Nov 21, 2017

On the Run with Marvel's The Runaways

Marvel’s Runaways is about to make its big debut as a television series on Hulu, and so you may be wondering if the comic book series it is based on is worth your time.  The answer is a resounding and emphatic yes.

On the Run with Marvel's Runaways
Ben Smith

Runaways launched in 2003, created by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Adrian Alphona.  It was a low-selling but critically beloved cult hit, one of the best new concepts Marvel had developed in a while.  It was originally cancelled after issue eighteen, but was revived thanks to high sales of the collected editions.  Vaughan continued to write the series through three volumes of the series, before leaving to work in television.  (He would eventually return to comics with the even more beloved Image series Saga.)  The comic was taken over briefly by none other than Joss Whedon, but it couldn’t maintain the same magic.
  

The Runaways series revolves around a group of Los Angeles teenagers that all discover they’re the children of supervillains, running a dangerous secret organization called The Pride.  The kids had grown up hanging out during their parent’s annual “charity” meetings.  However, a little snooping during the most recent meeting finds them witnessing their parents sacrificing the life of an unknown teenage girl.  When the police won’t take the report of the murder seriously, they search their houses for evidence.  What they discover instead are special new abilities for Gert and Karolina.

GERTRUDE “GERT” YORKES


Gertrude discovers that her parents are time-travelers, and that they were going to bequeath her with a pet Velociraptor on her 18th birthday.  Gert and the raptor, named Old Lace, share a psychic rapport and it obeys all her commands.

KAROLINA DEAN



Karolina finds out that she’s the daughter of aliens, and that when she removes her power inhibiting bracelet, she glows with bioluminescent energy and can fly. Unfortunately, The Pride have influence everywhere in the city, and the police notify them of their children’s attempts to report their crimes.  Their parents find them and attempt to subdue them.  In the ensuing struggle, Chase and Nico acquire powerful new weapons by taking them away from their parents.

CHASE STEIN


Chase was your typical teenage boy athlete, until he steals powerful hi-tech gauntlets from his supervillain inventor parents. 

NICO MINORU


Nico takes the mystical “staff of one” from her mother, granting her magic abilities.  All she needs to do is say what she wants, and the staff makes it happen, but she cannot repeat the same “spell” twice.  However, the bad news is that to summon forth the staff, she must spill her own blood.  (Nico is the latest in a long line of great comic book witches that I love so very much.  That list also includes Karnilla the Norn Queen, Morgana Le Fay, both the Marvel and DC Enchantress, Magica de Spell, Raven, and Magik.)

Now on the run from their evil parents, they decide to rescue Molly before she falls into their evil clutches.  During the subsequent confrontation, Molly experiences some traumatic new changes in her body.

MOLLY HAYES


Molly is the youngest of the group, and arguably the most powerful, thanks to the super strength granted her by her mutant powers.  Unfortunately, every time she uses her strength, she almost immediately gets really fatigued and needs to sleep.

ALEX WILDER


Alex is the de facto leader of the group and a child prodigy, with a high aptitude for logic and strategy.

On the run from their parents and the police, the kids are officially Runaways.  They make camp in Chase’s secret hiding spot, a mansion that was swallowed up by an earthquake in the 1920s.  The group decides to try and help those in need, in an attempt to atone for the crimes of their evil parents. 

The Runaways have to balance surviving on their own with helping those in need, and their own interpersonal relationship dynamics.  Alex has a crush on Nico, Chase is attracted to Karolina, but Karolina (surprisingly) makes a move on Nico.  They briefly take on a new member, a teenage boy that turns out to be a vampire that tries to kill them.  The LAPD enlist the help of former runaway superheroes Cloak and Dagger to find the kids for them, but after the traditional superhero misunderstanding, they become friends.


The rest of the series is highly entertaining fun on the level of a teenage soap opera, only with super powers.  Not only do they discover that The Pride plan on destroying the entire world, the team is rocked by a shocking betrayal.  To make matters worse, Vaughan later ends his tenure on the series with one of the most heart-breaking deaths in comic book history.  If those two things don’t get you reading, then nothing will.

So if you wind up watching the TV show and loving it, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a whole stack of comic book stories waiting for you to read while you wait for the inevitable second season.  There are worse ways to spend your time.

Nov 20, 2017

2017 Was Great for Comic Book Movies

At the start of the year, on my Facebook, I made a list of 2017's Comic Book Movies and the order in which I wanted to see them. I thought it'd be fun to look back on that list and see how the year ended up actually placing them.

So let's call this...

