Saturday, July 31, 2010

Uncanny X-Men #526

Family is the common thread in two separate stories presented in this post-Second Coming issue. In the first Hope travels to Alaska in hopes to learn about her birth parents. Her journey doesn't go quite as planned, but the experience does help fill-in some of her questions.

In the second story Magneto is shocked to learn of the existence of two mutants (Speed and Wiccan) who might, or might not, be his grandchildren. Warned to stay away by both Cyclops and Wolverine, Magneto agrees to give the children distance...but this is the Master of Magnetism we're talking about. Anyone want to take odds how long he keeps that promise?

Other than the team saving a young woman dealing with her new-found mutation there's little action here, but that doesn't mean it's not worth a read. On their own neither story is strong enough, but as two similar personal tales told together we're given an issue that stands out for its emotion rather than bloodshed. Definitely worth a look.

[Marvel $3.99]

Friday, July 30, 2010

Green Lantern #56

Yes Larfleeze there is a Santa Claus. Okay, that was kinda funny. To bad the rest of the issue, invovling Hector Hammond and Ophidian (the orange entity trapped in Larfleeze's lantern), isn't as good. Still, the idea of Hal trying to explain to a greedy alien that Santa Claus isn't real did bring a smile to my face. Hit-and-Miss.

[DC $2.99]

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Jason Todd. The mere mention of his name can lead to hour-long discussions between longtime Bat-fans. The street thug, who took over the mantle of Robin after Dick Grayson moved on to a new persona, died at the hands of the Joker (and, to be fair, at the hands of thousands of Batman fans). It took 17 years but, as comic characters have a habit of doing, Jason returned to the DCU in the guise of a sociopathic anti-hero: The Red Hood.

The latest direct-to-video feature from Warner Premiere and Warner Bros. Animation is a faithful recreation of the Under the Hood storyline by Judd Winick (who also penned the script to the film). The film begins with the brutal death of Jason Todd (Jensen Ackles) from Batman: A Death in the Family before jumping right into the Red Hood's first appearance in Gotham cowing local drug lords and forcing them under his thumb in his attempt to take the role as Gotham's #1 crimelord from Black Mask (Wade Williams).

Although the story follows much the same pattern as the comic there are some slight alterations, mostly for the better. Rather than try to explain the Superboy-Prime reality punch the story broadens Ra's al Ghul's (Jason Isaacs) involvement with Jason's resurrection. This has the added effect of muddying the water further as to the reasons for Jason's murderous behavior. Did the Lazarus Pit drive him insane, or did it just allow the natural downward spiral of Jason Todd to continue unabated?

One of the things I appreciated most about the Batman: Under the Red Hood is how much effort is taken to showcase each character. Batman (Bruce Greenwood), Jason, Nightwing (Neil Patrick Harris), Black Mask, and Ra's are all given enough screentime without being marginalized. I was disappointed that Taila drew the short straw (she only appears for a second in a non-speaking role), but Winick and director Brandon Vietti do justice to the rest of the cast.

The film also doesn't back down from the bloodier moments inherent to this story. It goes for a strong PG-13 rating and earns it. The Red Hood kills many people over the course of the film, and (though a bit of camera trickery was used in what you seen on-screen) I was surprised to see both the Joker's crowbar beatdown of Robin and the Red Hood's dufflebag of heads making their way into the final cut.

That's not to say the film is perfect. Some of Winick's original dialogue comes off far more clumsy on-screen than the printed page and the Amazo plot-thread doesn't lead anywhere given the condensed running time. And although most of the casting decisions work well, though I think it's passable, I personally wasn't thrilled with John DiMaggio's version of the Joker.

The one-disc Blu-ray comes with three featurettes: one on Dick Grayson, one on Jason Todd, and one on the next animated feature Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (which has absolutely nothing to do with this story). Also included are a handful of Batman: The Animated Series episodes featuring Robin and a short Jonah Hex episode which plays up the character's western-style and that actually made me want to see a full-length version.

