Friday, June 29, 2007

My Unsolicited Opinion of Live Free or Die Hard

So I saw Live Free or Die Hard last night, or Die Hard 4.0 as it is known in international markets. I think they should have called it Multiple Choice: A) Live Free, or B) Die Hard.

That was some loco shit – gruesome deaths, helicopters strafing, outrunning fireballs, hanging over great heights, jumping on moving objects, jumping off moving objects, shooting things to make them explode, head butting, speaking ill of the dead, helicopters flying in formation, PG-13 profanity, machine guns, a command center where people explain the plot, a Joint Strike Fighter piloted by the most bloodthirsty maniac in the Air Force, collapsing freeways, parkour, annoying meta references to the first three films, lots of broken glass, elevator shaft fu, and car crashes. Oh, the crashes. There are enough car crashes in Live Free or Die Hard to fill ten normal movies.

Darn it, I kinda liked it.

By the time the movie limps into the third act, it had built up so much momentum and good will that I temporarily suspended critical thinking and just enjoyed the whole F-35 vs Mack truck scene, even if it did deeply offend my intelligence. If you see the movie, you'll know what I mean. By the end of the film you will just be shaking your head and muttering, "No fucking way." And then you'll catch yourself and feel silly for applying logic and reason to this film.

There were a couple of things that bugged me about Live Free or Die Hard. Well, a lot of things, really, but let's just pick a few.

"Strap in, I'm going to bitch about something totally trivial..."

First of all, it's not really a Die Hard movie. I mean, the central idea is there - cop in wrong place, right time foils the plans of a group of sophisticated terrorists who are not what they appear to be - but I felt like this could have been Random Mark Wahlberg Movie instead of the fourth chapter in the franchise. The John McClane in Die Hard felt like a real guy stuck in a shitty situation, but in this one he has transformed into a frickin' OMAC* who bends physics and audience disbelief at will. The American Everyman is long gone.

Strap in, I'm going to bitch about something totally trivial:

There's a scene in Live Free or Die Hard where McClane1000 runs out of bullets so he uses his onboard cyber-targeting system to precisely launch a cop car into a cooperatively motionless helicopter. Big explosion. Hey, I'm not spoiling anything, man, it was in the trailers.

Keep in mind, this movie takes place on the East Coast:

Look in the background. Wow, is there an exact replica of L.A.'s famous Bonaventure Hotel somewhere in D.C.? You know the building because it has been in 1 million and 6 films and TV shows:

Here's the thing: I don't actually recall seeing the Bonaventure in the film. They either cleverly avoided filming the building or they just did a little CGI voodoo on the backgrounds. I'll have to watch more carefully when the movie comes out on DVD. But let's say they did manage to keep the landmark hotel out of frame - why would you include a shot of said hotel in a photo in the official press kit? Newspapers and websites everywhere are running that shot of car + helicopter + Bonaventure Hotel. They couldn't have put some effort into their official press kit photos?

It reminds me of the remake of Dawn of the Dead. Man, I loved the first twenty minutes of that movie. When DoD V 2.0 came out, I remember reading a review and looking at one of the press kit photos of a horde of zombies doing the 100 meter dash. Let me see if I can find the photo I'm looking for...

Ah, here it is:

What's wrong with this picture? Yes, aside from "real zombies don't run," smart-ass.

Well, clearly the make-up people forgot to zombify the guy in the foreground's gut, because you can see a nice pink belly button that doesn't match the rest of zombie guy's body. Do I hold this against the filmmakers? No, but I can hold it against the guys that did publicity for the movie. Did nobody notice that? Nobody? I can't be the only guy in the world who noticed that guy's gut, and I'm just some dude. People actually got paid to select that picture as part of the press package.

Let's move on. There's another scene where the Thankless Expository Actors are flying around in helicopters over the Eastern Seaboard explaining the plot and I swear -and I could be wrong- I swear they are flying over Long Beach, CA. Am I wrong? I frequently am. Can somebody back me up on that?