The Year in Comic Book Movies
by Duy

So before we start on this, I just want to point out that there are three criteria for a comic book movie to make this list:

  1. It has to be live-action. This is mainly because I missed (and still have not watched) the Lego Batman movie at the start of the year. And comparing animation to live action is just an apples and oranges comparison anyway.
  2. It has to be a US release and it has to be in English. Because Blade of the Immortal as far as I know never made it here, and it wouldn't be an apples to apples comparison either.
  3. It has to not be the Kingsman. I don't even like Mark Millar's comics, so why would I watch his movies? I'm not doing that to myself, c'mon. And you shouldn't watch anything you don't feel like watching out of a feeling of obligation either.
Now, the list as I saw it in February 2017, and what I said back then:
  1. Justice League. I'll probably see it, but the fact that I'm using the word "probably" to qualify my seeing a movie featuring what was once my favorite superhero team just shows how much I've hated everything Zack Snyder has ever done.
  2. Logan. I've never loved the X-Men movies, but I've always been entertained by them. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine isn't on my list of ideal casting choices, but this is his last, and I will miss him.
  3. Ghost in the Shell. Because the premise and visuals of the original property have always appealed to me.
  4. Guardians of the Galaxy 2. The first movie was fun as hell and this looks like it's gonna be a good time.
  5. Spider-man Homecoming. Spider-Man is my favorite character, but the high school version of him is not my favorite version. Plus Andrew Garfield basically nailed my ideal version of Spider-Man.
  6. Wonder Woman. I think the casting is perfect and she's by far my favorite icon who hasn't yet had her own movie who doesn't have a lightning bolt on a red shirt. Cautious because it's a DC movie.
  7. Thor: Ragnarok. The perfect combination of character, source material (looking more and more like it'll take from Walt Simonson's run), and content that I just really want to see on the big screen.
So now, how'd it all go? 

SPOILERS FOLLOW

#7: GHOST IN THE SHELL



Overall it's been a good year for comic book movies, especially for me. I didn't really like the way they did adaptations until the first Thor hit in 2011, and since then it's been a constant raising of the bar. This year, I enjoyed every movie that came from the Marvel, DC, and X-Men franchises, which means that the only comic book movie I hated this year was Ghost in the Shell.

Unlike most criticisms of Ghost in the Shell, I was not opposed to the casting of Scarlett Johannson as Major Motoko Kusanagi. Yes, I am well aware of the racial implications, but as I've mentioned before, either ScarJo was the Major or the movie wasn't getting made. And in this industry dominated by male protagonists, I was okay with that compromise if it meant getting this brand of Japanese culture out there in the world. (I also thought about if a Filipino property like Darna were to get made, if I would be fine with a racebend for the main character. Ultimately, I'd like the movie to get made than not.)

No, where Ghost in the Shell loses me is the fact that the first act of this movie is beautiful. The setting, this big sci-fi vision of Japan by way of America, was gorgeous. The fight scenes were crazy good. The premise of Ghost in the Shell has always been interesting, the idea that you could transfer your consciousness to another body. It's a fascinating starting point for thinking about what makes us who we are. 

And then the movie decided to focus on that. Slowly, and excruciatingly, for the next two acts. At one point, the Major, who has up to that point been a sad, morose individual, meets her human Japanese mother, who tells her that she reminds her of her dead daughter, who was full of life. And how? How does this morose Caucasian woman remind you of your energetic and lively Japanese daughter? 

By the time the final act rolled around, everything that made the movie promising to begin with was gone. The set was gone, any connection to the characters was gone after a painful-to-sit-through second act, and even the coolness of the fight scenes were gone. The final fight, lifted straight out of the anime, involved the Major fighting a giant spider tank, which was so ridiculously executed, complete with a hamfisted villain taking control and narrating the action for the audience to follow.

Here's the thing. It's a movie based on a manga, meaning it's being graded on a curve because its failure says to executives, we need less stuff based on manga. It's a movie with a female lead, meaning it's being graded on a curve because its failure says to executives, we need less stuff with female protagonists. And it's a movie that whitewashed the main character, and the only time that ever gets forgiven is if the movie is good enough to justify the final result. I think Ghost in the Shell could have opened so many doors if it had succeeded. It didn't, and that 110 million dollar budget could have gone to, oh, you know, a Black Widow movie instead that people have demanded for years.



#6: SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING




There is nothing wrong with Spider-Man: Homecoming. I repeat: there is nothing wrong with Spider-Man: Homecoming. It's a perfectly good movie that does exactly what it set out to do: establish that Spider-Man is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and he's a rookie. It's great. It's a good movie.

It's also kinda just there, for me. This may be the movie I'm the most fanboyish about, but I don't like Spider-Man as a rookie, I don't like Spider-Man as a protege to anyone, and I don't even particularly like him as an Avenger.  It doesn't really help that I feel that the movie should have been a Miles Morales movie, and that it kickstarted the most complicated debate I had with myself about diversity casting, and I'm still not sure where I land on it.

Again, the movie is perfectly fine. Tom Holland is the Ultimate Spider-Man. Michael Keaton's Vulture was incredibly compelling. And the plot twist is one that I never saw coming, and has to be the best plot twist of the year in my eyes (which worked extra well because of the diverse casting).