The featurettes on the Robins are interesting but there's nothing new here for longtime Batman readers. If I have one lasting complaint for all of DC's animated features of this type it's the complete lack of extras relating to the feature you are paying for. There's no commentary and no behind-the-scenes discussion of this film (only of the next project). Though they're continually putting mostly good material, this is definitely a major flaw with DC Animated's process that becomes more pronounced with each release.

I have to say overall I'm very happy with Batman: Under the Red Hood. It's no Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, but as DC animated features go it's pretty darn good. It's got style, its fair share of violence, and captures Batman's shock at his one-time companion's return quite well. It's worth a long look for all Bat-fans out there.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


...only stabbed them a little.

Monday, July 26, 2010

New Avengers #2

Things I learned in this issue: Luke Cage can take the Thing in a fight, Spider-Man doesn't make the best babysitter, demons are total dicks, Wolverine's plan to stab you to save can sometimes work, and you really don't want to let the Eye of Agamotto off this plane of existence. Definitely worth a look!

[Marvel $3.99]

Friday, July 23, 2010


Originally intended as a vehicle for Tom Cruise Salt was shelved and then given an impromptu sex change operation to ready the way for Angelina Jolie to headline the shoot 'em up. When your leading man becomes a leading lady the original script by Kurt Wimmer (Ultraviolet , Street Kings) had to be rewritten by Brian Helgeland (Conspiracy Theory, Assassins, Man on Fire), and director Philip Noyce (The Bone Collector, Clear and Present Danger) was tasked to make it all work. That's an awful lot of time and effort to put into a project well before shooting was scheduled to begin. Too bad it wasn't worth it.

Angelina Jolie stars as CIA Agent Evelyn Salt, a fugitive on the run after being accused, by the questionalbe word of a dying former Russian spy (Daniel Olbrychski ), of being part of a top secret Russian sleeper cell doomsday scenario more than three decades in the making.

Jolie looks great on the run, dodging bullets and causing a massive amount of collateral damage all over the D.C. area. As to why she runs (or does anything in the film), no one really knows - not even our heroine. From Salt's initial choice to run to her final gambit before the credits roll, nothing makes any sense. I'm guessing Joyce figured this out early in filming and that's why the movie seems to endlessly pump pure adrenaline and action into a story that has nothing else going for it.

The script is a mess. It's mainly concerned with muddying the waters as to Salt's true identity and allegiances rather than even attempt to construct or tell anything resembling a coherent story. It seems everyone involved in this project has thrown in with the recent Hollywood adage that logic isn't needed when pace can be effective. Throw in an unnecessary brutal opening sequence and several semi-rational plot twists and you've got all the active ingredients for a total trainwreck. Although it's not boring, at it's core it's a hollow tease with pieces from several different puzzles scattered together. No matter how you try to piece Salt together the only thing you'll end up with is a headache.

One of the reasons Jolie worked so well in Mr. and Mrs. Smith is that film understood how ridiculous it's premise was and had some fun along the way. In Salt we're stuck with a premise ten times less believable and yet everyone is playing it straight. The writing simply isn't good enough for the dramatic moments to work effectively or the twists to do anything other than distance you from caring about the main character. It's as if the writer of one of Steven Seagal's straight-to-DVD film decided to write his own Bourne Identity, but with a woman instead. Jason Bourne might have been a cipher, but we still cared about him and wanted to see him uncover the truth which alluded him. The same can't be said for Evelyn Salt.

Although the acting isn't bad it's largely forgetable. Jolie takes most of the hits as the plot continually attempts to redraw her character how it sees fit in any particular scene. If the script can't decide who Salt is at her core how are we to expect Jolie to do any better? Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor play well off each other in their chase of Salt, but it never leads anywhere (at least nowhere good).