I get tired of seeing movies half-assedly pass one distinctive location off for another. It's like every film that is shot in Vancouver, B.C.. I love Vancouver, it's one of my favorite cities, but please Hollywood, I beg of you - stop filming movies up there. Movies that are shot in Vancouver look like they were shot in Vancouver, and no place else. Remember Rumble in the Bronx? Filmed in Vancouver. Did anyone for even a moment actually think that was shot in New York City? What about the scene where Jackie Chan is hanging off the speeding hovercraft in "New York" with beautiful snow capped mountains in the background? Please, no more Vancouver movies unless the story actually takes place in Vancouver.

Anyway, the whole point of that was I hate it when movies are sloppy about shit. I'm not losing sleep or anything, but it kind of bugs me because I feel like the filmmakers think audiences are too stupid to notice stuff like towering mountains in New York City and non-zombie bellies and the ubiquitous Bonaventure Hotel.

Oh, one last thing. The villain in Live Free or Die Hard looks like Ryan Seacrest. It was distracting. During one of the many tense walkie-talkie exchanges between McClanebot and Bad Guy, I kept expecting the guy to say, "I've got your daughter now, McClane. Seacrest OUT!"

So there you are. Not so much a review of the movie but just a lot of random, sloppily organized thoughts that pass as a review - which, considering the source material, is appropriate. Live Free or Die Hard is gloriously messy, fun entertainment. Go check it out, and come back and tell me what you thought of that crazy fucking jet vs semi scene.

Campbell out!

*O.M.A.C. = One Man Army Corps

I'm with Busey

I'd like to take a moment to wish myself a happy birthday:

DAVE: "Happy birthday, guy!"

Thanks, Dave. I also happen to share the same birthday as beloved actor Gary Busey, which would probably be terrifying if I knew more about numerology, astrology, or Bibilical prophecy. Happy birthday to Mr. Busey as well.

Shortly: an unsolicited review of the latest Die Hard film. (Because everyone gives a shit what I thought of it.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

GREEN ARROW #28 DC Comics, 1989

Two worlds! Two warriors! One beard!

Worlds and facial hair collide in the pages of Green Arrow #27-28 as two characters associated with writer/artist Mike Grell - Green Arrow and Grell's creation The Warlord - join forces for a Battle in Seattle! Throw in the Black Canary in full assault mode and you have yourself one macho, beardly comic.

Here's the story: Travis Morgan and his goatee are taking a break from the Inner World of Skartaris and are roaming the States on a sort of soul-searching/ass-kicking walkabout, like David Carradine in Kung Fu, only more violent and less englightened.

Morgan was born an raised in the States, but he sort of misses primeval, barbaric Skartaris. Sure, pterodactyls attacked you every five minutes or so, but the sun was always shining and loin cloths never went out of style. Ah, Skartaris...

Travis Morgan shows up in Seattle, where some armed criminal-types mistake him for Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow. Honest mistake. He gets fed up with being attacked and tracks down Queen in the castle-like Seattle home he shares with his girlfriend, Dinah Lance, The Black Canary. (Wait a minute, isn't Black Canary blonde? Why does she have black hair and a Mia Farrow hairstyle? Dude, because she's not really blonde, she always wore a blonde wig. I can't believe I have to explain that to you. It's embarassing. Let's just keep this inside the parenthesis, okay?) Morgan rings the doorbell, Ollie answers, Morgan punches Ollie and yells at him...

Enter Dinah, annoyed. "What the hell is going on here?"

That's a good question, Dinah, but a better question you might ask would be, "What the hell am I wearing?" Did she lose a bet or something? Hey Dinah, Charlie Brown called and he wants his shirt back. That's not a good shade of Hideous Yellow on her, it doesn't go with her skin tone.

OK, so Travis Morgan starts with the sexist comments, starting a tiny fuse in Dinah's amygdala. Mr. Beard over there is about two seconds from getting his ass handed to him and he has no idea.