It's just not for me, at the end of the day. I wish Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone had been given this level of scriptwriting and production care. But they weren't. That ship's sailed. And ultimately, that's okay. I have decades worth of Spider-Man comics. The movies can belong to others.


#5: JUSTICE LEAGUE



Justice League moved up two spots, since it was a movie I was frankly not excited to see when the year started and ended up being a fun time in the theater. It's no secret I am not a fan of Zack Snyder or his vision for Superman, and I definitely don't even think Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice work as movies in a vacuum, as both are filled with non-compelling characters and an overabundance of logical flaws. I'm not going to bash either of them anymore. It's been years, and there's no point. There's also no point in debating what is or isn't "objectively good" unless you're talking to someone who's actually making these things, or unless you want to sound like a snob. People like what they like.

So, given that I absolutely hated Snyder's previous two DCEU offerings (and actually, anything Snyder's done that I've seen), Justice League is easily my favorite of his portfolio. Now a lot of that might actually be co-director Joss Whedon, who finished off the film and directed my favorite superhero movie of all time in The Avengers, but until it's specified exactly who did what, I won't even try to guess.

Justice League is an incredibly flawed movie, and it seems patched together and is the most derivative of all the movies on this list. The entire backstory is basically Lord of the Rings, right down to the verbiage (Amazons are Elves, in that they're beautiful warriors with crossbows; Atlanteans are dwarves in that they're rougher and fight with tridents/axes; and the race of man is the race of man, because we couldn't find another way to say this instead of "the race of man."). Even the character dynamics look like they're lifted out of other, similar movies, and the villain Steppenwolf is terrible. It doesn't really work within the established characterization and continuity of the DCEU either. Superman was incredibly violent in the first two movies, and when he wakes up, that's how he still is, but supposedly that's him being out of character. He's also spoken about as a beacon of hope, when of course nothing the previous two movies have shown us has demonstrated that. 

I'm fairly certain that the movie is banking on you having a pre-existing connection to these characters to truly be invested in it, and the main advantage DC has over Marvel is this: it's Superman and Batman. People do have a pre-existing connection to these characters, and when they start playing the classic John Williams and Danny Elfman themes, it's basically a callout to the audience saying "Remember us? We're doing these guys now." Forget how they were the previous two movies. Take what you know and love about Superman and Batman, and apply it to this movie. That's what it's saying. And when the one of them that has had a successful movie gets her theme song from her movie playing, instead of her theme song from her 1970s show, it's saying "Take the Wonder Woman we showed you earlier this year, the one the world fell in love with, and put her next to the Superman and Batman you remember."

So much of Justice League felt like a retcon of the Snyder movies, and that's what it had to be for it to move forward as a franchise. You have to make them likable, and while Henry Cavill's Superman isn't quite there yet (I have simultaneous hopes and doubts at the same time that he'll ever get there), it's a massive step up from what came before. I found the Flash more annoying than funny, but the use of his powers was entertaining. Batman, who could have easily overshadowed the entire team by virtue of being the biggest star and the biggest character, stepped back and made sure everyone got a bit of the spotlight, which is a good thing because as Iron Man has proven, you can create stars when your biggest star makes everyone look good. Wonder Woman was rightfully given a major spotlight, and if the rumors are true that they're going to restructure the Universe to make her the centerpiece, it'd be a good move. 

All in all, despite the derivativeness and the flaws and Henry Cavill's wooden, wooden delivery, it was a good time. I wouldn't watch it again in the theater, but I don't regret the money I paid to see it either, and it gives me hope for the future of this universe.

And Aquaman rocked.




#4: LOGAN


This is my favorite of this year's posters.

I've already talked about Logan at length here, and I won't repeat myself too much. But of all the movies on this list that I really want to see have an impact on the game, it's Logan. In this genre with a billion other subgenres, one thing is almost always constant: the big budget, larger than life tone. Logan proved you could do a toned down, lower-scale story within the genre and tug at the heartstrings. I would like to see more of that, preferably with characters like the Question or Catwoman.

Logan surprised me and shot up this list partly because I've always found the X-Men movies entertaining, but not great. I enjoyed them, but they never resonated with me, until this one. "Don't be what they made you" is a great mantra for life. 

And can we talk for a second about how incredible Dafne Keen is? The kid was nine when the movie was made. Nine! At nine years old I was still picking my teeth in public. Did we not have great child actors in my generation, or do Dafne and the Stranger Things kids just signify that kids are getting smarter quicker?

Also, bonus points for Logan for having the best How It Should Have Ended segment ever.



#3: WONDER WOMAN




Wonder Woman is the most important blockbuster movie of the year. Wonder Woman the character, from everything I've seen, and Gal Gadot owned the year. Wonder Woman is the most socially relevant movie of the year. I will say that. I won't dispute it. And I love the way she was portrayed in this movie. 

The three best superhero castings of all time are game-changers: Christopher Reeve for obvious reasons, Robert Downey Jr. for ushering in the Universe model, and Hugh Jackman for showing you can do this for 17 years. That's Tier 1. Others like Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, they're great, but they don't change the game. So they're Tier 2. If Gal Gadot kicks down the door for female protagonists, she's Tier 1, easily.