In a role that would seem to call for her to be beefed up Jolie is surprisingly trimmed down. Although this works for her torture scenes early on it doesn't help sell her as someone who could physically dominant several top agents twice her size, all with similiar training. There are several scenes in which Salt is bruised and bleeding, yet none of these ailments show up after each scene has passed. In fact by the next action sequence she's moving full-speed and giving 110%. Either she has a remarkable mutant healing ability or someone's got some explaining to do.

It's amazing how little sense this film makes. I'm sure plenty some will give it a pass under the excuse action movies don't have to make any sense to be good. And even with more than it's share of problems the film isn't all bad. It's an incompetent mess, but it's not awful. But until audiences start demanding better this level of mediocrity, overflowing with adreniline but lacking any brains, this marginal effort is the best we're going to get. If you want you want Bourne watch Bourne; Salt does nothing to add any new flavors to a dish that's already grown cold.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Time Masters: Vanishing Point #1 (of 6)

As the cover tells us: "The Search for Bruce Wayne Begins!" (Actually, the search began two-and-a-half months ago with The Search for Bruce Wayne #1, but that's neither here nor there.) Booster Gold, Superman, Green Lantern, and Rip Hunter will attempt to find Batman before he can cause irreperable harm to the timestream.

For the first time we're given a reason (an analogy to a healthy body and a virus) why Bruce Wayne's travel through time isn't a good thing. It's not the best rationale for the problem of why time seems to be unraveling, but at least we're finally given one. I guess it will have to do.

I actually enjoyed this issue more than I have so far with The Return of Bruce Wayne. The perspective shifting to the group searching for Wayne instead of somewhat bewildered Batman (three issues in, it's still unclear exactly how much of his real life the Dark Knight remembers) makes the quest more interesting.

And I do have to hand it to writer Dan Jurgens for finding a way to include Superman in a comic without allowing him to overpower it. The rules of time must be obeyed, even by the Man of Steel. Worth a look.

[DC $3.99]

Avengers #3

So the timestream is broken, and Apocalypse and his Four Horseman (or lame psuedo-Avenger versions of them) show up. Well, at least things aren't boring at Avengers Tower! There a couple of nice moments here, almost all of them involving Spider-Man (his conversation with Spider-Woman and Noh-Varr, and his frustration over not getting to yell "Avengers Assemble" being two), but there's little to advance the overall future in jeopardy storyline here. Worth a look.

[Marvel $2.99]

Monday, July 19, 2010

Justice League - Generation Lost #5

Have I mentioned I love this book? "The Gang's All Here" finds the new Justice League International team fully assembled. I was hoping for a couple of more members (like say Guy Gardner, G'nort, and someone from the Shazam family) but this group will do nicely.

I really enjoyed how the issue is presented from Booster Gold's perspective, and his admission of his greatest weakness. It's nice to see Giffen and company not turning Booster back into the buffoon from the JLI's early days and allowing the character to keep the scars he's earned since then. How he comes out of this year-long event could end up be one of the best stories DC's has going.

Aside from Booster's thoughts, this issue has some weighty moments such as the death of a Rocket Red at the hands of Max Lord and it's lasting effects on several members of the team. As to Lord's explanation as to why he's played puppet master behind the scenes with this group of heroes: it works, but, as always where Max is concerned, there's almost certainly more to his actions. Must-read.

[DC $2.99]

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Birds of Prey #3

Things go from bad to worse for our plucky heroines. Gail Simone has a couple twists up her sleeve, one of which should stop the bitching over the deaths of two marginal characters last month. By the final panel the villains will stand revealed, along with a much larger plot, and none of it looks good for our heroes. (I can't be the only one hoping Hawk gets killed, right?)

There are a couple of really nice moments here including Oracle's stunned surprise, a tearful possible farewell between Black Canary and her mates, some lurid daydreams by the Penguin, and Zinda's distaste at Hawk's attempts to shield her from danger. Next month's conclusion of this first story arc should be a doozy. Worth a look.

