiancé, Annie tried to scare the living cack out of him, but it failed and we got to see his inner evilness. George, well, didn't really have much to do this episode other than play footsie with Nina and react to Annie and Mitchell's stories.

I found this week's episode to be funnier than the others. A number of times I was chuckling along (like during Annie and George's rescue of Mitchell). Sapphire and Steel got name-checked and so did Hustle (well, fellow BBC3 show "Real Hustle" anyway). It also progressed the series back-plot the most as the vampires began to ramp up their plans to take over Bristol (and then – the World!).

So, what did Annie say to her fiancé to eventually scare the hell out of him? Will she walk through the door to the Other Side and true death? Will Mitchell die from a fatal case of stake-in-the-chest? What will George do on his own if his two friends do pass on? Eek!

The only bad news is that next week's episode is the last one. Typical! Just when a really great show comes along, it's only on for six weeks. Why can't we have 22 episode seasons like the good ol' US of A?

This episode was so good I’m bumping up the grading on this to Near Mint.

WW: Watchmen (the "graphic novel")

Is this the best superhero comic book graphic novel ever?

No, it isn't.

There, I said it. Now, although it isn't the best, it is very, very good. And it is the cleverest graphic novel - or to be more correct trade collection of a limited comic book series - that I own and have read.

Produced in the mid-eighties by the near-godlike Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen changed the way superheroes were perceived, at least by the comic book readers of the time. Instead of being bright spandex-wearing beacons of goodness, costumed crimefighters were now shown as darker, psychologically disturbed individuals. More gore and blood was also introduced. It was the dawn of the grim'n'gritty superhero comics.

I never read the original comic books at the time. It was only after a number of years that, because of all the fuss, I decided to buy the collected "graphic novel" and read it. The first time I read it, I didn't like it that much. It was too dark and not superheroey enough for me. Even now I think it's a little too dark - although, because comics have somewhat followed this grim path, I'm somewhat more used to it now so I appreciate it more. And, also on that first reading, I wasn't aware how clever and brilliant it was.

Watchmen makes great use of the comic book form. It does things that you couldn't do in a prose novel or a movie. It overlays text (often "voiceovers") on images that appear to be unrelated to the text, which in turn contrasts, sometimes humourously, with the pictures. Symbols, such as the smiley face or the blood drop, often reoccur throughout the book. The whole of issue five, chapter V "Fearful Symmetry", is symmetrical - the individual panels reflect one another from front to back (the chapter number V itself is symmetrical). And so on.

Even now, when I've read this book a number of times, I notice new things. Like the way the speech balloons are different for the different periods (the Minutemen words appear in clouds, the Crimebusters words in smooth ovals whereas the 'current' period words appear in rounded polygonal balloons). Or how each flashback in issue 9 (I think) ends with spilled liquids, echoing the fate of the spinning Nostalgia bottle. There are many, many more interesting little facets like these - I'll probably post some links tomorrow to some annotations which cover some of these. But the overriding story itself, when you strip all the cleverness, back histories and flashbacks, isn't the greatest ever.

There's a big conspiracy afoot and, although at first it looks like the costumed crimefighters are the targets, in fact most of New York and the fate of the world in general are at stake. I'm sure you know the story. It's the way Moore weaves the stories together and fleshes out the history that makes this great.

Gibbons' art is also a joy to behold. Clean, restrained and detailed with an obvious style it tells the story well without, surprisingly, resorting the usual comic book traditions at the time of movement lines, irregular panels, and sound effects. At times the colours are a little garish and bright (especially considering the story is so dark) but this just gives it a surreal quality.

The book itself is a good weight, nice and thick. It's feels just the right size in the hand. The pages unfortunately aren't glossy but seem a reasonable quality. There's no extras other than those wonderful text pieces that ran at the back of the individual issues. It does the job well though not astoundingly.

So, overall this is a very good book but not perfect. Around 20 years ago, I probably would have said it was okay but wondered what all the fuss was about - and given it maybe a Fine grading. But, like a good wine, it's actually improved greatly with age and my understanding of it, and - for the sheer cleverness and Gibbons' lovely art alone - I'm going to give it the following grade: Near Mint.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sunday Spotlight: Dave Gibbons

To start off both Watchmen Week and Sunday Spotlight, here's some art drawn by one of Britain's best artists and co-creator of the Watchmen series - Dave Gibbons. Originally, I remember Dave Gibbons from his art on Harlem Heroes and Robusters in Starlord and then 2000AD. Although I didn't much care for the Harlem Heroes (basketball players in rocket-packs?!) I thought the pictures were impressive and very detailed.

