Saturday, December 30, 2006

On Inducing Collectibility

As a comics collector, one of the things that really peeved me was the practice of some comics to ship variants in different ratios to the regular edition of a comic book. The most common variant is the variant cover, but sometimes they would do variant black-and-white cover and interior books. Naturally, because the stores would have a hard time acquiring these things because they would have to order more, they end up charging more, and as a result I have never been able to afford a single variant since Marvel reintroduced the 1:x ratio of variants.

Now that I am venturing into the world of collectible toy cars, I've noticed something rather irritating, at least in the local collectible store scene. It's one thing for a toy to come out in toy stores, sell out, and then reappear in collectible stores at a premium because they're so damned popular. What appears to happen here, though, is that before a 'hot' toy ever even hits the shelves of Toy Kingdom or even the new Toys 'R' Us, they've been snapped up by collectible stores and marked up quite ridiculously.

The single best (worst?) example of this practice is the 1:64 Ferrari F430 by Hot Wheels, which came out in September this year. As early as May I found myself watching out for it. When Toys 'R' Us opened I spotted their Hot Wheels poster which advertised their upcoming products, and the F430 figured quite prominently.

That toy never hit the shelves, but apparently went straight to the collectible stores. Whether this is because the collectible stores intercepted these products at the Harbor, or went to the toy stores and bought them all out on the first day they came out, I really don't know, but I hated having to pay almost three times the price of a normal Hot Wheels car for a replica that isn't even that well done. I much prefer my Mercedes SLR Mclaren by Maisto and my Ford GT by Dub City, both in 1:64, both done with spectacular attention to detail (though their doors still won't open, something which is apparently a thing of the past in small cars, sadly).

I recently found out that the going rate for a normal 1BaddRide car, which is apparently a brand new product in the Philippines, is P199.75, the same rate that Dub City 1:64s go for, and that the two cars I bought that started my whole collector frenzy were marked up by P100 each. The store where I bought them had that luxury, considering that the damned things weren't available anywhere else. The collectible store strikes again.

I don't know if this an arrangement between the toy distributor and the collectible stores or the toy stores, but I wish they wouldn't do it either way. If a toy is likely to be "hot" then let it sell out, like the "Cars" toys did earlier this year and then jack up its price on the back market, like a lot of internet peddlers are.

I do know that some really nice items have turned up on the toy store shelves to get sold out in a twinkling, like the SLR McLaren 1:64, as well as the Ford GT 1:64, both of which I acquired at the going rate, and neither of which I have seen since (especially the Ford GT). If these items turn up in collectible stores sometime in the future at marked up prices, then I'll at least know that regular joes at least had a fighting chance to buy them.

Given that this practice of the collectibles people isn't exactly illegal, there isn't actually any stopping it, but what I am hoping is that rich collector types take their business elsewhere, getting their toys from Hong Kong or online or something. It's time collectors did something to really screw these bastards selling their P300 F430s, who, rather than wait for items to sell out and truly become rare collectibles, are trying to buy them out outright and induce a sense of "collectibility."

Well here's the thing: just about every collectible store, even that anime/manga store which sells collectibles on the side, has these P300/P250 Ferraris, so really, they aren't rare at all. AND they go for less than a dollar online, without shipping costs. However, if, as collectors are wont to do, they buy SEVERAL Hot Wheels/collectible cars online for a dollar or so each and pay shipping, they'll effectively still save money! Just a thought, really.

On Exploding Extremities

I went through a firecracker phase when I was a kid. To put it simply, I viewed it as a rite of passage. I was convinced that learning how to blow up firecrackers was part of growing up: that I wouldn't be a proper Filipino male without it. One of my grade school classmates had blown off his middle finger playing with firecrackers, but I just wrote that little unpleasant detail off, for some reason. I exploded firecrackers for maybe about two or three years, after which it quickly lost its appeal.

I'll admit there was something thrilling about blowing things up, but nobody had to scare me away from it with images of bloody stumps where fingers or hands used to be. I just really got bored with it, especially after firecracker prices climbed. Essentially, you're just watching your money blow up with that crap.

I don't know if it's because of callousness or just out of disgust with the Filipino's borderline irrational need to make loud noises, but sometime ago I found myself feeling absolutely no sympathy for the young (and sometimes not so young) men who would turn up on the front page of the New Year's Day edition of the newspaper with their hands or fingers blown off. I mean,as far back I think as the Ramos administration, the government has tried to ban firecrackers every year, especially considering that the triangular ones are made by kids in sweatshops in Bulacan. EVERY year they do this, and yet EVERY year a segment of our population feels the need to defy the ban.

So no, I really don't give a shit whenever I find out that someone who patently ignored the authorities' admonition not to use something that could potentially maim or kill them has used that something and has in fact been maimed. My sympathy goes much more to those who are hit by stray bullets, especially considering a lot of them are young children minding their own business.

There are so many wonderful ways to celebrate the New Year. A nice dinner, a party, or time with the family. Heck, why not just give Christmas gifts all over again? It would probably cost just as much as stocking up on those ludicrous firecrackers.

This afternoon, my family and I hope to escape the idiocy of the noise and the smoke, so I am whisking them off somewhere I hope we won't really be affected by it.

Yeah, so I may be a wimp, but at least you won't ever see me on the front page on New Year's day with a maimed hand. A bullet in my head, maybe, but...well...

Happy New Year anyway.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Confessions of a Diecast Toy Car Lover Coming Out of the Closet

It all started about three years ago, when on a stopover on the way either to or from (I forget which) my in-laws' house in Cavite, in a town some 55 kilometers from our house in Quezon City, my wife and I spent some time in Alabang's Festival Mall.

A comic book collector, I knew that there was a Comic Quest there and I determined to find it. As anyone who has been there would know, Festival Mall is one of the bigger malls around, so finding a store on the topmost floor took some doing for someone who had never been there before.

When I found Comic Quest, I was surprised to find it tucked in the middle of three other stores, none of which carried comic books as their stock-in-trade but instead collectibles of all sorts: action figures, statues, and die-cast collectible cars.

That Comic Quest never became one of my staples: I only ever bought two or three issues. But from then on I always enjoyed going back to those collectibles stores. I liked looking at the Marvel Legends figures and their variants. I liked looking at the McFarlane toys, especially the ones based on movie scenes. I also liked the Neca toys with remarkably well-sculpted likenesses of the movie stars they were modeled after.

But nothing enchanted me the way the way the diecast toy cars did. I didn't much care for the 1:64 Hot Wheels that were practically littered throughout one of the stores (RAM collectibles, for anyone that's curious), because they weren't really big on detail, but I was particularly enchanted by the more detailed cars made in larger scales. Of course, the best to look at were the 1:18 cars, especially the Ferraris. I loved looking at all of the gorgeous replicas of both Formula One Ferraris as well as the various production cars as new as the Enzo and as old as the 250 GTO.

But there were cars in some smaller scales, namely 1:24 and 1:43, which were also quite easy on the eyes.

I am proud to say I found a way to truly and sincerely motivate myself to haul ass all the way to my in-law's every few weeks.

I also found myself heading to Uncle Johnny's Hobby Shop (those little toy car kiosks in SM North EDSA and Megamall), even though I never really gave them any business. Just looking at the things scratched my itch. I wasn't a collector yet.

However, I found myself wading into collector territory earlier this year. With some of the first paycheck from my new job last May, I bought myself a 1:18 replica, made by Maisto, of a Mercedes SLR McLaren, a car I instantly fell in love with when its commercials played during the 2004 Formula One season. Shortly thereafter, I bought a Maisto 1:64 SLR McLaren.

Still, I was not a collector.

The itch became stronger earlier this year, when my sister-in-law popped up at our house and invited my son out for an afternoon. When they came back, it turned out she had bought him two little "Hot Wheels" toys, specifically, a yellow Corvette and a silver Ford GR-1 Shelby Concept Car.

The 'Vette was generic enough, but my curiosity was piqued by the Shelby Concept Car, the like of which I had never seen before. I Googled the thing like crazy and loved what I saw. I immediately felt that Mattel had not done the car justice; it was a thing of beauty.

In the course of Googling, I happened upon the Ford GT, another beauty of a car, and before I knew it I bought myself a 1:64 toy made by DUB City, which left a little to be desired but which was quite attractive nonetheless.

But I still didn't consider myself a collector, even though I went absolutely green with envy when some collector proudly put on display in a glass case over at SM Toy Kingdom, his complete collection of DUB City Ford GTs, in both 1:24 and 1:64 scale.

Then, life caught up with me. All kinds of things happened which kind of made me forget about collecting or even just ogling toy cars.

Things settled down not too long afterwards, and I soon found myself on the brink of giving in to a long pent-up desire...I just didn't realize it yet.

It started just before Christmas came around. For some reason, I felt I just HAD to have a small Ferrari F430. Unfortunately, because Hot Wheels apparently has exclusive rights to make Ferrari toys, I had to content myself with buying their version, which, incidentally, is unavailable in most toy stores, and only available in these specialty stores like the ones I love to visit in Festival mall, at two or three times the price of a regular Hot Wheels car. I bit the bullet and paid the premium for the little thing. In the course of my searching for that Ferrari (which proved surprisingly rare in Greenhills that day), I stumbled upon a charcoal black Hot Wheels Shelby GR-1 concept (as opposed to the now beat-up silver one my son owned). It was marked up, but not as much a Ferrari, and the saleslady confirmed it was hard to find. I know I had never seen it anywhere else. Despite its rarity, however, I passed on buying it.

