Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Double-Feature: World War Hulk #1 and Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America: Spider-Man

My sabbatical from regular collecting is partially over as I have started buying comics again with relative frequency. I bought the first issue of World War Hulk last week and plan to buy it to its conclusion. Today, I bought a one-shot spin-off of Captain America's death. As I am still a floating employee (sigh) with a DSL connection and lots of idle time, I thought I'd share my thoughts on them.

Review 1: World War Hulk #1

Story: Greg Pak

Art: John Romita, Jr. (pencils)
Klaus Janson (inks)
Christina Strain (colors)

Last year, Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Dr. Strange and Black Bolt, known to Marvel Universe fans as the Illuminati, hatched a scheme to exile Hulk to another planet where, they believed, he could find the peace that always eluded him. He was tricked into embarking on a space mission for S.H.I.E.L.D., and in space was sent off to a far-off planet. Unfortunately this planet, called Sakaar, turned out to be inhabited, and he spent the rest of the year fighting for his life in the 'Planet Hulk' storyline.

A year later, post 'Civil War,' Hulk returns to Earth, royally pissed. He shows up in New York riding a spaceship and accompanied by a motley crew of aliens whom he befriended on Sakaar, tells the people to evacuate the city and to bring forth Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic and Dr. Strange. For impact, he shows the people of New York the mangled body of Black Bolt and tells them he'll do the same thing to the whole planet if he doesn't get what he wants.

And so World War Hulk begins.

The issue has an impressive page count (42, to be exact), and to an action fan it isn't disappointing. There are two major punchups in this issue, and that's pretty much all there is to it. Of course, in this post-Civil War climate, what happens to Iron Man is a source of much satisfaction for many Marvel fans.

It's funny; I am and will remain a Marvel fan. I enjoyed 'Civil War' and what I read of 'Planet Hulk.' For some reason, however, this series doesn't do for me what either 'Civil War' or 'Planet Hulk' did.

'Civil War,' for all its flaws, tried something different. It took risks. And it was lavishly illustrated from start to finish.

'Planet Hulk' had wall-to-wall action, but also incredible build-up and intricate development not only of the characters Hulk met but of the world they inhabited. I realize that it's foolish to compare them here considering that Pak had to build Sakaar up from scratch, but still it feels like his writing as been considerably dumbed down for 'World War Hulk.'

In 42 pages, all that happens is that Hulk lands on the moon where the Inhumans live, then on Earth, and punches out two of the Illuminati. That's literally all that happens.

Another thing that disappoints me about this book is the art, especially considering Romita, Jr. is one of my favorite artists of all time. Whereas with his last work, 'The Eternals' I felt that he had achieved new levels of excellence, this one leaves me cold. There are still a few shining moments, a couple of cool splash pages, but overall his visuals feel just like the writing: simplistic and devoid of any nuance.

For this I fault his inker Klaus Janson, and colorist Christina Strain. Janson may be a frequent collaborator with Romita, Jr. but he's far from the best. Strain, for her part, seems best suited to coloring the simpler, anime-styled 'Runaways' than something meant to be so epic. They should have brought out 'Civil War' colorist Morry Hollowell or Matt Hollingsworth onto this book.

Online fanboys are ecstatic over this book the way they were livid over 'Civil War', so the relative sales of the two miniseries will show just how 'important' they are. I for one wasn't that crazy about this book, but I won't presume to speak for anyone else.

Still, I hope the storytelling crew go a little more into development from this point beyond having Hulk punch out the Marvel Universe. Having created a whole world for Hulk barely a year ago, I think Pak has what it takes to keep this story engaging till the end.

Review 2: Fallen Son, the Death of Captain America: Spider-Man

Story: Jeph Loeb
Art: David Finch (pencils)
Danny Miki (inks)
Frank D'Armata (colors)

Having read this issue, I've reaffirmed something I felt since I spent an unconscionable amount of money on the paperback of 'Daredevil: Yellow,' I hate Jeph Loeb's writing. I hate it because, in essence, just about nothing happens in any of the stuff he writes. His 'Batman: Hush' arc with Jim Lee was nothing more than an excuse to have Lee draw Batman's rogues gallery, his scripts are little more than excuses for splash pages, and his dialogue is the stuff of bad TV shows.