Of course, Dave has also produced other work, such as on Doctor Who (see above) and Green Lantern, but he's best known for his work on Watchmen. The first image above is taken from the cover of the Watchmen RPG (I think).

For more Dave Gibbons goodness, see
his fansite or the Art Droids site. DC Comics also has a Watchmen minisite containing some of his sketches and art.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Watchmen Week

In anticipation of the Watchmen movie, which is out around the 6th March (about two weeks away), I thought I'd do a Watchmen themed week here at PRN. It'll cover my poorly written review of the graphic novel, some thoughts on the movie and a couple of other things related to the "ex-Crimebusters that everyone is calling the Watchmen but who are never called that in the comicbook series". Ahem.

For now, I'll just add that it's worth checking out the official Watchmen movie site, the New Frontiersman site and DC's Watchmen minisite to see some trailers and artwork.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Being Human: episode 4

There's not a lot more I can say about this show that I haven't already said. Another good episode, well written and competently acted. It's still one of the best British shows on at the moment and certainly makes Sunday evenings more interesting.

One thing that I have noticed about this show is that, although the first two-thirds of each episode are good, it’s the last 15 or 20 minutes that seems to shine. Maybe it’s just me, but it all seems to come together in that last third.

This week Mitchell was accused of being a "peedo" after becoming friends with a boy, George gets closer to Nina but then pushes her away, afraid of his monstrous nature and Annie gets all poltergeisty after she found out that her fiance killed her.

I found it interesting how Fleur, the mother of the boy that Mitchell befriends, considers Mitchell more of a monster when she thinks he’s a paedophile than when he tells her he’s a vampire. In fact, she even agrees for Mitchell to turn her son into a blood-sucking, human-killing creature of the night!

And at the end we see Mitchell head back to Herrick and seemingly back to his killing ways. Eek! What will happen? I guess I'll have to wait until this Sunday to find out.

Grade: Very Fine.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Demons: Nothing Like Nebraska (episode 6)

And that was that. Demons comes to an end with a slightly better episode but nothing that leaves me particularly thrilled. I had hoped that this series would get better as it went along. Buffy, its American counterpart, was shaky to begin with but got better. Unfortunately, Demons didn't follow the same path. Mind you, Demons only had 6 episodes...

We found out some interesting information about Luke's dad Jay and how he died. We'd known for a while that Galvin was somehow involved in Jay's death but not the details. It seems Jay, instead of smiting half-lives, was interested in forming a truce with them. He wanted humans and half-lives to live together. For some reason, this required giving his baby son (Luke) to the half-lives, which Galvin stopped.

Sure, Jay giving baby Luke to the monsters seemed like a loony idea. Perhaps he thought that a human - and a Van Helsing at that - brought up by half-lives would appreciate their point of view and be able to heal the rift between them? Or some nonsense.

But why is the idea of deciding to form a truce with them instead of killing them (like Galvin does) such a bad idea? Up to now, the half-lives have not been painted as completely evil creatures. Heck, some - like Mina and Father Simeon - appear to be good guys helping the gang. So surely joining with them and routing out the bad ones sounds like a reasonable idea. Jay actions - other than the whole giving your baby son away - didn't seem that bad. So it's difficult to understand why Galvin is right and Jay is wrong and why we should care.

Also difficult to understand was Thrip's nature. Was he a ghost, as he seemed to be throughout most of the episode? Or a vampire, as Mina named him when she attacked him? Being a vampire would explain how she could kill him but other attacks couldn't. But can vampires do ghostly things in the Demons universe? It was a nice bit with Mina vamping out but the end seemed to be resolved too quickly.

So, overall, this wasn't a bad series but it wasn't a particularly good one either. Okay, I guess, but it wouldn't stand a chance against Doctor Who. And it isn't even as good as BBC3's Being Human. It also appears that the viewing figures have been falling as the series continued, from about 6.2 million to 3.4 million. So it doesn't look likely that we'll see series 2.

Grade: Good.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Filler and Liefeld

I'm off for the next couple of days, including today. I'll be back at the end of the week when I'll be starting Watchmen Week.