I still did not consider myself a collector. I had been Googling off and on for diecast replicas of Shelby GR-1s, but unable to find anything other than the Hot Wheels model, or a yet-to-be-released 1:18 model by high-end toymaker AutoArt, I just didn't have the heart to buy anything that didn't truly capture the GR's unique blend of beauty and ferocity.

Then, Christmas season rolled around, and suddenly, my son was swimming in Hot Wheels cars. His godmother, my former law school classmate, gave him two, one of them a Shelby Cobra Daytona (and it was thus that I discovered the roots of the Shelby GR-1 Concept). His godfather, upon learning that he wanted Hot Wheels for Christmas, funded a little shopping expedition that I carried out, picking out what I hoped would be some durable Hot Wheels cars. I also took the chance to shop for about four other kids between the ages of three to six, and it was thus that I really, truly immersed myself in both Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars again for the first time in my entire adult life.

I found myself impressed by the way Matchbox had maintained their quality, even after having been bought out twice, first by Tyco, then indirectly as Mattel purchased Tyco. In the midst of my shopping I ended up buying a Matchbox Porsche 911, the only one in the store. I finished shopping, and not long afterwards my son's cars were wrapped and ready to go.

This time I was truly smitten. I was about to cross over from toy car ogler and occasional buyer into full-blown nascent collector.

I ordered two Hot Wheels "Dropstars" Ferrari 360s online, which should arrive sometime next month. After trawling the internet, I also found a number of Matchboxes that I really wanted to to buy, but I decided to go up close and personal and buy them at one of my favorite haunts.

On Christmas day, after the visit to my in-laws, I made a beeline that evening for my favorite row of stores, determined to start my collection in earnest. I wouldn't even know just how earnest until I set foot in RAM's collectibles.

Having been to something like two dozen stores in Greenhills, the store in Megamall and a number of other, smaller stores in a couple of other malls in the Metro Manila area, I can say with certainty that RAM Collectibles, which sits right beside Comic Quest in Festival Mall, has the widest car collection of any specialty store I have ever seen.

And so I searched the store's huge collection of 1:64 toy cars of several different models and manufacturers (mostly Hot Wheels) in search of some rare Matchbox cars, only to be disappointed. I had also hoped to find the rare black Hot Wheels Shelby GR-1 I had passed up in Greenhills only days before (and which had been promptly snapped up by some other eagle-eyed collector shortly thereafter), but to no avail.

I was about to content myself with an old Jaguar XJ220 which went for a measly PhP 70, together with a much pricier Ferrari 360 I had spotted sitting in a glass case, when I found a much greater treasure. As I handed both the toy cars and my cash to the saleslady, I looked around one last time, my eyes eventually falling on a rather low shelf with some unobtrusively placed toy cars made by a relatively obscure manufacturer, an Arkansas-based company called 1BaddRide.

One could say it was destiny as upon going through these cars, I finally, after months of searching, found not just one but TWO stunningly-rendered replicas of a Ford Shelby GR-1, one in silver and one in blue, supposedly done in 1:64 scale but which look a lot more like 1:55 or even 1:50. I ended up shelving the Ferrari 360 (which was not rendered anywhere near as well as the two other cars) and buying both Shelby GRs, spending PhP300 on each one. As pricey as they were, I didn't feel the slightest tinge of regret, especially after a quick online search showed me that each of them went for as much as $7, without shipping. The euphoria I felt upon fulfilling a quest that had been going on for the better part of a year was...incomparable!

NOW I am a collector.

This time, I know it's for real, as I am now on the verge of giving up collecting monthly comic books altogether, as I explained in another post. I hope to complete all four Shelby GR variants made by 1BaddRide. After that, maybe I'll save up for the AutoArt edition, or complete the 1BaddRide collection of sports cars, which includes C6 Corvettes and Mustang GTs. I don't know yet when I'll buy my next car, or how often I'll buy them. I don't even really know what my collecting style/trend will be, whether it will be by toy manufacturer (e.g. Hot Wheels, Dub City, 1BaddRide, etc.), or by car manufacturer (all things Ford, all things Ferrari, etc.). I DON'T EVEN KNOW!!!

All I know is that if I had my way right now, I would be the 40-year-old virgin of the diecast sports cars set (anyone who's seen that movie would know what I mean).

I don't think I could have gotten into this any earlier than just recently, considering that the Shelby GR-1 only just came out, but now that it's started I can see this going on for awhile.

I don't see myself ever collecting real-life supercars, but I will certainly be content to buy these babies. At least they don't poison the air my children breathe, and--who knows?--maybe they can even make a mint selling them on e-bay some day in the future (but only after I'm dead).

Oh, to get in touch with my inner child/diecast geek again!!! Ooooooohhhh...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Anyone who knows me, as well as anyone who reads this blog, knows that I am a comics collector. I am more avid than some, and less avid than others, but the point is that to a certain extent, I have, for nearly the last twenty years (off and on) needed my monthly comic book fix, even to the extent that I'd buy them even if I couldn't necessarily afford them.

2006, though, has been a strange year for me as a collector. There's a lot of stuff I've liked, but just the same, as the year grows to a close I find myself leaning more and more towards retiring from collecting comics, at least as monthlies.

The first reason for this is as collectibles, comic books just don't have the same appeal as they used to, particularly with idiotic concepts like "graded" comics emerging, and the return of the variant cover, which stores automatically price at as much as five times as much as a regular comic book even when they just come out. Another good thing about not rushing to buy monthlies is that I no longer have to worry about an issue getting sold out. Even bookstores carry trade paperbacks, so I won't have to trawl comic stores to find an issue that I missed.

There's also the problem of storage, given how inherently flimsy comics are (even the cardstock ones), it's not as if I can just shove them into a bookshelf as I can the trade paperbacks (of which I have about six or seven by now), and I'm quite simply running out of space, not only in my long boxes but in my house as well. I'm running out safe places to put the darned things (and when one has a one-and-a-half year in the house, that is quite important).

Third, as much as I love good stories and art, I hate late comics. I'm not a fill-in advocate, but I'd still rather read a story without long intervals in-between issues. People who bought the hardcover of Joe Quesada's Daredevil:Father for example had a much more coherent and pleasant reading experience than the poor schmucks like me who waited the two and a half years for him to finish the six issue miniseries. I don't really travel in comics-reading circles except for two or three friends tops, so it's not as though anyone will spoil crucial story points for me.

Finally, and this is something I've come to discover lately, I really don't like being disappointed by a storyline mid-arc. It happened with Civil War, and even more recently, in a title I was sincerely enjoying, namely Ed Brubaker's Criminal. Without giving away any crucial plot-points, let me just say that what started out as a very engaging heist story is playing out in an extremely by-the-numbers fashion, with a crook with a heart of gold getting in trouble, running from the bad guys, and sharing the obligatory sex scene with the only female in the story's landscape. If I were to peruse this in the book store, I wouldn't have bought it.

I'm finishing the comics I started this year even as they spill into next year, but for the first time in nearly two decades of collecting, I'm starting to re-think my collecting habits. I won't be so pompous as to say that I've outgrown comics, because really, I still enjoy good stories, but picking up new "floppies" every month is just losing its allure, really.

Besides, and by way of an epilogue, after months and months of walking into hobby/collectibles stores and ogling the several different brands, makes and scales of diecast vehicles, I finally got it into my head to buy a couple, and the rush I felt upon buying a toy car I'd been tracking down for months was something totally new to me, even after years of collecting. I'm still giving the matter a lot of thought, but I'm seriously considering shifting hobbies...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Thing to Be Grateful For.

I won't lie; it's nice to receive presents. As a gainfully employed, married thirtysomething, I have come to expect to receive fewer and fewer gifts other than a couple of tokens from my officemates and family (I don't exactly go slinking to my godparents anymore), and part of me misses that. I loved getting toys when I was a kid, particularly because they were bright and colorful and came in big, lovely boxes (for which I am grateful considering that if I were a kid now most of them would probably come in considerably less enchanting clamshell cases). Maybe to satisfy my jones for big and colorful I'll start asking for coffee-table books.

Still, I have to admit that my appreciation of the intangible, not-so-obvious blessings in my life seems to have developed over the years, more in spite of my personality quirks than because of any growth I may pretend to have achieved.

I am grateful this year for so many things that went right. I'm grateful for my wife and her loving support, for my two beautiful children, and for so many other things as well. I'm grateful that, when my daughter was sick, I had the money for her medical needs. I'm grateful that when I wanted to send my son to school, and pay for his field trips, I was able to do that, too. I'm grateful that when the typhoons milenyo and reming hit, my family was safe and sound.

I am grateful that my family, meaning my wife, son and daughter, love me as much as they do, even when I'm not necessarily lovable.

Most of all, I am grateful for the singular knowledge that no matter how bad things got for me (and this year was pretty trying in some ways) there was always something I could be grateful for. Even when I absolutely refused to acknowledge it, there was always palpable, irrefutable proof right smack in my life that God still loved me.

I know it may sound all born-again-charismatic-fundamentalist to those who know me, but the truth of the matter is that I wouldn't have made it through this year with my sanity intact if it weren't for the fact that God walked me through every single trial (and I don't just mean the kind that lawyers attend) I faced.

