Saturday, April 9, 2016

Super Saturday - Random Comic Reviews: The Introduction

Sometimes I get an itch to go back and read a comic book run that I missed.  There's plenty to work with as I missed a lot of the Marvel and DC events from the last ten years or so. I am generally aware of what happened in most of them, but I didn't read them and with all of the animated shows & movies turning up on Netflix, the live action shows on the networks, and the big movies I thought it was time to go back to the source material. I am making a slow but continuing effort to catch up and as I do, I figure I might as well post my thoughts on them here.

Since there will likely be plenty of these kinds of posts in the near future here is my background - there are 4 long boxes in my closet:

  • One is a nearly complete run of Iron Man from about Issue 100 to about issue 300
  • One is a bunch of 80's-90's Avengers comics
  • One is a nearly complete run of West Coast Avengers
  • One is a bunch of 80's - 90's X-Men acquired somewhat by accident but still worth keeping
I've owned quite a few others over the years but these are the one's that stuck and formed the core of my formative years. Beyond them I was there when Secret Wars was new, when Crisis on Infinite Earths was breaking up DC's universe, and when the Ninja Turtles were a fairly dark black and white indie book.I was an on and off comic book guy from the late 70's to the early 90's so the 80's is my chronological sweet spot, with Marvel as my general discipline, and the Avengers and their related books as my specialization.

I'm not a snob about it - I have read some Marvel and Indie stuff recently and intend to catch up on my DC gaps as well. Over the last few years I started paying attention again and went back to Avengers Disassembled, the New Avengers, and Civil War with side trips to Planet Hulk and Annihilation. I also tried to keep up with DC's New 52 but dropped out after about a year.  For this exploration of history I've gone electronic unless I can find cheap trades.

Now this exploration will not just be the newer stuff - there were a lot of books I did not follow closely even in the 80's. I also have an idea about trying to read, say, all of the Superman or Batman books from, the year I was born onward.  It's a tall order but it should be fun. More to come!

Friday, April 8, 2016

40K Friday - March & April

We have been playing our miniatures games and I have not posted much about them for some reason.

  • The Reign of the Eldar continues
    • Apprentice Blaster and I are still building and painting (or in his case "repairing" after the cat got into his room and took a strong interest in giving his space elves the old American Tourister luggage test ). 
    • We played another battle over Spring Break (3000 points of Apprentice Red's Orks vs. a combined Eldar force of 1500 each for me and Blaster) a few weeks ago and recorded video of it as a first attempt at maybe doing a series of video batreps. We will see what comes of that. 
    • I finally managed to get my wraithknight built, if not painted, and it performed very well. This weekend I might have time to get some painting done on it leaving only the Spiritseer unfinished out of the whole Wraith Host formation.
    • Supplemental: I finally acquired a hard copy of the Dark Eldar codex. I know they're not that popular right now on their own but they make damn fine allies for an Eldar army and I intend to expand my force as time, money, and the painting backlog permit.

  • Kings of War
    • I picked up that second unit of boarboyz I wanted but have not had time to build or paint them yet. My orc army is pretty much complete for now I just need to base everything permanently and get to painting. 
    • Apprentice Blaster's High Elves are also complete - he just needs to build too. He did get his own rulebook so he's all set there. 
    • Apprentice Red is also starting to work on his Wood Elves and figuring out how to adapt them to the game. He's going to use either the Elf or the Nature list as his core.

  • Command and Colors Ancients
    • While not strictly miniatures it has been scratching the ancients itch and we've actually been playing regularly which really makes me happy. Our standard approach now is to set up, pick sides, play the game, then switch sides and play again. It is a lot of fun and it plays fast enough that this is completely possible in just an hour or two for most scenarios.
    • We have most of the Ancients sets and we also have Memoir 44 but I like this system enough I've actually considered getting the Napoleon game and previously my interest in Napoleonic games was right about zero. I may wait until we've plowed through more of the ancient scenarios but I am surprised to say I am seriously thinking about doing it.