In the meantime, talking of Rob Liefeld (see Sunday's post) and having read the recent Youngblood week over on Mike Sterling's Progressive Ruin (great blog BTW), I thought I'd leave you with a couple of pictures by Rob. I mean, it's not like it'll affect my readership, will it?
Actually, I don't think Rob Liefeld's art is that bad. Sure, his take on anatomy is somewhat strange and he's not very good at backgrounds, but sometimes his stuff is fun and exciting. The image below is pretty good, for instance.

Then again, sometimes he just gets it wrong...

See you in a few days!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday Spotlight

I'm going to be running a regular feature here on PRN called Sunday Spotlight. Hopefully, this will appear every Sunday, as the title suggests, and will spotlight comic book artists that I like (for some reason or other).

I'll be posting two or three eye-popping images of the chosen artist's work together with a link or two to elsewhere on the internet to find more of their work. That should hopefully brighten up the place!

The artists (usually pencillers) will not be listed in any particular order; they'll just appear randomly, everyone from the good to the great. Will Rob Liefeld make the list? Erm, probably not.

That's the plan. Pretty pictures every Sunday when I normally wouldn't be posting 'cos I'm lazy. We'll see whether I keep up with it, eh?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hustle: The Road Less Travelled (episode 6 season 5)

Well, that was a good end to the latest series. Overall, a pretty decent series 5 with this last episode probably the best.

I've always wondered why previous marks and conned victims didn't try and get their own back. This week we found out why. It was the return of Carlton and Harry from episode 2's "New Recruits". It made sense that these guys would feel angry at getting conned and so would try to get their money back. And so they decide to enlist an old school chum - the slow and slightly stupid Alfie who happens to be the son of a duke - to be Micky and the gang's latest mark. Carlton and Harry have been reading up about cons and know that the gang will pull a convincer first to attract the mark before taking the mark for a big hit. So they'll get Alfie to be "convinced" to the tune of 1 million pounds, doubling his money, but then cut and run before the big hit occurs. Everything is planned out. Nothing can go wrong.

Of course, we can guess that Micky and gang have a trick up their sleeve even though it looks like they're going to lose one mill (seriously, they have £1 million hidden away?!). The thing is, how are they going to outcon Carlton and Harry?

I thought that perhaps dumb Alfie wasn't actually as stupid as he acted and was in league with Micky. But, well, I was wrong. It was a great surprise ending as the gang turned the tables on the swindling businessmen. So well executed and well setup. Absolutely brilliant.

Of course, with this being the last episode this series, it means that they'll be no Hustle next week. Which is a shame. Although not the most amazing show on the air, I enjoyed this immensely. Ah well - apparently, Heroes is back on BBC soon!

Grade: Very Fine.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Earth X

This magnum opus by Alex Ross (who provided ideas and notes), Jim Krueger (writer) and John Paul Leon (art) is, essentially, Marvel's version of Kingdom Come. The weighty tome of 14 issues (Earth X #1 to #12 plus #0 and #X) describes a possible future of the Marvel universe, where everyone now has superpowers, and - in the usual Marvel manner - explores the ramifications.

Surprisingly, this mini-series often gets overlooked. Kingdom Come is generally celebrated as an insightful, sometimes dark but eventually heroic, depiction of a future DC universe, whereas Earth X doesn't get much of a mention. Which is a pity because Earth X is a fascinating piece of work that somehow manages to knit the history of the Marvel universe together, provide a decent story and cosmic threat whilst containing most of Marvel's characters in one form or another.

Through the eyes and narration of Aaron Stack - also known as Machine Man - we learn about this alternate future and about the older, familiar yet changed characters such as Captain America, Reed Richards and Peter Parker. We also discover how they are under threat from Hydra, a collection of squid-like parasites that control their human hosts and the Skull, a boy who can mind-control anyone he meets. Eventually, Captain America and the others defeat the Skull and drive back Hydra but learn of a greater threat from both above and below them. Machine Man warns them that the Celestials genetically altered humans eons ago so that they would develop superpowers in order to protect the planet - which happens to contain a Celestial egg that will soon 'hatch'. The Celestials arrive and, in desperation, the heroes call on a new Galactus to help save them.

To be honest, there's way too much to describe here - see the Wikipedia entry for more details or, better yet, read the TPB. And its size and scope are perhaps part of the problem with Earth X. Kingdom Come managed to tell its story in 4 (larger) issues whereas this story is 3 times as big. So there's more going on and more threads weaving within the fabric of the narrative. Also, Jim Krueger tends to tell the reader what's going on rather than showing them. There's a lot of exposition, and hence a lot of words, to describe what's happened, how characters have developed and how they fit into the plot.