[DC $2.99]

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Booster Gold #34

A brand spankin' new time adventure with a search for the Book of Destiny, filled with an army of demons, a horde of knights, a reunion with Mr. Miracle, Big Barda punching out a dragon (and Booster), Blue Beetle lying to a priest, and all the touches you'd expect from the old JLI team. Must-read.

[DC $2.99]

Friday, July 16, 2010


The latest from writer/director Christopher Nolan is complicated, reality bending, multi-layered look inside the world of unconscious imagination. In the near future the ability to enter into an individual's dreams and extract information has become a profitable, but highly illegal, enterprise. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as Dom Cobb the leader of a group of experts who are the best at this type of information extraction.

As Cobb's past catches up with him, both in the real world and that of his dreams, he's offered a single chance to reclaim the life which was taken from him if he can perform the impossible: Inception. The idea is not to steal information from the latest subject, the heir to a business empire (Cillian Murphy), but instead implant an idea in his mind which will grow naturally and change one choice in the real world which could mean billions for Cobb's client.

Cobb's team consists of his backer (Ken Watanabe) who guarantees Cobb's freedom to return home at the end of the project, an architect (Ellen Page) to construct the realities of the dream which will be filled in by the subject's unconscious mind, a thief and forger (Tom Hardy) to play various roles, a chemist (Dileep Rao) to keep the subjects subdued and bring them out of their dream state at the right instant, and a point man (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to keep the project running smoothly (or as smoothly as possible).

Nolan weaves a tale of complex realities built upon each other, dreams within dreams, where time is relative and perspective can be fixed, lost, or completely forgotten. Although the job may only take a few hours in the real world, inside the subject's mind months, years, even decades may pass. As Cobb and his team move further into these worlds they're faced with unforseen obstacles and Cobb's own subconscious desires and guilt manifesting itself in the form of his wife (Marion Cotillard).

Although the film starts out a little slow, once Cobb accepts the job, assembles his team, and the con begins, the plot is ratcheted into high gear. Nolan and his players spend the next two hours on a high wire of tension, action, and suspense. The story has a bit of everything: science and fantasy, creation and design, love and guilt, and the stuff of which dreams, and nightmares, are made.

Visually the film is stunning without feeling overburdened by CGI. As Cobb explains to Ariadne (Page) the world can be anything the architect imagines, but the farther removed from reality of the subject the easier to see the illusion for what it is. Of course this doesn't stop some from losing themselves in the dream.

The acting is solid throughout, but it's really DiCaprio's show. He gives us a man driven by forces he can't control and a gnawing guilt over what he's lost.

The main story concerns the theft of Cillian Murphy's memories, but the heart of the film comes from the scenes between DiCaprio and Cotillard. Are these scenes between a tormented man and the ghost of his wife necessary? Probably not. Without this subplot the film would still be an inventive and exciting action/con flick. Thankfully, the director isn't content with just making an average summer film. This one's got some brains as well as a few sly tricks up its sleeves.

Nolan creates not just one world but several, all built precariously upon each other. And as the team falls further down the rabbit hole the challenge of return to reality becomes increasingly difficult. The director challenges the viewer to keep each reality straight (as the characters themselves fight to never to lose themselves in the maze they've trapped themselves inside).

After one viewing I'm impressed. I'd like to see the film again to make sure there are no holes in the complicated web woven here, but it's an easy recommendation to make. If I could implant an idea in your mind let it be this: Take a chance and go see Incepton this weekend. I think you will be glad you did.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Batgirl #12

You may remember, I was less than happy with the choice of Stephanie Brown as the new Batgirl, but writer Bryan Q. Miller has proven me wrong. (Yes 'monkey occasionally I can admit a mistake.) "Batgirl Rising" concludes here as Batgirl sets out to save Oracle from the clutches of the Calculator with the help of the villain's daughter (and one-time SuperFriend Wendy Harris). Once again a strong issue all around. And I'll give a shout out to artists Lee Garbett and Pere Perez for giving us just the right look for our spunky, smart, and sassy heroine. A new Batgirl has found her place in the DCU, and I'm glad. Worth a look.