It's so easy to measure a year's success by one's achievements, whether it's an exam passed (like the bar), a debt paid, an amount of income earned or some material possession (like a house) acquired, but even without any of these things one can have had a full, and fulfilling year that doesn't depend on any of the more traditional parameters of success. It's kind of hard to see that sometimes when things don't necessarily go as one plans, but when one acquires a better perspective of things, everything can really fall into place. It's just a matter of being willing to embrace the good one has instead of pining for the good one wants.

This Christmas, I'd like to offer a prayer for the people who aren't able to take solace in that knowledge that they are loved by God. Whether it's because they're materially, spiritually or emotionally impoverished, these are people who need God more than anyone else, and I pray that they find God in one form or another. We all deserve some happiness this time of year.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Fill-In Artists

It can be hard to publish comic books on a monthly basis when the artist involved is extremely meticulous about his work. When confronted with this kind of problem the publisher has either two options: delay the release of the latest issue, or replace the artist with someone else.

Much ado is being made of the fact that comic books these days are late, whether by a week or by six months, more often than not on account of the artist taking a long time to draw the book.

I, for one, am grateful to Joe Quesada for deciding not to go with fill-in artists, even if it means making the fans wait and possibly risking sales dropoffs. This is not me talking as a Marvel Zombie, but rather as someone who has been burned a few times in my collecting "career" by stories not finished by the artists who started them.

I'm not really peeved by the notion of one artist finishing the art that another one started. I'm not a purist like Jeph Loeb who declares he wouldn't enjoy Civil War if Marvel replaced Steve McNiven with an equally high-profile artist such as Mike Turner. What bothers me is the fact that fill-in artists are almost invariably inferior to those they replace. One never sees an A-lister pinch-hitting for another A-lister. You will never see Jim Lee stand in for Joe Quesada, or Lienil Francis Yu step up for Bryan Hitch. Why should they, when the company would be so much better off having them work full-time on their own titles?

I guess the best way to illustrate (pardon the pun) my point would be to cite the two most irritating examples of how my enjoying a story is utterly ruined by a fill-in artist:

1. From 1999 to 2001, Joe Quesada trudged through his final six issue story arc on Daredevil. The book shipped late on a regular basis, and at one point he had to put in a fill-in issue which wasn't really part of the story but rather a parallel to the main story going on. One would think that this meant that, by hook or by crook, Quesada intended to finish this story. Alas, it was not to be, as Quesada was appointed Editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, and the resulting workload just proved too much for him to cope with at the time. He handed the artistic reins over to the extremely mediocre David Ross, whose work I have not seen since and am none the worse for it. Although David Mack's "Echo" storyline wasn't what I would call groundbreaking, it was certainly enjoyable and did boast some impressive action sequences, which Joe rendered with a lot of flair. Ross, who was so obviously a last-minute replacement for Joey Q, captured none of it in the one-and-a-half issues he drew. To Marvel's credit, they had the same inker and colorist work over Ross' pencils to try to ensure some sense of continuity in the art, but they just couldn't save an inferior product. It gratified me, years later, when Joe Quesada did his Daredevil: Father series from start to finish, even though it took him over two years to finish six issues.

2. Easily the worst, most insulting fill-in, that I have ever seen in my nearly twenty years as a comic book collector, is the replacement of one of my one-time favorite artists, Arthur Adams, on Mark Millar's final story arc of The Authority, back in 2001. Back then, I did not know much about Millar, much less that he would pretty soon write some of my favorite Marvel stories ever. I only picked up issues #27 and #28 of The Authority for one reason: Art Adams' pencils. The guy had been a favorite of mine since childhood, and I figured that, given Wildstorm's track record of letting artists take their time with their pencils, I was in for a real treat. Sure enough, these issues did not disappoint, and I daresay that Adams turned in some of his best work since 1985's Longshot, especially with the able assistance of inkers like Tim Townsend. Disaster struck, however, when for one reason or another Adams did not complete the three-issue storyarc, which instead was finished off by a British artist named Gary Erskine, whose art seems like that of a poor man's Steve Dillon. Now, I understand there are people out there who appreciate the guy's art, but it felt like an affront to tail-end what was shaping up to be some of Art Adams' best work ever with the work of someone who was nowhere near where he was in terms of sheer talent. It affected the story, too, which essentially touched on how G7 took down the Authority for questioning the way they ran the world, and how the Authority fought back. Swift, the winged member of the Authority, was brainwashed and then humiliated and paraded around as the trophy wife of a really evil G7 autocrat. Adams' rendition of this thoroughly evil character, while somewhat caricatured (like Millar's writing) was nonetheless wonderfully effective. I wanted this guy to die, and I got the hint that he would from a look on Swift's face towards the end of issue #28. In issue #29, however, when Swift chucked the guy's severed head on the floor, he basically didn't look anything like the villain Adams drew. Imagine the makers of Die Hard replacing the pitch-perfect Alan Rickman with another, inferior actor during the close-up scene where he's plummeting from the L.A. skyscraper to his death, and you will have some idea of how cheated I felt. Suffice it to say, I didn't buy this piece of shit, and to this day, I only have parts 1 and 2 of Mark Millar's final work for Wildstorm.

There are some other annoying examples, like Ron Lim replacing George Perez on Infinity Gauntlet, and Tom Raney replacing Steve McNiven on Ultimate Secret (from which Marvel has apparently learned its lesson: what Steve starts, he must finish), but the bottom line remains the same: fill-ins suck. Having two A-listers collaborate on a book from the beginning is not a bad idea, but it almost never works out that way, and I, for one, would really rather wait for the complete work of the artist I paid to see rather than an invariably lesser artist just tying up loose ends.

So whether it's Civil War or this Batman miniseries Art Adams is supposedly drawing for Jeph Loeb, or the sequel to Marvels that Jay Anacleto is drawing, I say to Marvel and DC, let these guys work at the pace they're comfortable with, don't breathe down their necks, and most importantly, don't replace them, because ultimately it's the work, and the fans who read it, that suffer the most.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Borat in All of Us

I was actually planning on writing a double-review of Happy Feet and Borat, but after having just heard about the racially-charged outburst Michael Richards (a.k.a. Seinfeld's Kramer) directed towards a patron of the comedy club where he was performing, I feel that the film Borat is of particular moment and that Happy Feet really does feel rather silly in comparison.

The film Borat, which is the brainchild of star and creator Sacha Baron Cohen (of Talladega Nights fame), is brilliant in that in manages to effectively tackle a very serious issue, bigotry, without resorting to the usual harrowing imagery or story conventions. Apparently, bigotry can be the subject of a comedy, and it does work from a narrative perspective.

The movie's first triumph is how it turns the whole fish-out-of-water convention which we saw essayed by the likes of Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson and by other actors playing U.S. immigrants. This man who is new to American soil is not charmingly naive as most mainstream Hollywood immigrants are portrayed: he is racist, sexist, homophobic and insensitive to those who are mentally deficient. Cohen touches all the bases here, and plays the character with aplomb besides.

Borat is a Kazakhstani news reporter sent to United States to learn more about it (hence the movie's much longer actual title, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit of Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, or something like that), and his research is supposed to take him to New York. However, while in his hotel room, he watches Baywatch on TV and ends up driving across America in an ice cream truck with his producer (whom he tricks, naturally) to meet her. And it is here that the film's real odyssey begins.

It seems that Borat has resonated considerably with audiences in America, the very people of whose prejudices it pokes fun. I think this is of particular relevance because the truth about people, and not just Americans, is that we are, for all our pretensions to the contrary, still very much like Borat at heart. We all still harbor prejudices, many of them irrational, towards people who are different from us, whether it is because of their skin color, sexual orientation, religion or even their socio-economic status.

Michael Richards' outburst, as well as Mel Gibson's drunken rant have demonstrated that bigotry is hardly the monopoly of the redneck (a similarly pejorative, discriminatory term), and that Americans cannot blow off the lessons that Borat has to teach, considering that deep down, in some or possibly even many of them, a latent racist/sexist/homophobe still lurks.

Borat pretends to be a screwball comedy, complete with the most gross-out nudity you will ever see in your life, easily surpassing the sex scene of the obese in Sideways, but its agenda runs considerably deeper than that, and the satire, when you think about it, is really rather scathing. It essentially holds up a mirror, which, while primarily meant for Americans to gaze into, is there for everyone else to see, as well, and while it's not necessarily comfortable to look at, it sure is funny.

Monday, November 27, 2006


There isn't much I can say that hasn't already been said, with much more personal knowledge and insight, about the death of one of Philippine journalism's last true icons, Philippine Star Publisher Max Soliven. I am among the many who mourn his passing. While it's only in the last few years that I started reading his work, which spans several decades, I found him to be one of the better writers out there.

I only hope that young, or aspiring journalists and writers can live up to his legacy of sardonic writing and biting wit, as well as his insight into the state of Philippine affairs. Arguably, at 77, he could have had a few years left, but seeing as how he died of natural causes, it was simply his time to go.

Rest those weary hands, Mr. Soliven. You've earned some well-deserved rest.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tangkilikin ang Sariling Atin!