It also doesn't help that the art on Earth X isn't by Ross, although Ross does provide some character designs and sketches that appear along with the text pieces at the end of each issue. Leon's art looks dark and murky and, at first, I didn't like it. Now though it's grown on me and I actually think he does a very good job. The art matches the mood and is consistent throughout the book - unlike the following Universe X series. But Leon is no Alex Ross and the art does not have Ross' wonderful painted realism.

The mention of Universe X also raises another potential problem. Earth X is mostly a stand-alone story but a few threads are left dangling. These could have been tied up, or removed, in this volume. Instead, Krueger, Ross and a host of artists carried on telling tales in this alternate reality with Universe X and Paradise X. One wonders whether they should have stopped at the end of Earth X.

Still, this is an engaging story line with decent art and an interesting alternative future for the Marvel universe. And the book itself has a gratifying weight to it. Even in soft back, it's a nice volume, with a painted cover by Ross and quality, glossy pages throughout. It's a pity Marvel hasn't tried to echo some of this universe into the Earth-666 timeline. Recommended to those who love grand, comprehensible tales covering the whole of the Marvel universe.

Grade: Very Fine.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

JSA: Ghost Stories

For some reason, my local library seems to stock quite a lot of Justice Society of America (JSA) trade paperbacks, more so than any other superpowered team. Not that I mind. I quite like the JSA and the fact that I can read their adventures for free (albeit completely out of order because it depends what my library has available at the time) is a huge bonus.

In the past, the JSA has generally played second fiddle to the Justice League of America (JLA). And it’s obvious why. The JLA has the big three - DC’s Trinity - of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, three of the best-known superheroes out there. Even the JLA’s other heroes, like Flash and Green Lantern, are reasonably well known. True, the JSA have the original heroes that bear those names, but the JLA versions tend to be considered the "real" and "official" deals.

Yet, recently, the writing on JSA has been so much better than that on JLA. Geoff Johns (together with Dave Goyer and James Robinson) has been the one that brought the JSA back to greatness with his brilliant grasp of heroic characters. Sure, he is somewhat bloodthirsty - he seems to like to add decapitations and limb-removals wherever he can - but otherwise he’s a wonderful writer.

Still, enough about JSA in general. What about this trade paperback collection of issues 82 to 87 of the continuing series?

Well, at first I was worried because this collection is not by Geoff Johns but Paul Levitz. Levitz is now DC’s president and publisher but many years ago he was the old school writer of the Justice Society in All-Star Comics and Legion of Superheroes. So I shouldn’t have been too concerned because, although not as good as Johns, Levitz still provides an interesting story that whips along. And, although the art is not consistent, the three artists in this collection are good. Jerry Ordway is a fine artist, Rags Morales is the JSA mainstay and provides lovely looking rounded figures and what can I say about George Perez? He’s one of my all-time favourite artists who conjures up absolutely beautiful artwork.

Perez opens this collection with a sort of lost story concerning the Earth 2 JSA that also links in with Infinite Crisis and 52. The flashbacks are drawn in an old style and look marvellously retro. This sets up the idea that the Gentleman Ghost (GG), one of Hawkman’s - and the JSA’s - old foes, had stolen information about the JSA years ago.

Admittedly, this little fact isn’t really picked up in later chapters, most of which are drawn by Morales. I suppose it’s to explain how ghosts from the JSA’s past are resurrected by GG. These ghosts go on to haunt the various members of the JSA of the present and, although the focus is on stalwarts like Jay Garrick (Flash) and Alan Scott (Green Lantern), all the characters are given a moment or two to shine.

Creepy ghosts appear aplenty to plague the heroes and at the end of this collection, the army of spooks even go as far as somehow destroying the JSA headquarters. GG's past, before he became a ghost, is explored and eventually the JSA confront the ghost at the Tower of London and then Windsor Castle.

Although a lively, engaging story there are a few faults. GG's olde English accent is way off - he sounds more stereotypical Irish than English. The ending is both rushed and seems a little cobbled together. Wildcat is able to hit and hurt GG because he's descended from English nobility? Wildcat?!? He was one of the few characters that didn't appear much in this story until right at the end. Relocating the action to England also didn't help, especially when Stargirl has to go off to get Green Lantern. And if GG is from England, why does he haunt the Justice Society of America?