But I won't deny that a lot of the movie left me cold. There's too much Steve Trevor, and while Steve Trevor is a good character, there were times during the two times I saw the movie that I would have thought he was the main character. And Ares is just the worst villain ever. How hard could it have been to get the freaking god of war to look imposing and threatening? 

But the message is important, Wonder Woman is great, and her presence front and center in today's landscape is indicative of how far we've come and how far we have left to go. And she has my favorite superhero debut scene ever. And it's one of only three movies on this list I saw twice in the theater. So despite everything, this movie's number 3.

She was warned. She was given an explanation.
Nevertheless, she persisted.



#2...

And now it gets difficult to choose, because we're not talking about the single most fun time I've had in a theater in years (or maybe even ever) and a movie that I expected to be just fun and ended up making my robot heart feel more emotions than anything on this list. So this is a difficult choice. And it might change tomorrow or the next day. So what the hell, as it is today, let's go here:

#2: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2




Guardians 2 made me feel feelings, and it's not something I expected it to do. It balanced out the humor and the drama, and when Cat Stevens' "Father and Son" hit, it ended on the perfect note. The Gamora and Nebula storyline was poignant in and of itself, and that's before you consider that it's going to build up to Avengers: Infinity War. Drax was charming and hilarious, yet still not without his touching moments as a father figure to Mantis. The Starlord/Ego storyline was probably the weakest bit of the movie, and even that was still pretty good. And Yondu's funeral is just the most touching moment I've ever seen in any comic book movie. I just want to point out that it's the blue guy and the raccoon that makes me feel things. (And twice in the theater, too.)


So it's up there. It might be number 1 tomorrow. Who knows.




#1: THOR: RAGNAROK



This was number 1 on my list of anticipated movies, and it didn't disappoint. Thor is my favorite Marvel character next to Spider-Man, which makes him my favorite character in all of superhero movies. And while I can understand the fans who wanted a serious Thor movie, here's my take on it: we've had serious Thor movies. I'm happy with those and I want variety in the stuff I consume. I love Batman: the Animated Series, but I also love The Brave and the Bold. I loved the serious episodes of Justice League and I love the one where Circe turns Wonder Woman into a pig and Batman has to sing "Am I Blue?" in order to turn her back. I like having fun. I like serious stuff. I like the contrast. 

And Thor: Ragnarok had such a contrast. It's basically two movies in one, and it doesn't hurt that one half of the movie, the part that's on the Grandmaster's world of Sakaar, is so heavily influenced by Jack Kirby that it made me pick up my Fantastic Four Omnibus and start digging into classic Kirby. And it also doesn't hurt that the other half of the movie is so clearly influenced by Walter Simonson's run, to the point where he likened some of those scenes to having an out-of-body experience:



Look, as was advertised and as was obvious, Thor: Ragnarok is a comedy, so your enjoyment is going to be strictly based on how much you're willing to laugh and whether or not the humor aligns with yours. Thankfully, I was ready for both. We get too serious about these characters and we can laugh with them and at them every now and again.

Having said all that, while Sakaar was definitely funny, I never felt, not once, that Hela wasn't anything other than the greatest threat the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever faced. You'll notice that Skurge was the comedic foil... up until Hela arrives, at which point Skurge stops saying anything funny or doing anything funny. If I had to cut out one joke in the entire movie, it would have been the Hulk falling on the bridge, because we didn't need a laugh at that moment. But both times I saw it, it also got the biggest reaction from the crowd, so what do I know? And the stories of personal growth remain intact and are compelling.

I personally love how incredibly dark the movie actually is under the surface. It reminds me of Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse's Tom Strong in that sense. Widely praised for being a "return to fun comics" with its light tone and humorous moments, Tom Strong is a story where the main character is raped twice, whole races are victims of genocide, and there may be some hints of incest in it.

It's the most quotable movie of the year too, from Korg ("I wanted to start a revolution, but I didn't print enough pamphlets, so no one showed up but my mom and her boyfriend. Who I hate.") to Loki ("I have been falling! For thirty minutes!"), I've been repeating lines since.

Thor fighting villains to Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song? Twice? Brilliant. Can I just say how much I love this movement towards classic rock for the music of these things?

Thor: Ragnarok was the most fun experience I had in a movie theater since The Avengers. It's my favorite solo-billed superhero movie ever. We can laugh at this hobby. We don't have to be too serious about it. I wouldn't want this tone all the time, but for a one-off? It's great. I love it.

And while we're at it, let's talk about Thor being funny.

A classic story — arguably THE classic story — from Thor's early days is when he and Hercules fight, ripping the city apart all because Hercules was flirting with Jane.

There's no way to adapt that story to live action, straight-up, without being at least unintentionally funny. It's so over the top and ridiculous, but it works in a comic because the art style gives you that space and that dissonance to distance yourself from the ridiculousness of the premise. It would be so silly in live action.