Daredevil Season Two

Being honest here, I never cared that much about Daredevil in the comics. In the Marvel family tree I mainly read the Avengers branch titles with a side trip into their licensed stuff (Micronauts, Shogun Warriors, Godzilla) and some of the oddities (Devil Dinosaur!) and an occasional step  over to the X-Men branch. I never really got into the New York Street Level Heroes branch where DD and Power Man and Iron Fist lived. I heard some good things about the Frank Miller years but I didn't really care about the street level scene. This has remained true up til now - I've read maybe two DD comics in my life and I believe those were part of crossovers. He hasn't ever been much in the RPG's or videogames so I've never taken an interest. Given that background you can imagine my surprise at how good this show has turned out to be.

 Upon further review I think DD is a great choice for  TV show because while you need plenty of stuntmen you do not need a ton of CGI because he's just a guy. No fancy powers, no fancy armor, he doesn't fly or shoot lasers out of anything. heck, he's lower maintenance than Batman as he doesn't have a car or a plane or a Batcave. A costume, some sticks, and an apartment are about it. It's a small-scale superhero story - he's not fighting alien invaders or frost giants. He is beating up thugs and gangsters. While Supergirl and the Flash need to accommodate the hero's powers, plus their allies' powers, plus the alien/meta/dimensional invaders powers, DD really just needs some guys with guns, plus maybe some knives, baseball bats, and maybe some nunchuks. So far that has let them put their resources into other things and make a really good show.

Season One is really good. We get the origin, we get friends, we get the day job, we get a serious main opponent for our hero, and we get a pretty solid resolution to the major story arcs, making for a nice complete season.

Season Two picks up some time later and some logical consequences from events in the first season are popping up - mainly other vigilante types, some of whom do not share the same "subdue and arrest" philosophy of our hero.  The Punisher is the initial focus of this and it is really well done.

That's saying something, because I've never cared about the Punisher as a character either. If I've ever read a Punisher comic it was only because it was part of some larger crossover event and I may have seen one of the movies but he's not the kind of character I care about following as a superhero. Despite that I really like having him in this show. He's the darker reflection of DD and brings an extra level of "the real world" into the story and setting.

I'd say Season 2 Episode 3 is where this peaks for me. It's a classic Bronze Age vs. Iron Age debate if you want to frame it in those terms, and it's the best confrontation I have seen on TV about killing vs. not killing for superhero type characters. It is really well done and it leads into an extended fight sequence that is as cool as anything I've seen in any of the other Super-shows or movies that are out right now.

As the season progresses we get more than just Punisher - Elektra shows up, then Ninjas (so many ninjas!), then Stick returns. Stick was my favorite guest star in Season 1 so it's nice to see Scott Glenn joining back up for an extended visit.

The show as a whole is an interesting study in non-super superheroics. Matt Murdock is not a billionaire playboy - he has a day job. No one on the show is invulnerable or has super-healing. Spending your nights out getting into fights has consequences and the show does a really good job of highlighting them. Bad decisions are made pretty regularly on this show and not just by the bad guys and they do not just disappear - fallout from those bad decisions sticks around. Keeping secrets and not showing up for work threatens careers and relationships.

Beyond the moral issues the fight scenes are really well done and you can "feel" every punch and kick  so I'll say the sound work is well done too. The story, characters, and plots are all solid and in some cases a lot more than that. The season is 13 episodes long and I didn't feel like any of them were filler so the pacing is well done too.

It is at the very least PG-13 and after one particularly intense prison fight we decided to tell the 13 year old "no" on this one. If you want to watch superheroes with the younger kids Flash and Supergirl are much better suited for that. I would say save this one for the older teenagers and the grown-ups.

If you have Netflix and haven't watched it yet I'd say get going. If you don't have Netflix this is a pretty good reason to give it a try.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Rogue One Trailer is Out

Just go type Rogue One Trailer into YouTube if you haven't seen it yet. It's worth it. The music, the rebel base, the grimy X-Wings ...