So, it's not the best superhero story ever or even the best JSA story of recent years. But, as a self-contained story, it's still pretty entertaining. And, although it would've been nice if the art were consistent (and even better if it was all done by Perez), the artists on this book are all good. The quality of the book is okay, with lovely glossy pages, although the only extras you get are the original covers. So, overall, a Fine grade.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kung Fu Panda

Okay, this review is a bit out of date but what the heck - it's my blog!

Kung Fu Panda - it pretty much does what it says in the title. It's about an unfit, overweight panda (voiced by Jack Black) that has dreams about being a master of kung fu. He "mistakenly" gets picked to be the next Dragon Warrior. Cue humorous scenes involving the training of the large panda. Meanwhile a former pupil and master of kung fu, angry at being refused the Dragon Warrior title in the past, escapes prison and heads back to claim what he believes is rightfully his. This results in a Big Fight (tm)... etc, etc.

It's a fun film and the fight scenes are fantastic - the sort of stuff you can only do in an animation. The escape from the supposedly inescapable prison was absolutely awesome.

The film perhaps wasn't quite as funny as some other animated films and had a lack of true "laugh out loud" moments. But then it did have face-kicking fight scenes instead to make up for this. And it didn't have any musical numbers like other animated films often do (whether this is a good thing or bad thing is purely down to personal taste. In this case, I think it was a good thing). Therefore this loud, cartoony movie probably isn't for the really young kids. It would appeal to fans of Power Rangers and the like.

So - good animation, excellent voice acting, action-packed, funny and touching. Recommended, though I'm a big fan of animated movies so it might score less if you don't care much for cartoons. Grade: Fine.

Hawk the Slayer Sequel and Youngblood

Blimey. It appears that the 80's cheesy fantasy film Hawk the Slayer is getting a sequel. I fondly remember the original, which although cheesy to the extreme was also very atmospheric and Dungeons-and-Dragonsy. I'm sure it's not dated well - it's been dozens of years since I've seen it - but I do remember it having the coolest elf in cinema history, called Crow. That guy could fire arrows like a machine-gun!

The fact that they're doing a sequel - called Hawk the Hunter - at first makes me go "Yeah!!" and then makes me think "Why?!". I mean it's hardly like it was a big hit at the time. And as far as I know, people haven't been desperate for a sequel. Still, I'm looking forward to seeing it (if it ever actually comes out).

Also, there are rumours that Brett Ratner is going to be directing a Youngblood film. Yep, the Image comic series from the 90s, created by Rob Liefeld (god bless 'im), might actually make it to the big screen! Seriously!

What is the world coming to?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Being Human (episode 3)

Another good episode of this tucked-away little gem. Although this week I found that the first half of the show dragged a little. Perhaps it was Sunday night tiredness?

This week’s episode focussed on Annie, the resident ghost, as she ‘commiserated’ (i.e. wept whilst trashing the kitchen) the date of her planned wedding day. So Mitchell introduces her to a fellow spirit named Gilbert, who died in the mid-eighties. Gilbert goes on to explain a few things about being a ghost to Annie and about how there’s something that they, as wandering spirits, still have to do before passing on to the afterlife. Annie decides to be her fiancé’s ghostly wife, with unfortunate results, and in the process remembers how she died. Poor Annie!

I think Gilbert was supposed to be this sad but gentle guy that deep-down we were all supposed to be routing for. But I found him… creepy. I was half expecting him to try to assault Annie in some way. It wasn’t until near the end, when Gilbert had found the thing that was stopping him from moving on (to be able to love), that I realised this character was supposed to be a good guy. A great scene with the new ‘door’ though – very well played.

Meanwhile, Mitchell had to deal with Lauren and the result of turning her into a vampire whilst George got off with nurse Nina (is that her name?), although he was worried that he might “wolf-out” during the, erm, pleasurable act. I’m starting to think that there’s a rule that says Russell Tovey, who plays George, has to be naked in every episode (unfortunately Nina wasn’t naked during the sex scene). Mitchell and Lauren also ‘got it on’, though in a more vampiric way. Again, the backstory of Herrick’s vampires trying to turn Mitchell back onto the blood wagon and the build up to taking over the human world creeps along.

As I mentioned, I didn’t think this week’s episode was quite as good as the first two, although it’s still one of the best shows on TV at the moment. Part of me thinks more action would just be the cherry on the top rounding this show off nicely but I also think it would probably cheapen the show. And, perhaps, ruin what is already a fantastic programme.