That's exactly the case here.

In this issue, Spider-Man mopes over the death of Captain America, knocks out the Rhino and talks to Wolverine. And THAT's it. Considering this issue's average-panel-per-page count is about two, I can't say I'm surprised.

That said, I understand why Loeb is so popular with comic-book artists: he basically panders to them. When they're splash page types, he apparently crams his scripts with big, bonecrunching action splash pages and double-page spreads. The artist never really has to adjust to Loeb's style.

As a result, David Finch, Danny Miki (who should have inked WWH instead of Klaus Janson) and Frank D'Armata knock this issue out of the park with their gratuitous splash pages and astonishing rendering. His run on 'New Avengers' didn't look this good. Heck, not even Jim Lee's 'Batman' issues looked this good.

Still, one really gets the sense from this particular issue (and this string of one-shots as a whole) that Marvel is simply milking Captain America's death for every penny it's worth. I still don't understand why they had to kill him considering 'Civil War' had put him so squarely in the spotlight, but I just hope they know what they're doing. The world doesn't really need a 'Reign of the Captain Americas' or a mullet-haired Steve Rogers to come back from the dead in a year's time.

At least we got to see Finch at his very best...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Toycon '07 (or, the fun side of fanboys)

Up until last weekend I was a toycon virgin, not having been to any of the five cons that have been held since the event was started in 2001.

It was a pleasant experience; though I spent most of my time manning the booth and hawking the product I'm distributing, I did manage to get a good look around (and to add to my car collection somewhat). I also had a good time watching the "cosplay" section where a bunch of geeks got up on stage dressed as their favorite pop-culture characters.

This is fanboy (and girl) hood in one of its better moments. A good time was had by all, and at the eleventh hour I even got to buy some cars cheap (always a good strategy to remember when buying stuff at affairs like this).

All in all, it was a lot of fun. I hope the upcoming Komikon in October is even half as enjoyable.

On Fanboys Part II (or, how to cause your brain to atrophy)

I found myself with a lot, I mean a lot of extra time on my hands earlier today. I am still regularly employed, but am now what is popularly known as a "floating" employee, a creature peculiar only to government service. It's a long, sordid story I'll save for another day and venue.

What this post is about is how I killed that extra time. When I find myself with time on my hands I try to get some reading done; I read up on the rules and regulations governing the agency I work for, I check my e-mail and similar things as well.

Today I read a "talkback" section on the popular geek site, and I'll be amazed if I'm not slightly dumber for having done so.

Read a paraphrased exchange between a couple of fanboys writing on this "talkback" which concerned the look of Batman's new motorcycle (prosaically called "The Batpod"):

Talkbacker #1: Eli Roth sucks! Hostel 2 sucks! Thank God it tanked at the box-office! Fuck Eli Roth, the ego-maniac is blaming the fans for not supporting his movie! He's blaming everyone but himself for such a shitty movie! Fuck Hostel! Fuck Roth! Fuck fuck fuck!

(Goes on for several posts bashing Eli Roth, clashing with another talkbacker, who, incredibly, feels the need to defend Hostel 2 and Roth on a thread completely unrelated to either, then, finally...)

Talkbacker #2: Hey could we stop talking about Eli Roth? This thread is about Batman!

Talkbacker #1: You seem to like Hostel 2 a lot! You must be Eli Roth.

(Mercifully, whether it was because he was kicked off the thread or because he just got tired of inflicting himself on other people, Talkbacker #1 stopped posting).

I'll come out and say it: one of my ultimate fantasies is to write a novel with a strong, underlying fantasy theme, and to have that novel adapted into a major motion picture.