A little over ten years ago I was thrilled when, riding on the crest of the wave that was the American comics industry (which eventually crashed on the shore with horrific consequences), a group of Filipino fanboys steeped in comics lore and full of talent attempted the monumental task of creating their own comics universe. These were people influenced more by X-Men and manga than by Kenkoy and Darna, so there was some assurance that their characters wouldn't laugh "hi hi hi" or cry "hu hu hu" but what was additionally fortunate was that these creators were college kids or fresh out of college at the least, who had a wonderfully hip and distinctly Filipino sensibility which they attempted to infuse in their comic books. Thus was born the Alamat universe.

Due to financial and time constraints, the only books that ever made it past Alamat 101 which was supposed to be the sampler anthology of various stories of the new universe were Batch 72 and Angel Ace with the other creations not getting very far thereafter. In fact, when the comics phenomenon crashed, Alamat followed suit, although it had not gotten that far off the ground to begin with, but not before Gerry Alanguilan was able to come up with the seminal series Wasted, which, whatever his intentions when creating it, seems to have evolved into the Watchmen of Filipino comics.

Fortunately the new millenium saw Budjette Tan and some of the architects of Alamat like Arnold Arre try again, launching a short-lived Batch 72 series as well as a series of graphic novels and anthologies, almost as if to say "we're still alive and kicking...sort of..."

With comics sales and exposure on the rise again courtesy of the rising sales of "event" books like Civil War and Infinite Crisis, it seems that the Alamat crew have yet another shot at glory and are making their case this time with another wave of comics, like Gerry Alanguilan's Elmer, which I reviewed in an earlier post, and some new stuff from Budjette Tan and a relatively new collaborator, Ka-Jo Baldisimo, like the ongoing Trese and the one-shot The Last Datu. In addition, an incredibly talented artist, Ian Sta. Maria, has now joined the fold, debuting his talent with the hyper-detailed Ultracops, which he is also co-writing with Bow Guerrero.

Now, having bought each and every issue of the Alamat comics I just enumerated in the previous paragraph, I must give my honest and objective assessment that these books are not exactly the best reads around.

For one thing, they can be rather derivative in some places, most evidently in terms of Ka-Jo Baldisimo's artwork which screams manga on many, if not most panels, although it's quite evident that he has talent which I feel could flourish if only he would develop a more distinctive style. The Ultracops' Digmaan, with his cybernetic arms and scarred face looks disconcertingly like Marvel Comics' Cable, and seems to have the war-freak personality to match (although I must say that Digmaan and the rest of the Ultracops are drawn better than a LOT of titles currently featuring Cable).

The dialogue, in addition, can be kind of clunky, especially when Tagalog is inserted. Now, I don't want to discourage the writers from infusing the national language into their dialogue, because that is one of the things that makes these works distinctly Filipino, albeit in English for the most part, but for some reason, the transition doesn't really work. Maybe I'm just not used to it.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed myself when reading all eight of these issues which I bought all at once for roughly the same amount that I would spend on two American comic books. These little "ashcans" restored a sense of fun to comics and a simplicity to enjoying them, as opposed to comics like Civil War, where the real-world parallels kind of smack me on the head. And for all of the influences, they still feel genuinely Filipino, particularly Trese. The writers and artists still have a way to go before their storytelling abilities can parallel that of their more experienced counterparts overseas, but the heart is there and so is the potential. They can't be expected to develop as writers if nobody reads their work and gives them feedback.

I was sad to see Alamat flounder in the 1990s, and so I am giving them all the business that I can, even though normally I am not a fan of "ashcans" (the only format Budjette and co. can afford to print them in), because this is the only way to keep the dream, that of a thriving, healthy Filipino comic book industry, alive.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

On Casino Royale

In the proud tradition of the remake, the sequel and prequel comes...the reboot. Trust Hollywood to add yet another species of regurgitation to the already insufferably long list. The "reboot" is a term of the computer age, aptly used to describe a new movie in an already-existing franchise which is being used to reinvigorate the said franchise. "Remake" is no longer an appropriate term because in this case the franchise is basically moribund, rather than actually dead. Planet of the Apes for example, was a re-make, while Casino Royale, the latest James Bond movie, is a re-boot. A re-make essentially re-tells the story told by the original movie, usually adding a contemporary twist. A re-boot acts like the original movie and everything that transpired therein never happened, and does not necessarily tell the events of the original movie.

Here's a little bit of trivia for anyone interested: while Batman Begins is undeniably the most successful "reboot" of a popular film franchise, it is not the first. That dubious distinction goes to The Sum of All Fears, based on Tom Clancy's popular Jack Ryan series of novels, in which Ben Affleck was cast the Ryan role previously essayed by the much older Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin. That movie, while a commercial success, didn't exactly set the box office on fire, and it was therefore the latest Batman movie that effectively institutionalized the reboot.

The producers of James Bond were right to tap into this relatively new concept. Over the last forty-four years, James Bond has gone from satire to farce to cartoon. While I loved seeing Pierce Brosnan drive his silver Aston Martin across an icy wasteland in the last Bond movie, I won't deny how silly the film's central premise (about a satellite that can wipe out all of the mines between North and South Korea) as well as various action set pieces were.

In this film, the Bond folk are true to their word that there will be no gadgets and no megalomaniacs out for world domination. There is, however, still lots of action, most of it quite brutal, more in the vein of Matt Damon's Jason Bourne movies than any 007 film of the last twenty-five years or so. This James Bond, played by the much reviled newcomer Daniel Craig, feels like an honest-to-God killer, which is basically what his character is.

As an action film, this film does not disappoint. There are awesome action sequences, like the extended chase across a construction site between Bond and an extraordinarily athletic black guy who could give Jacky Chan a run for his money in the stunts department, as well as shoot-outs and slug fests galore. Arguably, one advantage of an ugly Bond is that getting his face smashed up is not that big a loss (hehehe).

In all seriousness, though, and to reiterate an earlier point, Craig is enormously effective in creating the franchise's new atmosphere of a darker, more brutal 007, in no small part because of his looks, but also owing to his acting, which, while not exactly Oscar material, is still quite good. Craig's Bond is every inch a killer, not some ridiculous movie star (a la Roger Moore, whom I never liked, even though I grew up with his movies) pretending to be one. Not only that, but this is a killer who lets us into his head.

The re-boot really rears its head here as Bond's entire history is revamped and set in the present day. Judi Dench's M suddenly becomes the M that hired him, rather than the replacement M she started out as in 1995's Goldeneye. Effectively, there never was a male M.
There are some other details that get whitewashed, too, like the origin of his misogyny, which was explained at some point in the past. Well, without giving too much away, let's just say that according to this new, revised canon, his eternal mistrust and objectification of women stems from something one woman did to him. Still, just as Batman Begins shed off all the unwanted cheese that had built up from two Joel Schumacher movies, the Bond production team has successfully shed the corniness from several decades of bad flicks.

At the end of the day, while Craig is surprisingly impressive as the new James Bond, this is still director Martin Campbell's movie. Just as he gave the franchise a badly needed shot in the arm 11 years ago with Goldeneye (which also featured James Bond "in love" contrary to all the hype that we the movie viewers had never seen this happen before), so he masterfully reinvents the franchise here. A lesser director (name any other from the last dozen Bond movies) could have sent the franchise crashing and burning, especially with an ugly Bond.

And it was refreshing to end the movie without him bedding some barely legal nymphette like some D.O.M. from hell. It was a nice change of pace.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The End is Near...But It Doesn't Have to Be

I borrowed the following passage, paraphrased it, actually, from Punisher: The End, a comic book written by Garth Ennis featuring an aged Punisher wandering around a post-apocalyptic earth, dealing death to the businessmen and capitalists whose greed essentially brought Armageddon about.

"Once upon a time there was a bunch of evil fucks. Nobody knew it, because they were so good at keeping it quiet, but this particular bunch of evil fucks ran the world. And they made the world a cruel and terrible place. They ran the great industries that poisoned the air. They started wars for profit. The money they made could have fed and healed the population of the world twice over, but all they could think to do with it was hoard it. Eventually they came to believe there was nothing they couldn't do, so one day, eventually, they pushed the planet's luck too far."

And this summarizes the trajectory the world is on with its own destruction. Greed drives the large industries to plunder the world's resources, whether oil or mineral, to sate the desires of the very, very few at the expense of the needy many. Oil companies, arms manufacturers, car companies, to name a few, are among those who are really behind the last few wars, mainly because they stand to gain the most from them.

As a child of the seventies and eighties, I'm familiar to an extent with cold war paranoia, with the residual fear carried over from the fifties that the long standing detente between the then super powers the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. could escalate into a nuclear holocaust. I even saw a couple of movies and T.V. miniseries (told from the American point-of-view, to be sure) expounding on the idea of that paranoia. Most of George Romero's zombie movies (and their clones) of the 70s and early 80s seem to have a common nuclear holocaust story thread running through them. Of course, this rather contrived conflict fueled the need for an arms race, and had a whole industry thriving with the need to develop newer, more expensive weapons of mass destruction.

Today, in this post-glasnost environment, there doesn't seem to be as much concern over the world being engulfed in nuclear fire, but the sad thing is there are so many other things that can end mankind's existence, like global warming, for example. The funny thing is that because this genuine threat is not something that the major American capitalists can make money off of, they aren't using their puppets in the government to push any paranoia about it, leaving it instead to the activists.

And so the denizens of the first world (read: right-wing America) continue to drive around in their SUVs and to live like hedonists, mindless of the future, secure in the knowledge that Dubya is keeping them safe from terrorists by putting their soldiers in Iraq. After all, aside from terrorists, what is there to worry about?