Grade: Very Fine.

Buying Bargain Books (part 2)

Well, my “damaged” and very cheap copy of the Kingdom Come TPB was delivered at the weekend. That was the one that I ordered from the Amazon Marketplace for just 1p. And it looks in better condition than many new books. There’s no crease on the front or back cover. It all looks wonderfully glossy and new.

It’s only on closer inspection inside that I found a fault inside. There appears to be a manufacturing problem on two facing pages (which show the cover to issue 2 of the original series). The pages are kind of torn but have been stuck back on to the original pages. It’s difficult to describe but it’s a bit like the top layer of paper split off from the rest. Anyway, it’s perfectly readable and only affects these two pages anyway, so it’s in much, much better condition than I was expecting. And for the price, well, I certainly can’t argue.

The Universe X TPB also came. Considering this was supposed to be new, there’s a slight crease on the back cover and so appears to be in slightly worse condition - though still perfectly fine - than the “used” book.

Expect a review of these sometime in the future.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Hustle: Politics (Episode 5 Season 5)

Well, as I said before, Hustle is consistantly good. Although I missed the first ten minutes of the show it still entertained. Of course, it was yet another con job, and required more suspension of disbelief at the luck and coincidences, but if you like these things then this show is great.

This time the gang get mistaken for a bunch of lawyers after another successful con and are asked to help represent a youth club that about to be demolished by an ambitious politician. Sean has to go undercover working for this dragon and finds out that working the inside can be pretty tough.

Of course, they deduce that the woman is dishonest (she's a politician after all!) and creaming money off of delisting buildings. But he covers her tracks very well. However, eventually they bug her office and get her to confess - whilst, of course, making a little money (£100k) along the way.

As has been touched on in earlier episodes, the fire between Mickey and Emma hots up a little (although much of this we find out was merely an act to lure the mark). And Sean gets protective. The ending, which amounts to blackmailing the politician, seemed a little convenient but overall this was as enjoyable as ever. Next week's season final sounds pretty interesting though.

So again, this gets a Fine grading.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Torchwood: Children Of Earth

They are coming...

Later this year Torchwood (the Doctor Who spin-off) returns for season 3, which has the overall title of "Children of Earth". Apparently it's about a government who struck a deal in the 1960s with an alien race and the consequences that come from that action - something that will affect all the children on Earth. And, of course, the Torchwood team - Captain Jack, Gwen and Ianto - are called in to save mankind whilst still coming to terms with the death of two of their comrades.

The bad news is that this season is only 5 episodes long. The good news is that it's on BBC1 and that the Beeb has just released a trailer for it. Hoorah!

The fabulous trailer can be found at the BBC Torchwood site.

It looks pretty amazing (although trailers often do). It's strange how kids can be spooky, eh? Anyway, I can't wait for Torchwood (and the next Doctor Who special) to come back on our screens!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Writer's Tale Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook.

This is a year in the life - told in emails between the two authors - of New Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies (who apparently shares the same first name as myself). This thick and weighty tome covers his time writing the fourth season of the show, from around early 2007 to early 2008 and even covers stuff like the most recent Christmas special "The Next Doctor" and onto Series 5.

For those interested in writing or Dr Who - or both - this is a great read. I got it as a Christmas present and it's nice to dip into it and read a chapter, although chapter breaks seem somewhat random. It's also full of snapshots from the show, doodles by RTD himself and behind the scenes stuff. Some of the things touched on about writing rings true (to me), although - of course - I don't have any experience writing a well-loved, award-winning TV show watched by millions.

Of course, whilst reading this book, you learn a number of things about RTD:

- He's much taller than he looks in interviews (he's 6'6")

- He's sex-mad, writing characters for attractive actors so that he might (though never does) cop off with them

- He insecure and always doubting what he's written

- He writes to "entertain" not necessarily to get things "right".

- He's very, very good at cartoony drawings.

- He's not quite as happy and nice as his on-screen persona appears

- He seems to do all his writing at night, usually well after midnight

- He smokes like a chimney

A few scripts are also included in this book (the Kylie-starring 'Voyage of the Damned' Christmas special and the spectacular end of season 4 two-partner, I think). These are shown piece-meal as Russell writes them and so changes are made as the book progresses. It's interesting to see that the end of season 4, with Rose back on the alternate Earth, changed a number of times. I personally don't think the end we finally got was actually the best of the revisions.