GOD help anyone trying to launch any kind of creative endeavor anymore...

FUCK you ignorant, narrow-minded, grammar-syntax-and-spelling-impaired neanderthals! Go back into your parents' basements and stay there until evolution kicks in!

Ugh...I think I'll just write for myself from now on...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

He he. My last post was about fanboys, and this one is about a movie that many of them are dead certain to wail on, considering they have been doing so since before the movie was even released: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, sequel to 2005's Fantastic Four.

I will be first to admit that I actually found the first movie entertaining, albeit flawed on many levels, including the fundamental ones.On this blog and sometimes to others I eventually ended up making excuses for this movie rather than openly extolling it, and so I perfectly understood the tidal wave of fanboy venom that swept over it.

The first Fantastic Four movie, incidentally, is another example of the meaninglessness of fanboy outrage considering the movie made $154 million in the U.S. and Canada and over $330 million worldwide. Not bad for a movie "everybody hated." Still, I won't debate how much they bashed it because to no small extent the film deserved as much.

The question, now, is whether or not the sequel deserves more of the same. To this, I say quite categorically: NO.

Is this a great film, in the vein of the first two Spider-Man movies, Batman Begins or X-men 2? Well, no, for reasons I will explain, but unlike in the first film, director Tim Story and his writers hit a lot of marks they previously missed.

The first and most important thing they got right was that the scripting was incredibly tight (to a fault, actually) in that they dove right into the story. The movie is about the threat of Galactus, the world devourer, and his herald, the Silver Surfer. Both are characters well known to fans of the comic book and are explained well enough. The surfer, Norrin Radd (voiced by Laurence Fishburne, played in motion capture by Doug Jones and given glowing silver flesh by WETA Digital, the folks responsible for Gollum and King Kong), serves Galactus because it is the only way to save his own world from being destroyed. Of course, the Fantastic Four have to try to stop him.

This puts a little kink in the plans of team members Reed Richards, a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm, a.k.a. the Invisible Woman (Jessica Alba), who are planning to get married. We have a few character moments here as Sue frets about how their lives as costumed adventurers are likely to get in the way of their ever having normal lives. There's also a little subplot about how Johnny Storm, sue's brother a.k.a. the Human Torch (Chris Evans) is a self-centered little brat who needs to grow up. The final member Ben Grimm a.k.a. the Thing (Michael Chiklis) is kind of left to the sidelines in terms of character arcs in this movie.

Things get interesting when U.S. Army General Hager (Andre Braugher) taps the Four's support to stop the Surfer, whose presence has been causing temporal anomalies all over the world and, after one botched attempt to catch him, they end up recruiting as well the team's nemesis from the first movie, Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon), who has been rejuvenated courtesy of an encounter with the Surfer fairly early in the movie.

To go into the details at this point would involve spoiling some plot points, but suffice it to say it all plays out pretty well from here.

Like I said, the script is very tightly-woven, a stark contrast to all the endless exposition that characterized Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End and the narrative clutter of Spider-Man 3. Whatever anyone might say about this movie, no one can accuse it of having too much going on.

At 90 minutes, though, the film is a little too compact, and there are character moments which could have been expanded somewhat. This is a film about family, first and foremost, and while Story and his writers Don Payne and Mark Frost don't quite forget this aspect, sometimes it's the little things that matter. It is possible to do a kid friendly movie with expanded characterisations after all. In addition to reading the comic books, Tim Story should keep a DVD of The Incredibles handy every time he wants a lesson in the way superhero family dynamics should play out onscreen. It's as if, every time the characters are about to have more than a minute's worth of meaningful conversation, the filmmakers shy away, as though they're repulsed by the thought of developing the characters a bit more. While I understand that the Spider-man movies, for all my love for them, kind of laid it thick on the weepy character moments, I honestly believe that the makers of the Fantastic Four movies could really learn something from Marvel Films' flagship franchise. The sad thing is, a few of the character moments that were allowed actually played out pretty well, making it all the more disappointing that Story didn't really allow them to breathe a little more.