Let's look at a few moments from classic eras of Thor and if you are against Thor being funny, please comment below how you would adapt these live action, without the audience laughing. Here's Thor after Jane tells him she loves him.


Here's Odin in his ridiculously uncomfortable-looking bathtub.


And here's Odin, Thor, and Loki, talking about what's most important to them.


So much of Thor is like that — so over the top and melodramatic (should I mention the time he lectured hippies on the merits and drawbacks of dropping out of high school?) — that you may as well own the exaggeration. You may as well own the comedy. There's nothing wrong with that, guys. We're allowed to have fun in this hobby. I love the Shakespeare stuff too, but when I read classic Thor comics, some stuff is just funny. That doesn't take away from the fact that it's awesome.




All in all, 2017 was a great year for comic book movies. if you didn't like one, there were others to enjoy. We're living in a golden age, friends. Let's bring 2018 on.

Nov 19, 2017

5 Reasons Why the Justice League Movie Rocks

Miguel just watched the Justice League movie recently and despite its negative reviews, he fell in love with the movie. For him, it is one of the best superhero movies that came out this year. Here are...

5 Reasons Why the Justice League Movie Rocks
by Migs Acabado

SPOILERS AHEAD



1. The story is very straightforward.

I heard casual fans complain that the story wasn’t good enough. I disagree with that. If you are familiar with the first appearance of the League in comics and also the first episode of the animated series, it is pretty much the same with the movie. An alien invading/destroying our planet and the League saves the day. If you also check the first Avengers movie, the story is pretty much the same. It is a superhero movie.

2. Every character was given a chance to shine.

Before I saw the movie, I was skeptical with some of the characters because they haven’t had any solo movie before and their cameo in last year’s Batman vs Superman doesn’t give too much excitement in my part. I was wrong. We have a good Cyborg, a bad-ass Aquaman and a very funny Flash. Though I wished that the Flash should have been Wally West instead of another Barry Allen. Ezra Miller’s character reminds me of the Wally West Flash in the Justice League animated series. The big 3 of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman had their shining moments too but the good thing is the story did not solely focused on them.

3. There is no overpowered Batman.

I am a Batman fan. I always look forward to his screen time in the movie. But I was hoping that since he is the most popular member of the league, they should not make him overrated and have him beat everybody, and that wish came true. They handled Batman very nicely. He did not kick Steppenwolf’s ass and was not given any godlike gadgets.

4. Superman saves the day.

Cavill has been portraying Superman for a number of years now and he was doing so-so job before this. However, he did great in the movie. I finally felt that he is Superman. From the Man of Steel up until BvS, I always felt that he is just an alien because of his lack of emotion in portraying good ol’ Supes. But in this movie, he had a bit of improvement. It is still far from perfect but I am happy with the improvement.

5. They finally gave us a DC movie that we deserve.

For years, DC movies were criticized of being too dark and trying to replicate Christopher Nolan’s style for the Dark Knight Trilogy. With this film, the mood was a departure from their previous movies (with the exception of Wonder Woman). I would not say it’s light and very Marvel-like, but it is fast-paced, very enjoyable, and full of hope. From start up until the mid-credits and post credits scene, it was executed greatly. You can’t help but to root for the heroes.

Fans should stop comparing DC movies for the Marvel movies. Do not make Marvel as a basis when watching a DC movie. DC is way different from Marvel, and Marvel movies are not perfect as well. Let the movie stand on its own and you’ll be able to enjoy it, I guarantee. Lastly, fans should stop these Marvel versus DC thing because in the end, we the fans benefit from what they produce.

Justice League is a great movie. Period.

Nov 17, 2017

10 Awesome Moments from Grant Morrison's Justice League

Grant Morrison is the best guy to ever write the Justice League. I mean that. His JLA run is the best there is in terms of creativity and instilling a sense of wonder. Yes, Len Wein and Gerry Conway in the 70s and early 80s established what would really become the classic version of the Justice League, and all the tropes established therein, including my ever-beloved multiverse. And yes, JM DeMatteis and Keith Giffen turned everything upside down with their comedic take in Justice League International. And, yes, Geoff Johns has brought the Justice League to a new audience. And yes, okay, if you're counting the animated series, Justice League Unlimited is one of the greatest animated series of all time. But in terms of simply establishing the awesomeness of the Justice League, getting the essence of their characters in as few lines as possible, and having the most imaginative and creative use of their powers, no one tops Grant Morrison. So let's count down...

10 Awesome Moments from Grant Morrison's JLA
by Duy

This list isn't in order, and keep in mind that the run is 41 issues long. I am pulling mostly from the first half. Hell, three of these are from the same issue.