So, it's a fun book and very easy to read and recommended to all Dr Who fans. As RTD would say, "Marvellous!"

Grade: Very Fine.

X-Men Evolution

There have been a number of superhero animated cartoon shows, some of which - like Batman and Spiderman ones - were generally good. One of the ones I liked was X-Men Evolution. The style of animation looked pretty slick (similar to the new Wolverine and the X-Men cartoon) and I’ve always been a big fan of the X-Men. Of course, it didn’t help that this was yet another iteration of Marvel’s merry mutants with an altered history and slightly different take on the characters. Between these various cartoons, the films, Ultimate X-Men and the “standard” Earth-616 X-Men there must be, like, a dozen different versions. Still, this one at least looked pretty.

Anyway, it wasn’t until recently that I found out that you can watch some of the X-Men Evolution episodes online, for free, at Marvel’s website. Follow this link and then click on the left and right arrows to select different episodes:

I think there are about a dozen episodes on there.

They also have the latest Fantastic Four animated show on there as well!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Buying Bargain Books

My favourite real world place for books and the like (including great coffee and cake!) is Borders. But my favourite place for actually buying books is Amazon, because the selection and prices are generally very good.

For instance, the other day I ordered a couple of things from Amazon (well, the Amazon Marketplace) - a Kingdom Come TPB and Universe X Vol 1 TPB. Funnily, both involve 'alternate' futures of the two main superhero universes and Alex Ross. I loves me some Alex Ross (erm, you know what I mean).

The Universe X one was about £2.70 (+P&P) for an unused - i.e. new - book, which is quite some discount. But not as much of a discount that I got for the Kingdom Come book. That was only 1p. Yes, one penny! (plus postage and packaging of £2.75, mind you). Admittedly this was for a 'used' book that has some damage but still, that's a bargain.

Now, I actually already have issues 1, 3 and 4 of the Kingdom Come mini-series. At the time I didn't get issue 2 because I didn't realise this was a mini-series. I thought issue 1 of Kingdom Come was a one-shot. Although the ending of #1 seemed a little strange, I thought that that was it. Superman had reappeared to save the day from all those new, young and violent upstarts. Everything was going to be okay. End of story.

It wasn't until a few months later that I saw issue 3 in the comic shop. Of course, they'd sold out of issue 2 by then so I missed out. Suddenly, the 'ending' wasn't as strange any more because, of course, it wasn't actually the ending! I wished they'd made it more obvious that it was a 4 issue mini-series.

Anyway, at just 1p, I thought it worth getting the TPB to fill in the gap. I think it also has an additional epilogue at the end that wasn't in the original and perhaps a few other additional bits and bobs. I am slightly concerned about the condition, mind you, which was described as average and readable but with large creases on the front and back covers and in the pages themselves. But I'll see when I get it.

And for the price, it can't be bad.

Demons: Smitten (episode 5)

The fact that I've only got around to watching this yesterday when it was shown on Saturday should indicate that I'm not excitingly eager and keen to see this. I mean, it's okay but I'm not sitting here desperately wanting to know what happens next and looking forward to next week's episode. Demons is better than a lot of stuff on TV but only just.

I think there are two problem areas with this show.

The first is the problem that often hampered Merlin and that was the monster-of-the-week format. Some creature turns up, causes problems, the good guys defeat it and everything is reset back to the beginning. Merlin at least had Nimueh as a recurring villainess. Demon doesn't have any connection between each episode nor does it have any real overarching plot.

The second problem is that it takes itself too seriously. There isn't enough comedy or amusing one-liners to contrast with the grimness. Buffy had its funny moments and good scripting. Even the premise was humorous and ironic - a small, blonde, slightly dippy and vacuous valley girl (called Buffy, of all names!) is actually a strong, powerful slayer of gruesome monsters. You don't get any of that irony with Demons and any witty dialog in the show tends to fall flat.

Anyway, this week it seems like they were dragging up young actors from CBBC. Clyde (from the Sarah Jane Adventures) turned up as a thug and Mysti (from the Mysti Show) was this week's monster-of-the-week, Alice. The fact that she was this week's bad guy was obvious after she'd spoken more than a few lines. And, considering the week before a giant flying creature was shown in the preview, it wasn't difficult to guess that Alice would change into this 'harpy' (well, my wife didn't guess it until the point that Alice actually started to change, so perhaps it wasn't that obvious).