I find it funny how people hail works like Dawn of the Dead as wonderful satire and turn movies like The Day After Tomorrow into blockbuster hits, but at the same time seem completely oblivious to what it is they're trying to say. It is as though they think the apocalypse is sometime away, and that there's nothing to worry about.

Americans seem hell-bent on driving their SUVs, even if their government has to colonize--excuse me, democratize--a whole freaking country for them to be able to continue to afford it. Granted, oil certainly isn't the only issue that drove the now floundering Bush administration to send troops to Iraq, but does his government seriously think people are stupid enough not to realize it's one of the MAJOR reasons?

The saddest part is that science and technology has caught up with us and we as a race now have all kinds of alternatives to finite resources like fossil fuels. Solar and wind power are ours to harness, and the technology for doing so efficiently can only continue to improve. Hybrid electric cars are proving to be eminently drivable, and the recent documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? just goes to show that at some point we can do away with internal combustion engines altogether.

Whenever the next war does come around, it's not likely to be fought over any ideology, but over control of the world's rapidly dwindling resources. Take a look at the last two wars that America entered, both under a George Bush. They can sentence Saddam Hussein to death a thousand times on television, but they still won't fool anyone with half a brain as to why they really started those wars.

We can stop those wars by tapping into resources that aren't scarce, that are available for everyone, so that there's no need to fight for anything. We just have to put our collective foot down against the evil fucks currently running the world.

I'd like to congratulate the American people for taking the first step towards taking some of the power away from the aforementioned evil fucks by voting their puppets out of power, but instead, all I have to say is: WHAT THE HELL TOOK YOU SO LONG?!?

Friday, November 03, 2006

On Gerry Alanguilan's Elmer

As I understand it, there was a time when Filipino komiks were a bit like Japanese manga in that they pervaded our local pop culture. In a a way, there's still some degree of pervasiveness, but I think it says something about the state of the art form that, from all indications, being a komiks writer or artist isn't something anyone in this country does as a full-time job. A lot of comic books being locally produced now are self-published and done by people who have made it their advocacy to keep the komiks industry alive, not necessarily people who are doing it for a living. There are some people, to my knowledge, who do work for American comic book companies so they can continue to afford to produce local stuff.

Anyway, I'm glad the local comic book industry has its champions, people who are out there trying to put out original, distinctly Filipino, top-notch illustrated entertainment. Probably foremost among these advocates is artist/writer/inker Gerry Alanguilan (of Wasted fame), who's set up an online museum of art of Filipino komiks legends like Nestor Redondo and Alfredo Alcala, to name a couple. In my opinion, Gerry's on his way to becoming a legend in his own right, especially considering the degree of recognition he achieved with Wasted, which caused even the foreign comic book community to sit up and take notice.

His latest work, Elmer, is, to put it mildly departure from Wasted, in that it moves from the extreme to the absurd; instead of a world in which an angry jilted lover vents his rage on everything he feels is wrong with the world, it envisions a world filled with talking chickens, including the eponymous Elmer, and the lead character, his son, Jake. It's the story of someone going back to his roots, as Jake leaves his not-too-successful life in the city to go home to the province and visit the ailing Elmer. The series takes a bit of a sci-fi twist from this point onwards as Alanguilan explains, through a diary kept by Elmer and through an old family friend named Farmer Ben how chickens came to talk in the first place.

Elmer, first and foremost, is a breath of fresh air in a marketplace dominated by superheroes and their derivatives. It's nice to see that Alanguilan is building on the success he achieved with Wasted by trying to come up with even more original and fresh concepts for storytelling. The premise is solid, and has a nice, Kafkaesque texture to it, whether or not that was his intention.

There are some problems in the execution of this premise, however. The idea of chickens walking and talking is actually rather priceless, and I honestly feel that to narrate this story, straight-faced, with talking chickens somehow existing in a human world adds a quirky, tongue-in-cheek inventiveness to the whole concept which would elevate the story even past the slap-in-the-face political incorrectness of Wasted.

Instead, Alanguilan tries a more "realistic" approach to the situation and devotes a bit of time to explaining how the world came to be this way, with chickens talking and walking. He throws in topical issues like racial prejudice which I view as another issue that wasn't handled very well for reasons I am about to explain. Although the history he has crafted for the talking chickens is admittedly quite intriguing and has me hanging on to see the next issue, I still feel that the story would be better served by exploring the themes of family ties which also seem to serve as one of Elmer's central story threads, rather than putting so much premium on this "White Event" that gave the chickens of the world their "powers."

Another problem is the persona through whose eyes we see this world. Just as the lead of Wasted was an angry young man, Jake is an angry young, well, chicken. The former did the things he did because he was extremely embittered about things that happened, and the latter is basically carries a chip on his shoulder-er-wing because he's a chicken in a man's world.

The thing about Jake's anger is that it feels a lot more nebulous. One would think he hates the humans for having once eaten his species, and this is the objection he voices when he finds out his sister is engaged to one (!), but then it seems as if the real reason he hates mankind is that he feels like an outsider, in that he identifies himself with them (even going to the extent of masturbating to a human "bold star") but never feels accepted by them.

Ultimately, whatever the reason for his angst, Jake comes across more as obnoxious than as sympathetic. It doesn't help that his dialogue is punctuated by what I feel is a lot of needless profanity. That kind of language was well-suited to the atmosphere of Wasted, but feels out of place here, especially coming from the mouth-er-beak of a chicken. There's nothing wrong with angry characters per se, but I honestly feel that this one could have been done better.

Though the script may in some respects fall short, however, the art does not. I remember Alanguilan's fantastic rendering from a short story he did featuring his Timawa character back in the 90s, and it's absolutely glorious to see two full-length issues of his artwork (so far) rendered with as much care and effort as he put into that little vignette. In an industry (especially the local one) dominated by manga rip-off artists, it's really wonderful to see someone developing and maintaining his own distinct approach to comic book art. It really gives me hope for the future of komiks.

I know a lot of my friends choose to read their comics off the web, and in the case of top-selling, foreign comics, that's perfectly fine, but please do me and the komiks industry a favor by buying Elmer at the nearest comic book store. It only costs about P50 an issue, and I can assure you all it's well-worth it.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Foolishness of Ignoring the Inevitable

It's astonishing how tenaciously people resist change, even when it's quantifiably better for them. This point is illustrated quite vividly in Who Killed the Electric Car? a documentary directed by Chris Paine and produced by uber-producer Dean Devlin (Godzilla, Independence Day).

The film begins with a "funeral" staged by several activists who are mourning the decommissioning of EV1, an electric car developed by General Motors in compliance with a 1990 California State Mandate requiring car manufacturers to make 3% of their entire line emission-free or be disallowed from selling their cars in that state.

From the funeral, the film backtracks to how the EV1 was "born" by narrating the passing of the legislation, and the efforts of General Motors in particular both to comply with and to combat the California law. Essentially, the narrative of the film is structured around this singular thread, from the development of the car, to the apparently unanimously positive reception it received from those allowed to lease and drive, but not own, it, to the responses of other car companies in both America and Japan to this initiative.

The film's second act, which is rather well-woven into the first, narrates how several powers that be, namely the American Car Manufacturers, the Oil Companies, and the Bush Administration, conspired to put the electric car into the ground, manipulating statistics and essentially putting the full-court press on the California Air Regulations Board. It also slams, although not nearly enough, in my opinion, the public for its failure to support the move to switch to electric cars.

The film essentially wraps up with an indictment of all of those responsible, car makers, oil companies, Bush and his lackeys, and the American consumer, for killing the electric car, in particular the GM EV1, which, not long after the California State government relented and drastically altered the mandate to suit the needs of the car makers, was recalled from all of lessees and ignominiously destroyed.

Insofar as it describes the oil barons, the car makers, and the Bush government as devils incarnate, the film didn't tell me anything I already knew, but I was shocked to find how little support the EV garnerned from American consumers considering escalating gas prices. By 2003, I"m sure the price of oil was already spiralling out of control. I find it truly strange that only lobbyists saw fit to champion the electric car.

This is a film similar in importance to Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11, but fortunately, without Moore's decidedly more strident tone (and a much better narrator in Martin Sheen). It's got a couple of gaps in the narrative, however, that may inadvertently hurt its chances of convincing people who don't already espouse what it's pushing. For example, the supposition that Bush gave people tax breaks to people just to buy SUVs may sound like a pretty rational line of thinking to someone like me, but if I were a gas-guzzling, parochial thinking, right-wing American who only has the vaguest idea of how finite the oil supply actually is, I'd want something a little less conjectural and a little more complete.

But the most important aspect of the film is how it brings home the fact that the technology for viable electric cars is not ten or twenty years away; it is here, and because of a combination of greed, apathy and ignorance, or whatever the real reasons are, it's been shoved aside in favor of...the Hummer. We don't have to wait another fifty years for a viable electric car; we don't have to wait until the oil supply runs out. Electric-powered cars are a things of today, and with companies like Tesla producing sports cars that generate 240 horsepower, are here to stay as well.