[DC $2.99]

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Secret Six #23

What can you say about a comic where Bane rips off a man's arms and beats him to death with them, Catman goes back on the hunt, Rag Doll eats off a man's face, and Deadshot shoots down a chopper with a single bullet? Fun? Yeah, fun. Guest writer John Ostrander's tale of the Six being hunted on an island is an intriguing one, but it lacks some of nuance and twisted glee Gail Simone usually provides. And personally I wasn't a fan of the (almost pretty) art by RB Silva & Alexandre Palamaro which didn't seem to fit the scruffy and gruff nature of the story. Even if it's not quite as good as usual there's plenty of mayhem and madcap action that makes this issue worth a look.

[DC $2.99]

Guy Gardner...

... is a real sweetheart.

Monday, July 12, 2010


There are movies which live in my childhood. Viewing them years later, no matter the length of time which may have passed, I'm instantly transported back in time to that darkened theater, fond memories, and childhood wonderment.

Condorman, based on the James Bond spoof by Robert Sheckley, is one of those films. From the Pink Panther-style opening featuring the rousing score of Henry Mancini to the final unheard whispered line at a crowded Dodger game (and everything in-between), I'm hooked. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

In the film Woody Wilkins (Michael Crawford) is a comic book writer living in Paris while working on his latest creation: Condorman, "Vulture of the western world." When his best friend, a pencil-pusher for the CIA (James Hampton), needs a civilian to deliver some not-so important secret papers in Istanbul Woody happily volunteers, passing himself off as a top secret spy codenamed Condorman.

On the mission he shares a drink (a Triple Istanbul Express) with beautiful KGB agent Natalia (Barbara Carrera) who later decides to defect insisting that only Condorman will be allowed to bring her in. The rest of the film involves Woody's attempts to save Natalia from the evil Krokov (Oliver Reed) and his legion of henchmen led by the one-eyed Morovich (Jean-Pierre Kalfon).

Crawford is passable in the role which requires a fair share of physical comedy yet still give us a character to root for and an unlikely hero to believe in. Although Carrera is better known for other roles this is the one I'll always think of first. Beautiful, smart, sweet, dangerous, (and that accent!), there's little wonder why Woody risks his life to save Natalia; who among us wouldn't do the same?

The live-action Disney film is meant mainly for children, and if you view it through that lens it's an awful lot of fun. I'll admit my favorite scenes involve Woody and Natalia's escape from Turkey, as Krokov summarizes later in the film:

"The best kept secrets of Woodrow Wilson can be found by any small child for the price of a tiny coin. Here is a truck that turns into a racing car. Here a car that turns into a hovercraft."

Oh, what a car! The chase sequence alone on the winding mountain roads is worth the price of admission! The film also includes a climax on the water, Condorman taking flight, an impromptu wedding crash, and an escape through the Swiss Alps. Condorman has it all.

Other favorite moments include Woody drawing Natalia as his Lazer Lady for the first time (if I could get my hands on that art it would be hanging on my wall!), and Krokov's incredulity at learning that this super-spy is nothing more than "a writer of comic books."

Part of my enjoyment for the film is its melding of several elements I enjoy all into one great package. It's a darn good spoof of James Bond (complete with gadgets, exotic locales, and a beautiful femme-fatale, all done with more aplomb than Austin Powers a full 16-years later), along with it's loving embrace of a comic book brought to life, fun action sequences, and a sweet little love story.

Sadly the DVD for the film (a complete bare-bones version - c'mon Disney!) is increasingly hard to find. Long out-of-print in the US, you can occasionally find the Region 2 version available online.

More than anything this is a film about wish fulfillment. Woody's dreams, though they take some unusual turns, are brought to life as Condorman swoops in to save the day, and the girl. And we are lucky enough to go along for the ride.