10. The Green Lantern of Krypton



The Key has captured the Justice League and placed them all in dreams. The dreams, mostly, are based on old Silver Age stories, modernized for contemporary readers. The Flash is in a world where everyone has superspeed and he has to be the glorfied traffic controller. Bruce Wayne is married to Catwoman, and Robin has taken his place. And Kal-El is on a Krypton that never exploded, and becomes the Green Lantern of Sector 2813.

9. Angels, Meet Diana



Asmodel and his rogue angels have invaded the Earth and the Justice League has to stop them. Zauriel, an angel who chose mortality for love, warns Wonder Woman that going into their ship and even touching anything in it will burn. Wonder Woman's answer? "Burns heal." And the angels were properly introduced to Diana.

8. You Will Surpass Him

In the Classic Era of the Justice League, whenever they needed a magic guest star, they'd turn to the universal plot device known as the Phantom Stranger. In the 90s, Grant Morrison thought, who'd be the best counterpart to the Phantom Stranger? The answer was the Sandman, the Lord of Dreams. One quick phone call to Neil Gaiman later, and he had permission to use him. Here's Daniel, the Lord of Dreams, telling Kyle Rayner that he will surpass Hal Jordan.


Look, this is an awesome moment, because Kyle Rayner is way better than Hal Jordan. He's a much more interesting character and a much better wielder of the power ring. That's another reason Morrison's run was the best: Kyle Rayner and Wally West were much better than Hal Jordan and Barry Allen, both individually and as a pair. The best Green Lantern and the best Flash.

7. I Brought the Justice League. That's a Plan.

Adam Strange enslaves the Justice League into helping him build a giant device that will help aliens invade Rann. However, this is all a feint, as he actually has them setting up the devices that will stop the aliens. Green Lantern comments that it was one hell of a gamble, and Adam's response was:


"If I'd contacted the Seven Soldiers of Victory, it would be a gamble. I brought the Justice League. That's a plan."

This entry is a bit of a cheat, since Mark Waid wrote this issue.

6. Nice Brain, Four Lobes

In an alternate future, Darkseid has taken over the world. With everyone down or out, the only two people left to fight him are Green Arrow and the Atom. And because of scientific know-how, they take him down.



5. Pull the Moon

In the late 90s, Superman was made of electricity, which is to say, he had electric powers. The Superman books weirdly didn't actually do much with these new powers, other than to establish that Superman is Superman regardless of what his powers are. But Grant Morrison, who had then scripted Superman pushing the moon, which was falling out of gravity, because it would be an iconic image. Denied this, he was forced to get creative.



Superman uses his electrical powers to give the moon poles that would repel itself from the Earth and put it back in orbit. What was scripted to be a simple iconic image became the best use of this short-lived powerset in our Man of Steel.

4. Shapeshift the Brain

Batman and the Martian Manhunter are in a maze created by the Joker's mind. With no logical pattern to follow, J'onn has an idea. If he can shapeshift his entire body, why couldn't he restructure his brain so that it was similar to the Joker's? Once done, the path is a straight line.



This is one of those brain-tickling clever moments that kept me coming back month after month.

3. Ready When You Are

Before Batman was unbearable and the poster child for "Would beat you as long as he had time to prepare" (essentially making him a Black Panther ripoff), Batman being one step ahead of the enemies was actually cool. With the world taken over by the Hyperclan and the superpowered members of the JLA captured, Batman figures out they're Martians and lures them into a trap.



Bonus points for Superman figuring it out moments later and busting out of his captivity, taking the Hyperclan's leader Protex down.

2. Superman Wrestles an Angel



Oh, y'know, just Superman wrestling an angel. No biggie.

1. The Punch Heard Around the World

My absolute favorite creative moment in the entire series. Fighting another speedster, Zum, Wally West pulls out a Flash fact: the closer something gets to the speed of light, the more mass it acquires. So Flash taps into the Speed Force, runs around the world in a straight line, and punches Zum in the punch heard around the world.



It's so awesome that Bruce Timm and company replicated this moment in Justice League Unlimited!




So okay, yeah, maybe Morrison's run didn't have the soap operatic elements or the character growth that you'd expect in other team books. But he wrote the best version of the greatest Green Lantern of all time, did more with Electric Superman than Superman's writers did, nailed everyone's characterization in moments and one-liners, made sure that every entrance was epic, and thought up ways to use their powers that were rooted in science and had never been used before. Grant Morrison is the greatest Justice League writer of all time. I rest my case.


Nov 11, 2017

Retrospective: Avengers Prime

With Thor: Ragnarok introducing Hela to the non-comic-book-reading world and Brian Michael Bendis jumping ship to DC Comics, it seems like a good time to have an...

Avengers Prime Retrospective
by Duy

The year is 2010. Five years removed from Civil War, a lot has happened. Iron Man took over all superhuman legal concerns, only to be deposed by Norman Osborn, the Green Goblin. Steve Rogers died as Captain America, only to be brought back and placed in charge once Osborn was forcibly removed from office. This came at the expense of Asgard, home of the Mighty Thor, now on Earth, now in ruins. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are still at each other's throats, constantly disagreeing on fundamental issues, and Thor lays down the law.