Consumers in America and the world over therefore have a choice, to continue to burn up the world's oil reserves, even going to the extent of drilling in wildlife preserves, or simply make the inevitable paradigm shift TODAY and go electric. It's actually comforting to know that at the time the electric car was killed, gas prices hadn't increased exponentially just yet. Maybe now people will start paying attention.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Evolution of Image Comics

This week, DC Comics relaunches, yet again, Jim Lee's WildC.A.T.s, this time with Lee himself on pencils and comics auteur Grant Morrison doing the writing chores. Judging by the previews, it seems to be a "back to its roots" approach to the characters, who look very much like they did when they first burst onto the scene in 1992. It seems Jim keeps wanting to return to that period in his life, when he was riding high on his success from Marvel's X-Men and hoping to channel all of that popularity into his own creations, essentially a bunch of thinly-disguised X-Men clones.

He seems to forget that the reason why he and his cohorts at Wildstorm have had to reinvent WildC.A.T.s (who at one point became the Wildcats) several times over was that people just didn't take to his characters and their convoluted space-opera storylines. He seems to forget that not even Alan Moore could elevate his creations past the copycat X-Men they really were. Look, I can even name the Marvel Comics analogues for several of the prinicipal characters:

Spartan-Cyclops (hell, Jim probably didn't think Scott was much more than a robot, anyway)
Zealot-Psylocke/Elektra (any other girl in a skimpy ninja/Hand outfit)
Grifter-Gambit meets Wolverine
John Lynch-Nick Fury

I hardly think that Morrison will succeed where Moore failed.

What's sad about this particular development is that it feels like a huge step backward from what has essentially been a very healthy, steady evolution of the Image Comics line. Granted, he is no longer part of them but of the DC Universe, but no one can deny him his role in kick starting the biggest challenge Marvel and DC have ever faced to their chokehold on the market.

What started out as six Marvel Comics artists essentially wanting to flex their own creative muscles and cash in on their massive popularity has become a truly diverse repository of talents and stories.

Although a lot of the original Image characters were ripoffs of the Marvel characters on whom the Image founders had made their names (Spawn, for example, owes his origin to Ghost Rider and the nature of his costume, a 'neural parasite' to Spider-Man's symbiote), they had the right philosophy, which was essentially to give struggling creators a venue to publish their own creations, and as a result some remarkably talented people have come to light whose work may not have seen the light of day otherwise. Marvel, who now depends largely on the talents of Brian Michael Bendis, owe a good part of their current success to the Image philosophy.

The bad news for Image is that as a company, they're no longer the market force they used to be, with Spawn, their top selling title, lingering near the bottom of the Top 100 list of comic books every month. The good news, however, is that they aren't really driven by these numbers, and as a result they are still able to put out some quality, offbeat books every month that aren't tied into the latest 52nd Infinite Civil Annihilation. Books like Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead, the Luna Brothers' Girls, and other non-superhero fare are still around for whoever wants to buy them.

Image Comics, by coming when they did, truly revitalized the comic book industry. I remember the mid-nineties crash was loaded with more terrible books with variant/foil/embossed/die-cut covers than an average collector could shake a stick at. Marvel had gone incestuous (as Joe Quesada put it), giving choice writing gigs to its editorial staff instead of searching for new talent, and as a result coming up with extremely mediocre stories, and DC was, well, killing Superman or maiming Batman.

Image managed to put the emphasis back on the importance of creators. While it's nice to see talented new creators working on established characters like Spider-Man or Batman, it can be just as rewarding to see them come up with their own creations, which are that much more gratifying to read than the Marvel/DC character knockoffs that first populated the Image line of comics. Thanks to Image, now Marvel knows how to take much better care of its creative stable; it created the Icon line as a way to sweeten the pot for its existing superstars, who supposedly make all the money off their creator-owned books. Incidentally, none of the books in the Icon line feature superheroes as their main characters. All in the spirit of Image, really.

Given the sophistication which Image has achieved with its output, and its obvious influence on market juggernaut Marvel, it's sad to see one of the founding fathers of Image still preoccupied , after all these years, with pushing his pasteboard X-Men knockoffs.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Looking Ahead for Comic Book Movies

The quality of comic book based movies, just like their source material, seems to rise and fall in cycles. After the first couple of pretty good Superman movies came stinkers, just as after the first couple of good Batman movies came stinkers, after which the franchises were revived (sort of, in the case of Superman) with their fifth installments.

The Marvel stable seems to be going through the second phase of that cycle, with a succession of disappointments such as Blade: Trinity, Elektra, Fantastic Four, and X-Men 3. Sure, the last two of those movies may have made Marvel and 20th Century Fox a bundle of money, but on the whole they just do not approach the level of quality or craftsmanship achieved with the first two X-Men and Spider-Man movies. The real pitfall of these movies is that they really felt like commodities churned out just to make sure that Marvel had movies lined up for the respective years of their release.

DC/Warner Brothers, on the other hand, is in the renaissance phase, and it's thanks in no small part to the rise of Marvel movies. In Entertainment Weekly, a Time-Warner owned publication, no less than the Warner Brothers head honchos admitted that they were trying to make their superheroes "more relatable" just like their Marvel counterparts. The results were a truly revitalized Batman franchise, kicked off by the wonderfully-textured Batman Begins, a flawed but nonetheless solidly crafted Superman sequel and a highly stylized and enjoyable V for Vendetta. These films, as were the earlier Marvel films that "inspired" them, are proof positive that the best creative decisions are made by the filmmakers, and not the schmucks in the suits like Fox's Tom Rothman.

The next wave of Marvel movies, however, also seems to suggest that they might be onto the third cycle soon. The third Spider-Man movie looks, technically at least, leaps and bounds better than the second, just as the second was that much better than the first. This is in no small part due to the fact that this film is clearly a labor of love, and all concerned, from Sony Pictures to the folks at Marvel, are taking their sweet time in getting this baby ready for theaters, unlike the idiots at Fox who cobbled together X-Men 3 in the blink of an eye even after all their production snafus, apparently just to spite Bryan Singer.

Another film that looks like it's being carefully prepped, oddly enough, is Ghost Rider, which, while also a Sony/Columbia project, is being helmed by Mark Steven Johnson, whose Daredevil left something to be desired (although I've come to understand that Fox chopped off whole sections of the story to get in a shorter running time, hence its incoherence). This film was moved back seven full months, even though prinicipal photography had long been completed, so that Sony could work on the effects shots. That's commitment to making a spectacular movie.

Finally, Paramount/Marvel's Iron Man seems quite promising, given the pedigree of two of its stars so far, Academy Award Nominee Robert Downey, Jr. (Chaplin) as Tony Stark/Iron Man and Academy Award Nominee Terrance Howard (Crash) as James Rhodes. In addition, this film has the distinction of being the first comic book movie where the filmmaker, in this case director Jon Favreau, actively seeks the input of the fans instead of second-guessing them based on his own preferences. Granted, a lot of fanboys are retards who wouldn't know good filmmaking if it kicked them in the nuts (like the asswipe who called Meryl Streep's acting wooden out of frustration over the fact that The Devil Wears Prada really hurt Superman Returns' opening weekend), but it's very promising to see that the filmmaker's starting point is the core audience.

The next two years look to be good ones for comic book movies in general, with these three films, a very interesting Batman sequel, and a film adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Stardust all in the pipeline. If there's any observation I can make, it's that the presence of both Marvel and DC franchises, as well as other characters, in the film market helps ensure better quality overall when the makers of these movies try constantly to outdo each other, and learn from one another's mistakes and successes. After all, X-Men couldn't have been made without Superman, but on the flipside, Superman Returns wouldn't have been made if Bryan Singer hadn't cut his teeth on X-Men.

All told, this competition is bound to be healthy, and the ultimate winners are going to be the moviegoing public in general.

Monday, October 02, 2006

On Billboards and Overdoing It

The thing about human beings, and Filipino billboard owners in particular, is that we never seem to be able to do anything in moderation. Things have to be done in superlatives, or to put it more succinctly, extremes.

I'm actually a fan of billboards, to an extent. I like seeing really cool movie posters up on the sides of buildings, larger than life. Maybe they're dangerous and should be taken down, and that's fine, but I won't pretend that they aren't easy on the eyes, as are the ads of a scantily-clad Bianca King.

But the makers of billboards aren't really concerned with giving commuters and motorists particularly pleasant images, only with occupying as large a field of vision as they possibly can. Check out the obscenely large billboard on Guadalupe.

I was actually a fan of the first casualty of the billboard collapses; the Amanda Griffin billboard which crashed onto the Boni MRT station, which fell all by itself, without the benefit of a typhoon.
That alone should have started the inquiries and the MMDA ball rolling, but as usual, they needed the traditional kick in the pants, which 'Milenyo' certainly provided.

Billboards don't have to the be the bane of EDSA that they have been branded as, but because some people just can't have enough money, an entire industry is quite literally being dismantled. I'm not exactly mourning their loss, but I really can't help but shake my head at the thought that things simply didn't have to happen this way.

Some billboards can actually be a pleasant distraction when you're crawling through EDSA traffic at around six thirty or seven in the evening. I'd be the last person to complain about a fifteen foot long Francine Prieto staring lustfully at me and every other motorist grumbling through traffic, but I'm not crazy about having her crush me underneath tons of canvas and steel.

I confess that without billboards, EDSA will seem a tad drearier, but the owners of these metal monstrosities only have themselves to blame, really.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Real Casualty of Marvel's Civil War, or Death in Comics Part III

The fourth installment of Marvel's Civil War shipped this week. Whoop de doo. Does it seem strange that I, someone who has so enthusiastically supported this book since day one (when it clearly doesn't need my endorsement to sell like hotcakes) should be so turned off at the rather critical halfway point of the story? I shall explain.