There are many films which I appreciate more, but few fill me with the giddy joy of Condorman. Not all movies you see as a child hold-up decades later (sadly, most do not), but when you find one that does grab it with both arms and don't let go. For me, Condorman is just such a film.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Shadowland #1 (of 5)

The descent of Matt Murdock contiues in this new mini-series from Andy Diggle. Daredevil has built a monument, a fortress, in the middle of Hell's Kitchen from which the Hand my strike swift vengeance on those would dare cause trouble within its borders. And he's got himself a spiffy new costume. Pretty good stuff all around including a necessary scene among the Avengers discussing concern over Murdock's new role.

As to the final scenes between Bullseye and Daredevil all I can say is I'll believe the outcome is real when I see it. Diggle has played the sleight-of-hand once too often in recent months for me to take Daredevil's apparent use of lethal force seriously (especially when of of the tie-ins coming out next month is titled Shadowland: Bullseye).

Odds are we'll be seeing Bullesye again. Even if it's another bait-and-switch the storyline of pushing Murdock down the dark path seems to be in full swing. And if it's real...well, that's a hell of a hard first step down a path of no redemption for the hero of Hell Kitchen to take in the first issue of this five month long event. Either way it should be an interesting few months for Daredevil readers. Worth a look.

[Marvel $3.99]

Friday, July 9, 2010

Despicable Me

Pixar seems to have cornered the market on family films that provide equal measure of comedy and action with the kind of dramatic moments assured to pull at your heartstrings. However, that doesn't mean there isn't a niche left to be filled. Sometimes you just want to sit down to an animated film and have fun (without that punch to the soul or shedding a tear). For those looking for good kid films filled with plenty of laughs and paced within an inch of their life you could do far worse than Despicable Me

Gru (Steve Carell) is a super-villain who never quite hit it big. Sure he's caused trouble with his freeze ray at the local Sarbucks or terrorized traffic with his giant tank-like automobile. And with the help of his legion of minions he's stolen small artifacts from around the world. But Gru has never made the big score, and his chances are running out as new, younger super villains like Vector (Jason Segel) are looking to take his place. His latest scheme involving a shrink ray and an attempt to steal the moon may be his last chance to grab the fame which has forever eluded him.

From his childhood Gru has always had a fascination with the moon, as we learn in flashbacks of the young Gru with his hard-to-please mother (Julie Andrews). Now his ultimate scheme puts his childhood fantasies within his grasp. And that's when three young, and appropriately adorable, orphans cross his path: Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Elsie Fisher), and Edith (Dana Gaier). At first they are just a means to an end, but soon Gru learns that fatherhood may suit him better than villainy.

What follows is your typical "worst choice for a parent turns out to be uniquely suited to it" kinda film. I'm sure there's a shorter name for this genre but it eludes me. Despicable Me doesn't break new any ground in terms of storytelling, but it does provide a rich world where we don't mind sitting back and enjoying the (mostly predictable) ride. Will Gru prove to be a good father? Will he discover new levels of his own humanity? Will he forgo his one chance at greatness to see the girls' dance recital? You can probably guess (though the film does throw a couple of small curveballs to put its own spin on the tale).

Though the plot may be formulaic the film is filled with humorous and engaging characters. Carrell is terrific (and almost unrecognizable) as Gru, but its the three adorable girls who really make the film. If there are more adorable young female characters in recent movies I haven't seen them. Given the high amount of action I'm not sure that young girls were necessarily the target audience the film was going for, but I think they will have as much fun with the film as their snails and puppy dog tails counterparts.

The film also boasts a a deep reserve of supporting characters including the countless minions who provide no end of slapstick shenanigans, the mad scientist (Russell Brand) with the slight hearing disability, the head of the Orphanarium (Kristen Wiig) and her box of shame, and Gru's monsterous dog who isn't afraid of anything except little girls. The only character who began to wear on me was Vector himself, though to be fair he is the one audiences are supposed to be rooting against. I did, however, like his shark.