One area in which I cannot complain is the action. In this respect Tim Story really comes into his own. From Johnny's first encounter with the Surfer, to the showdown between the Surfer and the U.S. military to the team's re-match with Dr. Doom (which, incidentally, features the debut of the Fantasticar!), the action in this movie is excellently staged, and the crew from WETA Digital and the other supporting VFX studios really pull through brilliantly. There are still some spotty moments with the effects animation of the Fantastic Four themselves early on in the film (Reed's stretchy dancing in a nightclub is particularly wince-inducing), but when the action kicks in the effects go from splotchy to spectacular in no time at all. And the Fantasticar deserves a particular shout-out because it was great to have the filmmakers nail such a memorable part of the Fantastic Four's lore. They got it absolutely right (except for a little bit I'll mention later). Johnny Storm's flying effects, which were pretty okay the first time around, look even cooler now even against the VFX wonder that is the Silver Surfer, and there's even an added treat, featuring Johnny, towards the climax of the movie.

There are a couple of noted improvements in the actors' performances as well. Gruffudd, who looked really, really uncomfortable in the first movie, seems to have settled more comfortably in his role and now ably projects Richards as the team leader. I particularly loved how he delivered a speech about nerds and football jocks which the scriptwriters lifted almost verbatim from Warren Ellis' recent Ultimate Extinction miniseries. In that moment, Gruffudd truly embodied Reed Richards. Evans and Chiklis continue to play well off each other, with Johnny Storm's goofy, visibly uncomfortable attempts to talk about Ben's relationship with Alicia Masters (Kerry Washington) being good for more than a couple of laughs. While Alba is eternally miscast, I'll be charitable enough give her some points for trying. McMahon delivers an adequate, if somewhat unremarkable performance as Dr. Doom, though I do feel they ramped up the sense of menace a touch. I did like Braugher as General Hager, and of course the inevitable Stan Lee cameo, this time done in a meta-fictional, tongue-in-cheek fashion, consistent with the general tone of the movie.

The movie definitely could have been done better in some key respects. The ending was something of an anti-climax, though to avoid spoiling it I won't go further into it. I'll give a hint; don't expect a blue -and-purple-clad giant (Galactus' comic-book incarnation) to show up onscreen. I also really, really, really didn't like the fact that the Fantasticar was a Dodge (see it to believe it). It's as offensive as the thought of the Transformer Bumblebee being a Camaro rather than a Volkwagen Beetle just because General Motors paid Dreamworks a fortune. Corporate America rears its ugly head again, though at least the involvement of DaimlerChrysler meant I got to see one of my favorite supercars, the Mercedes Benz SLR McLaren, onscreen for a few glorious moments.

Overall, one thing I found genuinely annoying about this movie is how clear it is that, to this day and age, Twentieth Century Fox still treats their comic-book properties like second-class citizens.

With the exception of the intercalation of Venom, Sony, from the get-go, always let Spider-Man director Sam Raimi make the movies he wanted to make. He got to pack in all the character development and pacing quirks he wanted.

It has not been the case with Fox, either in this franchise or in the X-Men franchise. In the two X-Men movies Bryan Singer directed you could almost hear him shouting out his frustration at how little Fox would let him do and how parsimonious they were with their budget. X2 was a great movie, but one wonders what Singer could have done had Fox not clipped his wings.

Here, Tim Story seemed hell-bent on telling a better story than he did last time, but the film felt genuinely restrained in certain key aspects, like the character moments I mentioned before. It's my honest hope that, now that Marvel Films are now independent of any one studio, their talents, such as Jon Favreau who is currently filming Iron Man, are able to truly flex their creative muscles and not have to kowtow to studio executives.

Flaws notwithstanding, for the reasons stated above, this movie was genuinely entertaining, a popcorn movie, as it were, and deserves to make at least as much money as its predecessor did, whatever fanboys may have to say about it.