This leads to an adventure where the three of them — Marvel's in-universe counterpart to DC's Trinity — being split up and taken to what seem to be three of the nine realms. From here on, the action moves really briskly, which is not something I normally say for a book written by Bendis.

Iron Man gets caught by ogres:


Steve quickly disposes of a bar full of dark elves, arming himself with a very familiar weapon:


And Thor has a surprise confrontation with the Enchantress:


Part of what makes this my favorite Bendis book is the artwork by the great Alan Davis. It's just so masterfully paced and the camera angles are so well considered that it gets the maximum effect of awe-inspiring danger. And it's rounded out nicely by colorist Javier Rodriguez, whose color palette lends the proper atmosphere to the work. Check out this spread, where our favorite Thunder God comes face to face with the villain of the piece.


As everyone knows by now, that's Hela, goddess of death, and the stakes are super-high for this one, as everyone eventually finds out they're in the land of the dead, kinda, where all the villains that Thor has killed over the years are coming back.

Beyond the high stakes, the series also has subtly affirming moments of characterization, as Steve and Tony try to repair their friendship. Here's a moment that's all-too-human.


By the end of it, Tony and Steve have made up.


I suppose this is my favorite Bendis story primarily because it's the most old-school he's ever done. I didn't really like what Bendis did to the Avengers, where he basically made everyone popular a member, including Spider-Man and Wolverine. It was absolutely the right move for the franchise and for the company in terms of getting new readers and increasing revenue, but it wasn't my Avengers. And that's okay. I had my Avengers. Let everyone else have theirs.

But this was a rebuilding moment in a back-to-basics wave, and that's something we get all the time in comics after so many shakeups have happened. Sometimes it's called Rebirth. Sometimes it's Legacy. Sometimes it's Age of Heroes. But in these rebuilding moments, we return to the core of the characters. And this was it for these three, as Avengers. They would change again, not long after. Such is the way of serialized fiction.

I never bought any comics featuring these three immediately after Avengers Prime. I jumped onto Thor a couple of years later with Jason Aaron's run. I bought the Ed Brubaker Captain America run eventually. But no Avengers. My Avengers are gone, and the closest place for me to find them on a regular basis is actually the silver screen.

But for one brief shining moment, the core of my Avengers was back. It's my favorite story written by Brian Michael Bendis. It may actually be my favorite book drawn by Alan Davis. And it doesn't get talked about enough or recommended enough. So here I am, recommending it. If you love the Avengers, if you love the core three members of the Avengers, and if you want to see them headline a story, this is it.



Nov 8, 2017

Warren Ellis Comics That Don’t Need Movies: Anna Mercury

Anna Louise Britton lives in the real world, but she works somewhere else.

Warren Ellis Comics That Don’t Need to Be Adapted to Screen
Anna Mercury
Ellis, Facundo
Travis Hedge Coke

If Tokyo Storm Warning is about the real and the imaginary, and Simon Spector, public semblance versus private duty, Anna Mercury can be said to be an onion of reals. Layers and layers, some dried out and colorful, some a bit wetter, thinner, thick, striated, frangible and flexible. The realities of work, of home, of public self and within the privacy of one’s own clothes and dress up.



Anna dresses up, big hair, big boobs, exciting leather and a fancy baton to smack people with, and she has a special work name for when she’s dressed and operating. She gets shot into other realities that hang near our Earth, but are unreachable and unidentifiable by conventional means. And, as good protagonists do, especially in action stories, she solves problems you’d need a specialist to solve. Spy-fi plus.

We have one full story, and half another, published. It’s probably best that it stopped there. This is not a very weird set up, for a story, but for a movie of the budget it would need, it’s probably too weird. The comic already has to repeat some facts, like how Earth discovered other Earths. If it were a television show, it would require constant reiteration of basic tenets, half-nonsense explanations pinged at the audience after every single commercial break. You’d get sick of it.



By keeping it tight, by keeping the length of the story down and the price of production as low as ink, paper, and six tons of thinking hard about the subject, Anna Mercury remains reasonably budget and sufficiently direct enough it stays exciting. It lasted only long enough to get weirder and weirder, faster and stronger, a winding tight of multiple threads into a strong rope. Or, a whip. Or, a fancy baton for smacking people.

That, to me, is what Anna Mercury is. It’s a concentrated Matrix. It’s an all-frills Black Widow movie you’re never ever going to get. I can’t stand, “____ on drugs,” so let’s say, instead, a James Bond movie where they really want to screw with the audience. Sliders with a social conscience and more brain. Not a thriller with science fiction, not a spy adventure with superheroics. It doesn’t cheapen its science fiction for thrills, or present a spy in a superhero world as if world does not effect the people living in it. And, by being a comic, it escapes the reasons those other things aren’t Anna Mercury.