The plot may be simple and the outcome far from surprising, but the film boasts a tremendous amount of heart and the journey getting to those final scenes is never taxing. The 3-D is good, though it may not be worth the higher ticket price it's definitely better and more impressive than recent hastily retrofitted films like The Last Airbender. And clocking just over 90 minutes the movie doesn't overstay its welcome. Despicable Me may not be a great film, but it's a solid animated adventure for kids that parents should be able to enjoy as well.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Lone Ranger Definitive Edition (Volume One)

It's all here: the lone survivor of a massacre, a white horse, the faithful Native American companion, a silver mine to forge bullets, and a mask. Writer Brett Matthews' take on the western icon The Lone Ranger may not be for everyone, but it suits me just fine.

At the heart of the tale is John Reid, a man deeply conflicted with the death of his brother Dan, weighing his need for justice and revenge, and still searching for his place in the world. Our hero is still the man we know, he just doesn't know it quite yet. The comic is harsher (mirroring the landscape and time period) than most depictions, and the stories often involve tough choices and a fair bit of violence with each issue.

The first 11 issues of Dynamite Entertainment's ongoing Lone Ranger are collected here in the oversized hardcover volume complete with slipcover, an introduction from Matthews, a gallery of some pretty cool covers by John Cassaday, early sketches and character designs from artist Sergio Cariello, and the 2007 Free Comic Book Day story. The volume retails for $75, but with a little effort you should be able to find it online for less than $50.

The first two story arcs of the series include the birth of the Lone Ranger, his tumultuous relationship to Tonto (who is far more mysterious here than most depictions), his relationship to his brother's wife and young son, and his quest for the man responsible for his brother's death. The comic also takes several opportunities to show stories from other perspectives including that of its main villain, Butch Cavendish.

It's a well-made volume and a steal at a discounted price. Fans of the hero should grab one up while they can, yell out a hearty Hi-Yo Silver, and enjoy the ride. The Lone Ranger rides again.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Usagi Yojimbo #129

Long on the trail of the rabbit ronin, Kato finally catches up to Usagi Yojimbo wanting revenge for the money he believes Usagi stole from him. There's much to like in this issue beginning with the town in which everyone fears Usgai on sight and the painful lesson taught to the band of ruffians who learn why you don't try and take a samurai's money by sword point. Although the confrontation between Kato and Usagi isn't as long as I'd like it to be, it does boast several strong panels. Definitely worth a look.

[Dark Horse $3.50]

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Billy Batson and the Magic of SHAZAM! #17

I'm not going to explain this panel to you. Nope. I refuse. You're just going to have to go out and buy this comic. I'm just going to doff my cap to artist Mike Norton and writers Art Baltazar and Franco Aureliani and tell you to go out and get it now! Just the fact that this exists fills me a kind of ridiculous glee that's hard to put into words. Must-read.

[DC $2.50]

Batman Beyond #1 (of 6)

While I'm not as big a fan of Batman Beyond as I am of Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League, there are many aspects to the show that I enjoyed. The new mini-series from writer Adam Beechen and artist Ryan Benjamin keeps the history of the show while crafting a new series that should work for those who never saw the cartoon.

Terry McGuiness and Bruce Wayne's relationship remains intact (though the series takes place before McGuiness discovered the truth about his paternity). There are also short glimpses which will mean more for those longtime fans of the show including Amanda Waller, Cadimus, and the appearance of Spellbender.

The choice to the tease from the very first panel to the last of who the main villain of the series might be (which I won't spoil it here) works very well. For fans of the show it's definitely worth picking up, but even if you never saw an episode it's still worth a look.

[DC $2.99]

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Last Airbender

For his latest disaster movie writer/director M. Night Shyamalan adapts the Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Remember when he gave us great films (Sixth Sense, Unbreakable) filled with tension, plots which sucked you in, strong characters, and great performances? Don't expect any of those things here.