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On the Fanboy

I am a fanboy. I have a stash of 500 comic books. I've seen each Spider-man movie at least three times in the theater and I intend to buy Spider-Man 3 on original DVD when it comes out. When I have spare time I like to look over message boards (to which I do not contribute anything) and am alternately amused and infuriated by how stupid my fellow fanboys can be.

All this said, I found myself scratching my head at an article in a recent issue of Time magazine about how Hollywood is now striving to pander to fanboys in order to ensure the profitability of their products, be they movies or TV series. There was also a little sidebar addressing the opinion that mainstream movie reviews are useless and obsolete.

I much preferred the article about movie reviewers, which was written by Richard Corliss (a man I have taken the time to bludgeon in this very blog) because in no uncertain terms Corliss comes clean and says that reviewers have never pretended to matter as far as a movie's box-office popularity is concerned and that if anything, their real purpose is to champion movies that would otherwise get swept away in the tide of summer and winter blockbusters. He gave really good examples like Little Miss Sunshine and Pan's Labyrinth, both great movies which might have been neglected were it not for critics calling attention to how good they were. I acquired a new respect for Corliss then, though I still hope he doesn't ever go back to making box-office predictions.

I found myself floored, however, but how influential the article seemed to suggest fanboys, especially the noisy, opinionated variety that infests message boards, have become to the extent that a movie can rise or fall on their support or lack of it, because to my mind this is complete and utter bullshit.

I will rattle off my long list of media products (not just limited to movies) the success of which angry fanboys could not stop, as well as the products their ardor could not save. I'll actually limit my discussion to online fanboys, who tend to opine most viciously and are apparently the most closed-minded to any form of disagreement.

Marvel's recent event miniseries Civil War sold about 2.2 million copies in the United States and Canada (not even counting all the tie-ins or the international orders) and is still racking up the reorders. It is, hands down, the most successful American comic book of the new millenium in terms of sales and yet if the online fanboy community is to be believed, it is the worst comic book ever published. I'm not here to debate the artistic merits of this particular piece of work, but the sales figures, juxtaposed against the vitriol spewed online by people who profess to be its core audience can be intepreted two ways: online fanboys are idiots who complain about something and then buy it anyway or online fanboys are a lot less influential than they think they are.

This year's summer movie showdown is another good example: Spider-Man 3 received a widespread thrashing from online fanboys, with all but one of's reviewers bashing it (that one being uberfanboy and AICN co-founder Harry Knowles), while Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, received glowing praise from all of them (the AICN reviewers), as well as snarky predictions (from AICN's "talkbackers") of its box-office supremacy over the web-slinger. Well, while both films are seeing their daily grosses eroding faster than the topsoil in Ormoc, it seems there's a very real chance POTC:AWE won't even hurdle the $300 million mark in the U.S. and Canada, a figure once taken as a given. SM3, in contrast, appears to be a lock for at least $335 million in the same location. Again, I won't go into the artistic merit of either of these movies, but it just seems painfully obvious to me that fanboys don't matter nearly as much as they think they do.

Probably my favorite example of how meaningless fanboy bitching truly is, however, would have to be the recent James Bond sequel. There was an online campaign to get Daniel Craig sacked from the job of playing Ian Flemings' spy, the ultimate male fantasy role model (on a site called or something like that) as well as a couple of really nasty gossip tidbits about how he couldn't even drive his Aston Martin. None of this prevented Casino Royale from becoming the highest grossing Bond movie ever (not counting inflation) and one of the best-reviewed releases of 2006. In short, the fanboys were wrong on both counts. Craig, as if to rub salt on the collective fanboy wound, won a British Academy of Film and Television Award for his portrayal.

We can also go into the many fanboy-geared products their love couldn't save. For example, the 1997 film Starship Troopers generated a following of Heinlein disciples, video-game nuts, fans of extreme post-modernism and sadists in general that justified a TV spin-off and a direct-to-video sequel, but for all of that the movie couldn't even gross more than $55 million in the U.S. and Canada and barely even hurdled $120 million internationally.

