Thursday, June 27

Man of Steel (2013)

Directed by Zack Snyder

All right, I've now seen Man of Steel for a second time, a few days after the first, after I'd had time to let things sink in and had thought of things to look for and pay attention to in a second viewing, and had a further week thereafter to reflect on it. The result is the longest blog post I've ever written on any single subject short of my monthly round-up of thirty or so DC Comics titles.

I want to lead off by saying my basic assessment, which I kind of soft-pedaled in my “First Impressions” post (link) in case I changed my mind, is that this movie is awesome. I was not at all disappointed in it as I feared I might be. In fact, I think I enjoyed it even more the second go'round, which is a really good feeling given how long I've been looking forward to it with a mixture of hope and dread born of my love for the character pitted against recognition of Hollywood's ability to completely miss the mark. As usual, this is not going to be some kind of carefully considered “review,” but more of a “Randomly Rambling” commentary on the things I liked, some things I didn't like so much – there were most definitely some – and so forth. Inevitably, there will be some repeating of points I made in the “First Impressions” post, but here I intend to develop them quite a bit more.

Although I'm not setting out to summarize the story, per se, do I really need to warn of Spoilers Ahead...?

Saturday, June 22

Shadow of Freedom (A New Honorverse Novel, 2013)

By David Weber

From the front flap of the dust jacket:

Invitation to a Party
(Bring Your Own Warships)

Wrong number? There are two sides to every quarrel … unless there are more.

Admiral Michelle Henke, Queen Elizabeth of Manticore's first cousin and Honor Harrington's best frie[n]d,* has just handed the 'invincible' Solarian League Navy the most humiliating, one sided defeat in its almost thousand year history in defense of the people of the [Manticoran] Star Empire's Talbott Quadrant. But the League is the most powerful star nation in the history of humanity. Its navy is going to be back – and this time with thousands of superdreadnoughts.

Yet she also knows scores of other star systems – some independent, some controlled by puppet regimes, and some simply conquered outright by the Solarian Office of Frontier Security – lie in the Solarian League's grip along its frontier with the Talbott Quadrant. The entire frontier has begun to seethe with unrest as combat spreads from the initial confrontation, and Michelle sympathizes with the oppressed populations wanting only to be free of their hated masters.

She has only so many ships, which can be in only so many places at a time. She can't possibly justify diverting any of her limited, outnumbered strength to the liberation of other planets when she has worlds of her own to defend from a vengeful League.

She knows that … and she doesn't care. She comes from a family that believes some things are far more important than simply playing it safe. Mike Henke will find a way to win.

And anyone who gets in her way will regret it.”

Friday, June 14

Dynamite Comics – July 2013

Reviews, commentary, general reactions, and random notes on the Dynamite Entertainment comics that were released during May (mostly) that I received near the beginning of June. Caution: Spoilers ahead! [Link to previous month.]

Cover D (25%) by Francisco Francavilla
Masks #7 of 8

I'm not sure what was different this time, but I found this penultimate issue a bit chaotic and hard to follow. The art seemed rushed – sometimes facial expressions seemed downright goofy (see in particular the last page) – and the action sequences degenerated into almost random images with no narrative value. For instance, how did Britt get loose? – and What's with Kato rubbing his nose in the midst of the action? Surely that latter had significance as a signal of some sort, but what exactly it was I couldn't tell. The story logic breaks down as well: Could the Spider possibly have liberated a prison camp upstate and crossed the countryside toward New York City, gathering more and more followers along the way, without the Master somehow getting word?

These are criticisms from someone who knows and loves the source material and hitherto has been willing to “fill in the blanks” from what I know of the original Spider “Black Police” trilogy, but most readers of this series do not have that advantage. And it's a dubious advantage in the end, because for me there comes to mind the biggest deviation from the original, implemented certainly in an effort to bring some kind of modern sensibility and “rationality” to what motivates the Master – who is now finally discovered in-story to be indeed the former crime-fighter known as the Clock – who ends up being another “noble” but insane villain, considering his ends to justify his means. In the original, part of a series which drew things in terms of stark black and white, good vs. evil, the whole Black Police movement was purely a criminal enterprise. Admittedly, when I assessed that original pulp trilogy a couple of years ago (link), I argued that a fascistic state such as that could not be set up without positing some higher value than pure avarice, no matter how warped in our minds that “higher value” might be, but I can't say I buy the simple imposition of order on disorder as proposed by the Clock as any more convincing.

Man of Steel -- First Impressions

I'm going to hold off a while before putting up a full blog-post with my "final" assessment of this movie, give myself more time to think about it -- and most likely see it again along the way.  Right now I'm just too close to it.  As I told a friend earlier today on Facebook, I've been looking forward to this movie finally appearing for so long, I'm not sure I can be anything approaching objective toward it.

I can put forth what are pretty much my immediate reactions to it, however, given only a few hours all told to consider it.  I saw it, of course, with pretty much the earliest "general release" viewers in the US, as part of the "Walmart" promotion last night at 7 pm.  