Nov 7, 2017

Warren Ellis Comics That Don’t Need Movies: Simon Spector

Some comics don’t need an adaptation to a more popular medium. Most things don’t. Very rarely are comics only a treatment in line art, a pitch in sequential boxes with word balloons. But, they can take influence from television, from cinema.

Warren Ellis Comics That Don’t Need to Be Adapted to Screen
Simon Spector
Ellis, Burrows
Travis Hedge Coke

The Apparat Singles Collection was the best opening night of a television season you’ll never see. Ellis did four single issue stories, each a different genre, different world and tone. One of them, Simon Spector, is so classic, had enough punching and heart, that it could have run for a season or two on whatever they’re calling the Nashville Network these days. But, it didn’t have to. Simon Spector did two seasons’ of work, of characterization and drama and ass-kicking, in its two dozen pages.


In the mode of the mad bastard heroes of the 1930s pulps, Doc Savage, the Spider, the Shadow, Simon Spector is the guy who is smarter, faster, richer, braver, and far nuttier than you or I could ever be. They talk about Batman as the superhero you, the kid, could grow up to be, or feel that you could grow up to be, because Batman is, very seriously, a truncated version of the energy in Doc, in the Shadow.

Simon Spector, like all these guys, like superheroes and proto-superheroes, saves people. Fixes problems. And, he does this by engaging a superhuman ability. He takes a special little pill - which he made himself - and it speeds up his brain and body so he can be better than even himself. And, with each dose, he loses a few weeks off his life expectancy. Simon Spector, kills himself, in increments, so he can help people. He lives in a world of betrayal and guilt, of broken bones and skyhook bug outs, so that he can help people and it will kill him.



A TV show would have to glamorize this, to keep it going. A movie, or movie series would have to keep sweeping the dust under the rug, to reset the casualties and fudge the approaching death date. A comic, those twenty pages, they don’t have to. We don’t need a coat of paint and some spinning gewgaws taped on. There’s just this guy, Simon Spector, and this thing, which is his lifestyle. We’re in. We’re out. He’s in, and he’s never going to come out. And, that’s the beauty.


Nov 6, 2017

Warren Ellis Comics That Don’t Need Movies: Tokyo Storm Warning

I’m not opposed to adaptation from medium to medium. The idea that any media are inherently superior to others is classist at best, and stupid at its base. But, adaptations are never the thing they have adapted. They don’t replace or circumvent, they don’t erase or make the original redundant.

Warren Ellis Comics That Don’t Need to Be Adapted to Screen
Tokyo Storm Warning
Ellis, Raiz, Currie
Travis Hedge Coke


Named for an Elvis Costello song, Tokyo Storm Warning is the story of an American pilot arriving in Japan to fight giant monsters. But, like pretty much all great kaiju movies, it’s more significantly about repression, guilt, fear of ourselves, and fear of the bomb. And, how cool ten story robots and oversized freakish terrors are when they punch one another… unless you’re standing underfoot or in the wake of their wreckage.



It’s splashy. It’s emotional. It makes a helluva lot more sense than these things usually do.

The most recent Japanese Godzilla movie, Shin Godzilla, ran a “reality vs fantasy” campaign. And, largely, while they never come out and say it, the impossibility of Godzilla is so amped up, in contrast to the fairly mundane employee and administrator nature of the human characters, that it is impossible to deny. Godzilla is impossible. Office work, as we saw, even in Dai-Guard, with it’s tagline of, “Office-workers, saving the world,” inevitable.

I won’t give up the secrets of Tokyo Storm Warning, but they allow for a limitless range of visuals and FX. You can take it as far as you want. The comic is three issues long, so about sixty pages of story, and it takes it pretty far. There’s sixty years packed into the day or two that the story covers. Tokyo Storm Warning is unafraid of the fairytale nature of the finest kaiju stories, yet never sugar coats the fairytale. Fairytale worlds are not harmless. Even in the kindest of them, the potential for mutilation, depression, death or apocalypse hovers in the air all the time. Goldilocks is about as nice as they get, and she’s a kid facing three angry bears. You go fight three bears over bed and dinner and see how fun it feels when it’s over.



The reason that giant robots are cooler than giant tanks or flyby bombings, is that the humanoid form allows a visceral personalization. The reason giant monsters resonate is because they aren’t grotesque, they aren’t sadistic, but they are inevitable. They are inarguable. Big damn thing. That you have to cope with.

We can see this in movies, on TV. We have seen it. But, with a comic, the action is suspended as long as we desire. You can’t “just give a glimpse" of a monster, in a comic. You can’t do, “blink and you miss it.” You get, what you get, and you have all your time to look, to think. You control the pace. You control the consideration. And, that movies can’t do well. Twenty years ago, I’d say, “and there’s no seams,” no zipper on the monsters. We are past that. But, we are not past the fact that movies have to move, and a big budget summer blockbuster, like a giant monster flick, has to move quick. American releases cut chunks out of Japanese monster movies because in American cinema, in anglophone big monster movies, we need things zipping by.


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