I have to say that it looks right. No idea about the story or the acting or the characters but the thing looks good to me at this point.

Badass #1 - "Samurai Guy" - it appears the stormtroopers are being foiled by another melee guy and this isn't even a lightsaber!

Badass #2 - "Imperial Lord Whitecape" - it's always been TarkinTarkinTarkin when it comes to building the Death Star, so who is this guy?

Regardless he is clearly not bothered by carnage or mudpuddles.

Mystery Figure - looks pretty sith-y but who is he?

Badass #3 - She's the lead, but is she undercover here or turned or what?

Something's different about the antenna on this Star Destroyer. Some kind of special ship? Or are they all going to be like this?

Yeah! AT-ATs in the South Pacific! Why does a walker beach invasion seem so cool? not sure, but it does.

Already looking forward to this one!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Batman vs. Superman

(Yes, there are spoilers here)

What a cool idea for a movie! What if, instead of yet another new villain, two of the good guys we know and love from multiple movies opposed each other instead? Awesome, right? Well ... not exactly.

First off, this Batman is a new interpretation of the character, 20 years into his crime fighting career. It's not a strict follow on to the Christian Bale Batman or the Michael Keaton Batman or the animated Batman or any other Batman that we know. The origin story is the same (we see it in the opening of the movie) but we don't see much about the decades since.

Superman is the Superman from Man of Steel so we have at least met him. It's not the traditional optimistic Superman though. He doesn't seem to have changed much since the last movie but people are building statues of him so he seems to be liked at least, if not loved.

The Prequel
I went back and watched Man of Steel again before seeing this movie. I had not watched it since it was in the theater and I wanted to refresh my memory of it. I like to think I am open to different interpretations of comic book superheroes because we get them all the time with different writers and artists and storylines anyway, not to mention when they jump to animation or live action shows or movies. This movie is definitely a different take on the Superman story. I'm OK with about the first half of it other than thinking Krypton looks pretty drab for an advanced society. The biggest break point for me is Superman's earth-dad, Johnathan Kent. In every other interpretation of Superman, Pa Kent is a classic midwest American farmer, an optimistic man who thinks his adopted son was sent here for a reason, to make a difference. In Man of Steel he debates out loud whether his son should have let a school bus full of children die to preserve his secret identity. This, the attitude of his earth dad, is the single biggest point of divergence in the movie and sets up a very different kind of Superman. Can you imagine the Christopher Reeve Pa Kent, Glenn Ford, having that conversation with his son? How about the Lois and Clark dad? How about Bo Duke as superman's dad in Smallville? How about the animated Superman dad? I can't. I thought the 90's were the decade of paranoia and government conspiracies in popular media and we get a sort of 90's take on the character here.

B vs. S
Moving on to the sequel, I'm fine with the general debate over can-the-super-powerful-alien-be-trusted - that's the kind of thing a comic book movie should examine! I'm fine with Batman having a problem with him, as within the context of the setting he has a decent case to be upset. So plot-wise I like the concept. The plot takes quite a while to develop. Normally I am fine with a movie taking time to set things up with the assumption that there is a big payoff in the end. That's where this movie starts to fail though.

We have machinations by Luthor, but we never really get an explanation of why. Why does Luthor want to do the things he does? It needs to be more than "he's crazy" because a) he's built a major corporate empire so something is working in that brain and b) we have other villains to cover "crazy". You chose Luthor to be the major driver behind this - tell us why! In the comic books his motivation is typically are either revenge or jealousy and I didn't get either of those from this movie.