Although it boasts its share of unintentionally funny moments, The Last Airbender isn't even bad in a fun way. It's tedious, head-scratching, amateurish, poorly conceived and even less ably enacted on screen. This concept, and its combination of martial arts, philosophy, and fantasy, might work in 20 minute animated segments but it doesn't translate well to a live-action feature-length film.

The story involves four nations each based off of one the four elements (easily color coded for the slower viewers). Some of each tribe have the ability to control, or bend, the element of their tribe. How rare a gift, and how easy an ability it is to use, varies wildly throughout the film.

Years ago the Fire Nation, in a bid for power, wiped out the Air Nation in an attempt to kill off the latest Avatar (a kind of supreme warrior with the ability to control all four elements and keep harmony over the world), a young child named Aang (Noah Ringer).

Since the Avatar's disappearance over a hundred years ago the Fire Nation has grown bolder becoming the dominant tribe. When two members of the Water Nation (once again easily color coded), Katara (Nicola Peltz) and Sokka (Jackson Rathbone, whose looks and wooden acting so eerily resemble Hayden Christensen), rescue the Avatar from his frozen tomb they become entwined in Aang's destiny to reach his full potential and bring harmony back to the world.

The Fire Nation are poor villains. Dev Patel has the thankless role as the exiled Prince charged with finding and capturing the Avatar. He can never quite decide how far over-the-top to play the character. Cliff Curtis as the Fire Lord and The Daily Show's Aasif Mandvi don't fair any better. Only Shaun Toub, the great general, now friend of the prince, is given anything resembling a character you can take seriously.

Most rest of the cast don't even register. Peltz is the best of the heroes, but that's not saying all that much. Ringer is caught trying to be both a child and super-warrior which never quite works. And Seychelle Gabriel is asked to be cute in her role as the Water Nation princess. In that task she succeeds, despite the ridiculous white hair and contacts.

There is also a large flying dog-thing named Appa (a sky bison, according the Avatar Wiki) that Aang rides. It looks like a mix between Falcor and one of the creatures from Where the Wild Things Are. Appa never speaks and seems to swim through the currents of the air. Needless to say it gives the film's best performance.

And that's where the film's biggest problem lies. It's when a character, any character, opens his/her mouth that any spell of wonderment is broken. None of the actors seen here are likely to pick up an Oscar any time soon but they certainly aren't helped by some wretchedly bad dialogue more befitting a junior high production than feature film.

The film succeeds best when it shuts the hell up. Visually cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (LOTR, King Kong, Babe) gives us a beautifully shot world that we want to explore. The film's score works in harmony with these visuals, not overpowering them but enhancing the both the CGI and large battle sequences. If the characters would just stop talking there might be a movie worth watching.

The film also overburdens the audience with a need to over-explain exceptionally easy plot points in the most condesending manner possible. For an adaptation of a television series the movie sure sounds like someone reading a book to me. At the same time the film includes several scenes without any purpose or resolution that simply end with no explanation in sight. It's as if important scenes were cut out of the film without any care for the result to the overall story. How a film can fail in both being too remedial and yet inexplicable is something of an achievement (but probably not the one Shyamalan had in mind).

There are plenty of plot holes and plot inconsistencies to nitpick (such as the Fire Nation's eagerness to kill an entire tribe but not one child), but there are more than enough issues with this project without delving into specific plot points and scenes. And if you're actually going to pay money see this I don't want to give away any more of the story than necessary.

A final note: I saw the movie in what might be the least impressive use of 3-D ever. The most memorable uses of which are the short captions for the various cities and regions which appear for a couple seconds at the bottom of the screen now and then to remind you what part of the world you're viewing at that moment. Don't bother spending even an extra cent for 3-D. It's simply not worth it.

If you are curious to see the special effects and visual style of the film I'd wait until you can view the film on DVD with the sound off (or with the dialogue mercifully set to a language you don't speak - as in the Japanese trailer). That almost might be worth it.