The writers could have put a twist in the story. They could have made us think that Alice was the monster and then, near the end, reveal that she wasn't after all. They could have had Luke regretfully smite Alice only to find out the harpy was someone else, or Alice's 'pet', or her sister/mother/child. Or perhaps have Alice realise that she was wrong to try and kill Luke - because Luke wasn't the one who killed her sisters - and thus leave the gang with a moral quandary. Should they kill the repentant half-life or let her go (or even join them - Mina's a sort of vampire after all)?

But no. In the end, Mysti - I mean, Alice - is a half-life and therefore evil. She's trying to kill Luke. So they smite her. There's no real grey area. And next week, it'll be back to smiting the next monster-of-the-week. Although it appears we find out the obvious "revelation" that Galvin was involved in Luke's father's death.

Having said all that, there are moments that are entertaining. Galvin very occasionally gets in a pithy and amusing line (albeit said in that dodgy American accent). The action's good but there should be more. The effects - such as Alice's transformation and the harpy itself - aren't bad for an early evening show. It's not a bad show, just nowhere near as good as it could be (and not as good as BBC3's urban-horror-fantasy show, Being Human). I had hoped that Demons would improve from episode to episode but this hasn't been the case. And time has run out because next week's episode - "Nothing Like Nebraska" - is the last in the series.

Grade: Good.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Final Crisis Singing

Seems there's a meme going around concerning the song Superman sings to save the world at the end of Final Crisis (in Final Crisis #7 - which I haven't read). Chris Sims has also had his say, so here's my attempt.

Supes can only be singing the "greatest" Bryan Adams song of all time...

The multiverse really must be in a crisis if that's what's going to save us!


Apologies if the formatting of these blog posts is all over the place. I'm still getting used to this blogging lark and I keep posting using different methods. Eventually it'll probably settle down to a single font-size, font-family, colour, etc. In the meantime, it's gonna be chaos!

...especially since I've currently got a bad cold. *sniff*

Monday, February 02, 2009

Top of the Pops

This week's number one in the UK is Lily Allen's "The Fear". I've only heard it once but it sounded damned good. Hopefully I'll hear it many more times when it gets played repeatedly on the radio (especially on Radio 1).

Mind you, I really liked Miss Allen's first album "Alright, Still" so I'm somewhat biased. It was bouncy and boppy and I strangely like her singing Cockney accent. There are also some great, amusing lines in the songs too, even though the lads in her life seem to be getting an almighty putdown. Not a bad song on that album, in my opinion.

I even have, and liked, her song (was it called "Oh My God"?) on Mark Ronson's "Version". :)

Makes a change from listening to High School Musical or Girls Aloud – that’s what my daughter’s into at the moment.

Being Human - Episode 2

After the first episode's cracking start, this supposed comedy-drama continues to impress. I felt that last week’s episode was probably slightly better but this week was still very good. Currently, I reckon this is one of the best British TV shows on the telly at the moment.

Being Human follows the lives of three non-humans - a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost - living together in a flat in Bristol. It delves deep into how these creatures feel, what their various conditions mean and how they cope around 'regular' humans. All three are trying to live 'normal' lives and integrate themselves into human life, as highlighted this week when Mitchell (the vampire) invites all the neighbours round to chat. Because, of course, keeping themselves isolated would look too abnormal - even though, as George (the werewolf) notes, British people don’t normally talk to their neighbours until they've nodded at them for 15 years.

This weeks episode also saw the arrival of Tully, a fellow werewolf, who latches onto George and teaches him all about managing his condition. It turns out that Tully is a bit of a creepy bastard, such as when he tries to come on to Annie (the ghost). Not only that but we find out he was the creature that turned George into a werewolf in the first place.

The build up of the vampires' revolt and potential take-over - what appears to be the overarching plot in this series - was also featured together with Lauren's (Mitchell's last victim) attempts to try and get Mitchell back into the bloodsucking game. All of it acted and scripted beautifully.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, in a way, this isn't a show about monsters at all. It's about three people with problems (one's an addict, one's a schizophrenic and one's an agoraphobic/abused woman). The fact that they're fantasy monsters got me interested but shouldn't but other people off. Neither should the "comedy" label. This week's episode was even less funny than last week but that’s not a bad thing. Instead, it's becoming more of a dark, interesting drama and, for me, something of a must-see. A highly recommended Very Fine.