Another movie made solely on the clamour of fanboy demand was Joss Whedon's Serenity, a film based on the extremely short-lived Firefly series. The film's final box-office gross? $25.5 million in the U.S. and Canada. Fanboys seemed happy with it, but apparently it just wasn't enough.

And let's not forget all of the Kevin Smith movies that fanboys couldn't even elevate past domestic U.S. grosses of $31 million (his biggest, I think, being Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back). One has to wonder if that's the sum total of the fanboy community's contribution to any movie's box office.

Fortunately, the Time article featured a quote from someone who said that if fanboys were as powerful as some studios think they are, then the recent Tarantino/Rodriguez double-feature Grindhouse would have been a big hit, which it wasn't.

Still, the message is clear that Hollywood seems to think fanboys, highlighted by their obnoxious online self-proclaimed spokespersons are a lot more important than they actually are. Of course, at the end of the day, it's all about money, and in their never-ending quest to find the foolproof formula, studio heads are turning to the latest fad in money-making: appeasing the 15-35 year old demographic.

I'd like to give my own personal news flash to the studios: Spider-Man 1 and 2 raked in huge amounts of money and garnerned stellar reviews because Sam Raimi, a very talented filmmaker (and admittedly also a fanboy) was allowed to bring his own, uncompromised vision of Spidey to the screen. He didn't buckle under to fanboy outrage about the organic webs or any of the other crap they loved to sling at the two movies. These two movies, in my opinion, will stand the test of time, for all their flaws, as work with artistic integrity. And you know what? As much as I loathe a great many of them, I have to hand one thing to fanboys: they respect vision. Fanboys came to respect Sam Raimi because, as much as they reviled him when he first got the unenviable task of bringing the web slinger to the big screen, he stood his ground and let his vision prevail.

Spider-Man 3, while entertaining in its own right, will, by contrast, be remembered as the movie where Raimi was forced to give in to fanboys who were screaming for the appearance of one of the objects of their affection: the shallow, two-dimensional villain known as Venom. It's not really the diminished grosses or the harsher reviews that's the problem; these were just the consequences of a bigger transgression, which was that the studio tried too hard to appease the fanboys and deviated too much from the extremely tight, character-centered approach that had made the first two films both box-office smashes and critical darlings. Fanboys, especially the ones Raimi won over, will allege that this was one the studio fucked up, but to my mind a lot of them have no one to blame but themselves for forcing, through their messageboards and online noise, upon Raimi a character with whom he had no affinity whatsoever.

Batman Begins was also successful because director Chris Nolan, a talented individual, was likewise allowed free rein in how to bring Bruce Wayne and his caped alter-ego to life. Fanboys respected that, too.

At the end of the day, there is no fool-proof formula for making a hit. None. The best bet of any studio is to put the most talented people possible on a film, get the most skilled marketers plugging it, and hope for the best. Fanboy buzz will only get a movie so far.

Please, Hollywood, stop deifying these self-important, contempt-filled, syntax-and-spelling-impaired morons whose opinions will only get more vociferous and obnoxious once they realize how much power is being artificially bestowed upon them. Just try to make good movies by using talented directors, scriptwriters and actors.

Think about people like Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi and Chris Nolan who, unfettered in their vision, can come up with hits whose artistic merit no one can really question. These are people who, when given material to adapt, understand that material and what makes it work in its original incarnation. Raimi understands Peter Parker's guilt and sense of responsibility. Nolan understands that underneath Batman's cowl is a tortured soul. Jackson understands...well, that the LOTR trilogy is all about people and their frailty before anything else. It's not about fanboys barking at these guys what they want.

Sure, fanboys matter on some level, but if we're the only audience whom the Hollywood execs try to please when making their comic-book/action/sci-fi/fantasy movies, they'll have a lot more Grindhouse sized flops than Spider-Man sized hits. And you can take that to the bank.