Plot-wise we also have the problem of a bait and switch. Batman does take on Superman, and beats him! Then he's derailed by a really strange coincidence - not "strange" in that someone else in the world is named Martha but "strange" in the sense that that alone would break him out of a killing rage. I can accept it but it seems weak to me and that a little more effort should have been spent on this crucial turning point of the movie. It is critical, CRITICAL, to sell this moment, that after two hours of single-minded pursuit of the goal of ending Superman, the thing that turns them into allies needs to be 100% believable, and for me this level was not achieved and I find myself going with "well it is a movie" and rolling with it.

So we have two hours of driving towards a particular destination - the clash of Batman and Superman - which is resolved in one fight sequence. But we're not out of movie yet! We take a turn in a completely different direction where they are now allies and have a problem to solve and a new opponent to defeat. These last 20-30 minutes of the movie have very little to do with the rest of the plot. it feels like the result of a conversation along the lines of "we don't have enough fighting in here so what could we do for a big finale" - was "Batman vs. Superman" not enough?! Could you not make a movie that was exactly that and have a big finale? "Superman seems to be dead" was where things ended up anyway - could that not have been done through the promised confrontation?

The movie also has to set up the Justice League thing so somehow we end up with the origin of the  Avengers. That's right - several known heroes come together to stop a raging, seemingly unstoppable menace and decide to keep working together. That's exactly what we get here with Doomsday vs. our heroes. So nice job on that.


  • I like the idea of somewhat world-weary, cynical, Batman Year Twenty. He clearly doesn't care about some things anymore - the World's Greatest Detective sneaks off to plant a device in Luthor's tech room and gets seen by at least 3 people, one of whom beats him back to retrieve it. Bruce seems to care more about the punching than the sneaking at this point. He also seems pretty fine with using guns. Also remember when Bruce Wayne was supposed to be the lightweight cover identity, sort of the opposite of Batman? that's nowhere in sight here. Affleck plays him the same - "Batman" is just a costume, not a separate personality, and Bruce Wayne looks and acts like someone who's spent two decades on the police force, not as a billionaire playboy.
  • This Superman is just not something I like. I think Henry Cavil looks the part, I think the costume looks great, but the character is just not what I want or expect from Superman. For all the talk about "hope" he doesn't seem to have or inspire much. He's much more Thor on a bad day than traditional Superman here. I could take the cold superior Superman a little easier if there seemed to be much growth or change but I don't see it. Oh and the guest-appearance by his earth dad is once again completely wrong for the character: "I once did something heroic but it turned out that I hurt some other people and I had nightmares about it for years" - yeah, thanks dad, thanks for that little motivational moment. This character would be less damaged if the ship he arrived in had landed on dad than he is by having Costner-dad around giving him advice.     
  • Wonder Woman - well we don't get to know much about her. I like the attitude when she's fighting at the end, but that's about it.
  • Lois Lane - there's just not much here. I like Amy Adams, but I can't really think of anything distinctive about this Lois, and that's after two movies. Margot Kidder's Lois was memoriable, this one is not.
  • Alfred - does Alfred hate Bruce Wayne in this movie? He seems more like a disgruntled employee hanging on for his pension than a concerned parental figure. From Alan Napier to Michael Gough to Michael Caine I've been pretty happy with almost every portrayal of the butler but this one just doesn't seem to like much about what he's doing.
  • Luthor - I didn't hate the portrayal like I thought I would after the trailers but it is very different. That said, I could see a place for this version of Lex in the long run if they could back off of the crazy somewhat. "Eccentric evil genius" could work. Plus I need a motivation.
In the end, no I didn't like it as much as I wish I had. I could live with the plot hiccups if the characters were ... better. The characterizations were where it really fell down for me. yes, different interpretations and all but if you don't want to make a movie about the characters as they are best-known, why are you making a movie about Batman and Superman?

I saw some chatter online about how it would be cool if they were secretly making a Justice Lords movie and the more I thought about it, the more I like that idea. It would answer every complaint I have about the characters. Can't you see the Justice Lords Superman originating with the kind of dad he has in these movies? I can. Plus it would give some hope that at some point the "true" version of these characters are going to show up and set things right.