Steve McNiven is still brilliant, and has now conclusively snapped up the title of comic artist of the new millenium from Jim Lee, who for some reason cannot get more than three issues out in a single year. Mark Millar's script, except for the parts I will discuss, is still a crisp, gripping read.

So what's my problem?

(Spoiler alert)

I can name two.

First of all, the death of Goliath, which was clearly written to be some kind of emotional turning point for all of the characters involved, came across as a cheap stunt. This is a genuine shame, because it was actually rather well-written. The problem was that, because Civil War is an "event" book, Marvel's marketing arm had to trumpet the killing of one of the characters involved months before the book even came out. As a direct result, probably every self-respecting comic fan knew that Goliath would be the one to get offed. Hell, they probably would have known even without the announcement, but by screaming in all the press releases that they would be killing someone, Marvel practically turned the poor guy into a dead man walking for the first three issues.

Killing B-List characters can be done well, and by well I mean with real emotional impact. Four years ago, Brian Michael Bendis brought a b-list character named the White Tiger out of obscurity. On trial for a murder he did not commit, he turned to Matt Murdock, Daredevil's alter ego, for help. Bendis had spent an entire year messing with Daredevil, and as a result this storyline seemed like a way to finally make things better for him. Unfortunately, Matt and the White Tiger lost the case, and unwilling to go to jail the White Tiger ran out of the courtroom brandishing the bailiff's gun, only to be gunned down on the courthouse steps. And life got a whole lot worse for Matt after that.

THAT is a sterling example of how the death of a b-list character can be used to stunning effect. Nobody saw it coming, in that case. There was no reason to believe Bendis (who was relatively new to Marvel back then) would kill off a character in so tragic, so brutal a fashion. They usually die fighting supervillains, don't they? Marvel should have followed THAT template in killing off Goliath, meaning, they should have really just kept their mouths shut about it, and let the story just play out properly.

But Goliath's violent demise notwithstanding, the REAL casualty of Civil War is Reed Richards, also known as Mr. Fantastic, leader of the Fantastic Four. I have never, in my twenty-odd years of reading Marvel Comics, seen a flagship character so callously scripted.

To the people who say Iron Man is getting the short shrift in this story, being depicted as a villain, I say bullshit. Tony has been given generous helpings of self-doubt and rational thought since issue #1, conspiracy theories of some idiot pro-registration fanboys notwithstanding. Even Hank Pym, both here and in an issue of New Avengers, was shown to be sympathetic character, which is a shift for Millar considering what a schmuck Pym is in the pages of Ultimates.

But Reed, both here and in the pages of Spider-Man and Fantastic Four is written as one stone-cold son of a bitch. Johnny Storm, his brother-in-law gets beaten up and fucking hospitalized, and instead of even visiting him, he burns the midnight oil figuring how to imprison Captain America and other superheroes? He clones Thor, who kills another superhero, and at the funeral of that superhero, where everyone else is beside themselves with grief that things have gone so wrong, all he can think about is how "suspiciously" Peter Parker is acting? His WIFE, the mother of his CHILDREN, leaves him because of how tunnel-visioned he's become over this whole thing, and scarcely a page later, apparently none the worse for wear, he's assembling a team of mother fucking SUPERVILLAINS to hunt down the anti-registration team? WHAT THE FUCK KIND OF WRITING IS THIS? THIS IS JUST AS BAD AS WONDER WOMAN SNAPPING SOMEONE'S NECK!

Why is editorial removing every trace of humanity from one of its most cherished heroes? Are we going to have some explanation later on that he was being mind-controlled by Doctor Doom or something? Granted, Reed ruled over Latveria with an iron fist three or so years ago, but that was after Doom had put his family through hell (literally) and scarred him horribly. The guy was pissed. So is Marvel saying that Reed regards Captain America and the other anti-reg superheroes the same way he does his arch-nemesis?

Probably the single biggest sign that Marvel is staunchly anti-registration is the way they have completely hollowed out Reed Richard's character and replaced him with someone else altogether. This is not Reed, the family man. This is not the Reed who has saved the universe countless times from Galactus and the Skrulls and countless other menaces. This Reed is cold, calculating and, truth be told, rather poorly motivated. At least we've been given glimpses into Tony's head. What possible excuse do they plan to give us for Reed's behavior. For God's sake, not even Sue's leaving him is enough to snap him out of whatever's possessing him!

I truly hope that this character assassination (and I mean that in the worst possible way) isn't just some contrivance to buttress Marvel's "families ripped apart" thesis. America is divided already; we get it. I just hope they realize at some point that Reed is simply behaving out of character here, and that they rectify this situation.

Or he might as well be dead.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Nextwave: The Anti-Comic Book

Ever remember thinking how ridiculous Cable leader of X-Force, looked with his oversized rifles, which looked more like phallic references than anything else? Did you ever wince at how excessively macho Nick Fury has always been portrayed? Did you ever scratch your head at how many superheroes in comic books in general preface their names with "Captain?"

Did you ever think that this and so many other foibles of comic-book storytelling would be great material for lampooning?

Well, Marvel did, and instead of coming up with one of yet another iteration of the stylistically weak "What The-?" which is kind of like a "MAD" kind of publication, they've come out with Nextwave, which features actual, mainstream Marvel characters, albeit 3rd tier ones, and an actual, topnotch creative team in writer Warren Ellis and artist Stuart Immonen, neither of whom tries to portray their characters with any particular exaggeration from the norm (although Ellis does occasionally).

There's nothing deep or earth-shaking about this book; it's simply about a group of b-list superheroes who worked for a government agency known as the Highest Anti-Terrorism Effort (H.A.T.E., for short, a riff on S.H.I.E.L.D., just as its chief, Dirk Anger, is an analogue of Nick Fury, who Marvel wouldn't allow Ellis to use because they have other plans for the character) and decided to go rogue when they found out that H.A.T.E. was actually being funded by a terrorist cell.

There have been seven issues so far, and each story-arc takes only two issues, so each new story is an accessible, easy read. The art is crisp and clean, and it's how Ellis makes fun of Marvel conventions, and so much fun how Marvel allows him to do so. It's a comic book for anyone who's winced at so many of these strange storytelling devices Marvel has evolved over the years, and it looks great too.

And it has a theme song, believe it or not. If you don't believe me, check out myspace.thunderthighs or something like that. It's a scream!

The Mystique of Manila

It's funny; after I left the Supreme Court last May, I figured I had had my fill of old Manila (as opposed to Metro Manila, that is), that I had seen enough of the city to last me a lifetime and that whenever I would go there to pick up my wife from her M.A. classes or file a pleading with the SC, I would go with a "been there, seen more than enough of that" air.

Strangely enough, even though I've been there a number of times since I moved jobs, I still feel that affinity towards it that made working there such a pleasant experience for me.

I don't miss my job; with due respect to the people I worked with and for over at the High Court, in the four months I've been with a law firm, I feel I've learned much more than I did from a year and a half with the judiciary.

But I still enjoy driving along Taft, through Paco, and along Roxas. I enjoy driving through Lawton and occasionally through Intramuros (though I never really did have any occasion to go there even when I was with the Court, except to attend a seminar once).

In short, even after a year to soak in the sights and basically get sick of the place, I still feel a sense of enchantment when I set foot in Manila, for all of its flaws.

Makati is kind of growing on me, which is good considering that I'll probably be there for the foreseeable future, but I feel good knowing how much I still cherish one of my favorite things from my childhood.

Brings to mind the classic Hot Dog song...Manila...Manila...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Whoa, Where Did That Come From?

The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a funny newspaper. I don't actually read it on a regular basis, and although I find its columnists on the whole to be intelligent, I gave up on their consistent and rather redundant anti-administration rants a long time ago. Call me an old fuddy-duddy but I still prefer the relatively more sedate work of Amado Doronilla and Max Soliven.

Imagine my shock when one of these older, more sedate writers, retired Supreme Court Justice Isagani Cruz, suddenly wrote, of all things, a diatribe against homosexuals.

Scant weeks earlier, they had published a really badly written article about bullies (that I trashed in a post on my barkada's blog), but this new piece really just blew my mind. More than anything else, the guy really showed what an old fart he is.

Understandably, the gay and lesbian community, as well as their friends, were all over him like horseflies on a turd. Fellow Inquirer columnist (and now officially outed member of the homosexual community) Manuel Quezon III called Cruz a hatemonger and steeped his discourse in a healthy amount of history to bolster the point.

By way of a retort disguised as an apology, Cruz defended his Constitutional right to express himself, and cited the likes of Voltaire and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Big mistake, considering that regardless of the fact that (to the best of my knowledge) he didn't actually finish college, dear old Manolo is quite well-steeped in all forms of history, having majored in it for quite some time. I was his classmate in 1994.

Quezon's rejoinder (wow, who thought I'd be using the word 'Quezon' to describe anything other than the city I live in?) was, as could be expected, rich in historical reference, and brought to light some rather unsavory revelations about both historical luminaries: apparently they were both bigots. Yes, you can express your hatred, he said, but being a member of the oppressed minority, I have a right to object.

The people calling for Cruz's head are understandably upset, but at the end of the day, they're all of them idiots.