I must admit that the movie didn't exactly blow me away, at least in the short term.  Don't get me wrong -- I enjoyed it immensely, and so did my wife, who is not a comic book/super-hero fan -- at all -- and I intend to come back later with a full write-up of all the things I liked.  Among them will doubtless be the most fully developed treatment of a "realistic" yet very alien Krypton itself, as well as Jor-El and Lara, that I think has ever been seen in live action.  And, contrary to what some of the critics are saying, I think the story very much does have "heart," mainly in the portrayal of Clark's relationship with his earthly father and mother, Jonathan and Martha Kent.  And most definitely one of the strengths of this movie compared to any other Superman portrayal in the past is a real sense of the horrific devastation that would be caused by such super-beings engaged in an all-out, knock-down drag-out battle.  It's almost overwhelming.  If I would put forth an immediate criticism of the movie, it's that the full-on, relentless fighting that is basically the back half of the movie is downright mind-numbing.  That's kind of what I mean that it didn't "blow me away."  I was more stunned than anything else by the end of the two-hours-plus.  

Monday, June 10

Marvels: Eye of the Camera (Marvel 2010) – The Marvels Project (Marvel 2011)

Last week we were on vacation, enjoying a very nice vacation house that my wife and her siblings rented in Hancock, Maine. Anywhere I have to wear a jacket in June is fine by me! I didn't actually get as much reading done as I intended, although I did finish Sean Howe's Marvel Comics (see just previous blog entry, link). Knowing myself too well, that I tend to be a “binge reader” – that is, I'll obsess over something in particular for a while – I knew that reading the somewhat checkered history of Marvel Comics would send me off into one of my intermittent immersions into that company's properties, I had gone prepared, carrying along a couple of collections that I had purchased some time past. I make no secret of my preference for DC Comics, and to be honest I see little in current Marvel comics that I'm interested in reading (and their pricing structure, even in digital, provides further disincentive), but these two books were perfect for scratching that Marvel Comics itch.

Eye of the Camera is Kurt Busiek's, along with Roger Stern's, quasi-sequel to the near-twenty-years-old classic by Busiek and Alex Ross entitled simply Marvels, which mainly retold the 1960s “Silver Age” of Marvel Comics from the perspective of a photojournalist, Phil Sheldon. It was, of course, Alex Ross's big splash onto the comics scene, beautifully rendered in his practically trademarked fully painted, photorealistic style, but the approach to the story as written by Busiek was, I think, an underappreciated aspect of its success. Between the two of them, Busiek and Ross made the fantastic seem so very real. Well, Ross is not along for this later story, although according to Busiek's afterword he had input into the original idea and gave his blessing to it being developed, and surprisingly, I think that works. No question, I love Ross's work, and I think that it was perfect for the original Marvels, but this is a very different story and I think that Ross's clean, ultimately bright and shiny, often iconic images would be less appropriate for Eye of the Camera than is artist Jay Anacleto's and colorist Brian Haberlin's darker, grittier, more down-to-earth and moody style.

Friday, June 7

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (Harper, 2012)

By Sean Howe

Although I have always been an avowed partisan of DC Comics, I inevitably go through my phases of reading and even collecting various Marvel Comics – most notably from about 1975 through the early 1980s when I was as rabid an “X-Fan” as you'll ever find, and in more recent years acquired a deepening fascination with the wild innovation of the first decade or so of “Silver-Age” Marvel in the 1960s – and I have a more-than-passing familiarity with the basic continuity of that comics Universe itself as well as the history of the comics company throughout its now seventy-plus years. But I'd never, until now, read such a systematic, albeit idiosyncratic, narrative of the full history from beginning until virtually the present as appears here. Howe writes a fascinating story that strips away many of the myths, digging beneath the facade of the “Merry Marvel Bullpen” (to whom he dedicates his work) to reveal the usually less-than-attractive reality of competing creative personalities and interests as Marvel has come back repeatedly from disastrous implosions of its own making and recently transformed into an explosion of multimedia domination.

Saturday, June 1

Quick Hits

Sometimes I read or watch things quicker than I have time – or motivation, or perhaps even focus – to sit down and do a full blog post. Nothing against whatever those items are. I feel a compulsion to blog something for virtually everything, but I don't want this to turn into a barrage of short posts. Hence periodic “Quick Hits.”

Marvel Tales by Alan Davis (Marvel 2012)

This is a collection of various recent works for Marvel Comics done by Alan Davis, who is one of my favorite artists. His style I would characterize as a combination of Neal Adams and John Byrne, with a dash of elegant smoothness of line all his own. Here we find three annuals from 2012 – Fantastic Four Annual #33, Daredevil Annual #1, and Wolverine Annual #1, along with a Thor special from a few years back, Thor: Truth of History. The three annuals actually form a single story arc although each can be read on its own, and tie into one of my favorite properties created by Davis, ClanDestine, a half-djinn English family/reluctant super-team. I like team books; I like family sagas; I love England – ClanDestine is a natural for me. In these stories we learn more about the “black sheep” of the group, Vincent Destine, whose history and fate always hung over the original 1990s series and a subsequent 2000s mini-series like a pall. I'm not sure how the Thor special fits in, although there is one minor character who also appears in the Daredevil Annual. Probably it's more that it was another work by Davis that could be thrown in to make a decent-sized collection. I'm not complaining; anything by Davis is good with me, and this story has its own special charm, presenting a secret history of the Sphinx as well as hilarious miscommunications between Thor and the Warriors Three and denizens of ancient Egypt.