I have a lawyer friend whom I've known since college (going on...what? Ten years now?) who is quite comfortable with his own sexuality, and even lives with a doctor. It's kind of like Will Turner with a boyfriend of equal professional stature. I showed him Cruz's article, especially since he found it hard to believe at first that it could even have been written by someone whose work he admired, and upon reading it, he simply shook his head and said, in not so many words, "the guy's getting senile."

And that's pretty much the best way to take it, really.

About six or seven years ago I encountered similar narrowmindedness from the geriatric set. I was hanging out in the house of my great-uncle (my grandmother's baby brother) because I was about to take out my two young cousins to see a movie. It was lantern parade season in UP, and for this reason my great-uncle, without any provocation from me, started ranting about how immoral the whole concept of the oblation run was. In retrospect, it was a bad idea, but I engaged him (translated: pinatulan ko siya) in a discussion, at first a calm one, about how basically no one was really hurt by the whole affair, and how everyone involved was pretty much an adult anyway. My great uncle would hear none of it, and became even more strident. As a result, our "discussion" degenerated into a shouting match, with him slinking off in dejected defeat when I basically had him beat out in terms of sheer volume. This gave me no satisfaction, however. My victory tasted like ashes.

I couldn't really care how respected Cruz is. He's over 80 years old and is more liable than most people to say asinine things. It's a fact of life. He's just having trouble adjusting to the way the world is changing, and is lashing out in the only way he knows how, really. The best thing to do in this situation would be just to leave an old man to his ramblings rather than calling for his blood. The people doing so, gay or straight, are inevitably putting themselves in an unfavorable light.

What people don't seem to realize is that he may have done the gay and lesbian community a huge service by putting the spotlight so squarely on them; next year, they have a solid chance of electing their first party-list congressmen.

My advice: when Danton Remoto and the other party-list representative win their seats next year, they should give Cruz a big-old thank you for shooting them into the stratosphere.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Late Comics, Part 2

Whoops, look like I spoke too soon about Steve McNiven, the artist of Marvel Comics' Civil War. It seems the book has hit a speed bump because of his inability to come up with the latest issue on time. Issue #4 will be pushed back a month, while issue #5 will be pushed back three months. With the revised schedule, the series should wrap up in January as opposed to the originally planned November.

I'm hardly pissed about it, seeing as how I found it to be a minor miracle that he was able to come up with such good work three months in a row. Admittedly, I'm not exactly happy about it, but I'm not about to burn my local comic book shop. It's a bummer, sure, but not the end of the world.

It blew my mind, therefore to see the tsunami of venom that swept the message boards of the site that broke the news about Civil War, Newsarama. People were slinging all kinds of shit at Marvel (which may have been deserved, even if just a little) and the occasional little shit was taking cheap shots at Mark Millar or McNiven, who most certainly do not deserve it, given their sterling output. The problem, I think, with the internet is that every moron with a keyboard and an opinion, no matter how poorly thought out, can shout as loud as he wants with all of his horrible spelling for everyone to see. Oh, well, maybe I'm just a masochist for reading that drivel.

The funny thing is, it's actually good news that so many people posted, simply because it shows how massively popular the series is (Civil War #3 is now officially the highest selling single, regularly-priced American comic book of the millenium in its first month of release). Marvel may have miscalculated McNiven's ability to turn in a comic book on time, but they were dead on about the magic he brings to a book, so I for one, am glad they're doing everything they can to keep him working on the book (rather than bring in a fill-in) at his own pace (rather than having him rush his pencils) even if it means taking a hit from fans and retailers. One needn't even threaten them with "it'd better be good" because judging from the first three issues, it almost certainly will be.

I remember feeling distinctly disappointed at how, in his X-Men days, Jim Lee's work had a tendency to taper off in quality towards the end of a story arc. The guy's art would be fantastic in the first couple of issues then start to look scratchy and rushed towards the end. Well, in his early Image days he cured that by working at his own pace, with evenly spectacular art. Granted, he's taken this to an insane extreme with All Star Batman and Robin, but at least he, Bryan Hitch, and now Steve McNiven are good, solid examples of why it's sometimes worth it to incur a month's delay or so on a book. It's much, much easier to forgive a late artist, especially a meticulous, talented and apologetic one than a little prick of a writer (I think we all know who I'm talking about) whose reaction is often to blow off his fans who ask about his work.

I guess I can sympathize with how upset fans are about the delay, because the two thousand tie-ins are also going to be similarly put on hold so as to avoid potential spoilers, and I especially sympathize with the people who sell the comic books because this could hurt their sales, at least in the short term, but overall I find it comical how people are reacting the way they are, considering that I'm sure most of them are going to buy Civil War #4 anyway.

I guess one thing that really pisses me off about these internet fanboys is the painfully obvious double standard they have between Marvel and DC. Marvel puts a truly wonderful book on hold for a month so that they don't have to sacrifice quality, and people cry for blood. DC/Wildstorm announce that Jim Lee will come out with a new Wildcats series in September, which is strange considering he hasn't even finished one six-issue story arc of ASBR a full freaking year after the first issue came out, and everyone still licks his ass like it was made of ice cream. What a crock of shit, really. I guess the only consolation I can take is that sales of ASBR seem to be genuinely suffering because of Lee's and Frank Miller's abject slowness. I find myself genuinely hoping that Wildcats #1 debuts at the bottom end of the charts because of how pissed off people are with him. At least then I'll know that lateness is punished because it's just genuinely unpleasant, not just because Marvel does it.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Katulong Blues

About three years ago the maid of my uncle, who happened to be my next door neighbor as well, came screaming to my mom's house about how my mom's maid had ripped her off to the tune of several thousand pesos---money the poor girl had saved up for several months. After a day-long investigation which involved some intensive interrogation and some physical abuse at the hands of some really butch female Barangay official, some of the money was recovered, but through it all, the girl never admitted anything, even when money which was way, way beyond her monthly salary was recovered from her person.

It was a sad thing, true, and naturally my mom fired the disgraced maid (which was unfortunate for me and my wife, because her sister was my son's nanny at the time and we went through several replacements in the months that followed). The one thing that really stuck, though, was how the girl stuck by her story even when all the evidence was pointing to her. On the one hand, I thought "well, maybe she figures that by denying it till the end, she can hang preserve that one shred of doubt in the mind of her accusers" but on other hand, it just seemed so incredibly stupid on her part and got me thinking "maybe she figures that if she repeats the lie enough times, it'll become the truth." I was hard-pressed to believe that anyone could be that stupid, and figured that she was simply crafty enough to be the former.

I eventually forgot about the whole thing and moved on (and out of my mom's house).

Recently, however, I found myself confronting the question once more: is the maid caught red handed stealing something being extremely smart...or extremely stupid by denying the deed even with evidence staring her in the face?

After two very unhappy weeks, Theia and I had decided to send our year-old baby's nanny back to the agency from which we had gotten her. The girl was sullen, self-indulgent, and with a work ethic grossly disproportionate to the somewhat prohibitive rate quoted by the agency. Oh, and she was spectacularly ugly, to boot. My wife had disliked her from the moment she saw her, but the woman running the agency had practically begged her to take the girl off her hands, all but refusing to show my wife any other possible yaya candidates.

After two weeks and repeated notification that we wanted a replacement, we decided we had had enough and were in the process of helping this girl pack her things. Previously experience with missing items every time a maid would leave had prompted a new practice on our part of doing at least a cursory check on the maid's things before she would leave. This particular time, the task had fallen to my wife, and lo and behold, she recovered three CDs from this girl's bag. Two of them could have passed for hers, being generic, sing-along CDs one could have purchased at any record bar, but the third kind of stood out.

It was Michael Nyman's original score for Jane Campion's Oscar-winning film The Piano. I have, in the last fifteen years, amassed a considerable collection of movie soundtracks, but this acquisition had filled me with considerable pride at the time I had made it. I had found this CD in some hole-in-the-wall record store in Virra Mall, back in its labyrinthine firetrap days, and had been delighted to snap it up.

This girl claimed that these CDs were hers, having been given to her by her aunt or friend as pasalubong from Hong Kong. My mouth bobbed open and shut at this explanation, but only for a moment, after which I proceeded to scream the most filthy obscenities that sprang to mind at her. Through all of this, however, she seemed remarkably poker-faced.

At my wife's urging (she was doing a remarkable job of playing "good cop" to my "hysterical cop") I decided to check my CD rack to see if, indeed, this was actually hers. Sure enough, the CD was gone, and in short order, so was my temper. My last attempt to keep my cool involved me telling the girl, calmly and in the vernacular, "I'm going to take our CDs back and pretend this didn't happen," at which point she merely and calmly reiterated her story, that the CDs were hers.

I swear to God I almost put my fist right through her face. I would have done her---and the world---a favor, all things considered. Fortunately, I managed to get by screaming more obscenities before we drove her out of the village and dropped her off unceremoniously where she could get a ride, as opposed to taking her back to the agency as we had originally planned before finding out she had planned to cart of several of our belongings.

It really amazes me to think of how tenaciously the woman clung to her story. Someone told me that lying is like second nature to these people, and if it really has developed into some kind of subculture, that really makes me fear for our future. We talk about the Flor Contemplacions and the Sarah Balabagans of our country with abject sympathy, but we have to ask ourselves, with this current wave of domestics, a great many of whom are barely educated and apparently some of whom have a truly distorted values system, will those who get thrown in jail over theft or child abuse or some other crime they claim not to have committed even deserve that sympathy? It makes me wonder...