And then he says it. Or rather, he starts to say it:

Dinah doesn't even let him finish his sentence before she knocks the color out of him with a left cross. That's what I liked about Black Canary during the Grell Era of Green Arrow: she took no shit from anyone.

I've read lots of criticism online about nearly every writer's handling of Black Canary*, but I think she's fared a lot better than Wonder Woman or Power Girl or yeesh, Supergirl. She seems to be handled with more consistency and (dare I say it?) respect by DC creators than most of her heroine peers, and I think the foundation of Black Canary's current Major Heroine status was laid by Mike Grell during his years writing Green Arrow.

Bear with me here. Since Grell wrote her, Dinah has consistently been portrayed as compassionate, proud, tough, vulnerable, and slyly funny by writers ranging from Gail Simone to Chuck Dixon to Geoff Johns. I think Black Canary is a great character because most DC writers really love writing her, and it shows.

I don't want to turn this into a defense of how DC has handled the character - that's an argument best left to others - but I've always liked Black Canary because of how DC has handled her. She's keen. 'Nuff said, pilgrim.

Anyway, the punching stops and they sort out who everyone is and why half of Seattle's underworld wants to kill Travis Morgan. It all comes down to that damn beard.

Hold it. If Ollie says that he and Travis are about the same age and Dinah says Travis doesn't look a day over fifty, does that mean Green Arrow is about fifty years old, too? Best not to dwell on such things.

Our three characters have some coffee and Morgan answers all their questions cryptically, with a wink to the audience. Since presumably the reader knows who Travis Morgan is, Grell doesn't have Dinah or Ollie ask some obvious questions of this strange man. It's a bit too precious and nostalgic for my tastes, but the fanboy in me did enjoy seeing the two characters interact, so I can't complain.

Their coffee chat is interrupted by a horde of the aforementioned armed criminal-types who attack Ollie and Dinah's pad in a John Woo style assault. Yes, like the rugby team that attacks the house in Woo's The Killer, these guys just blindly rush the house and jump through windows and knock over garbage cans and step on cats and generally just make great targets. Green Arrow and The Warlord hop up on the roof and pick off the bad guys with .44 Magnum Power and Very Sharp Arrows.

Bonus: In this issue Black Canary kicks ass in a big way. She kicks one dude in the nuts (pictured), kicks another guy upside the head, takes his gun, and starts blowing people away. You see kids, back in the Eighties Green Arrow was a "suggested for mature readers" title where Ollie and Dinah occasionally had to kill some motherfuckers. That's how we do it in Sea Town, kids.

The art team on this storyline was Dan Jurgens on pencils with none other than Dick Giordano on inks. I think the colors kinda suck, but what do I know? The lines are pretty.

Now, I have made fun of Dan Jurgens' art before - specifically the way he has drawn particular superhero fights. But here Jurgens adapted to Grell's sparse, cinematic style of storytelling and it works great. The big battle scene is told mostly in silent square panels with no sound effects and very little dialogue - a layout like that gives pencillers with poor composition and storytelling skills nowhere to hide. Fortunately Jurgens is more than up to the challenge and the angles and choices he uses are perfect. Giardano's a great inker, and together he and Jurgens create some panels that are positively Grell-ian. Still not a fan of the coloring, though.

In the end Morgan faces off against the mob boss who ordered the hit, who is attempting to flee the scene in his Christmas green sports car. Morgan has a Very Sharp Sword. The results are predictable, but beautiful regardless:

That's how you do it in Skartaris, son - with no shirt. Travis Morgan - he lives shirtless and free.

Green Arrow #28 is a high point of wry machismo in the series and I'm pleased that I dug this one out of a particularly hard to reach long box. Good times.

*Except Gail.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Shameless self-promotion: New Cracked article!

Yo, check it out: The 7 Most Underrated Movie Henchman, my latest article for the fine folks at Included on my list are such unappreciated greats as Maximillian from The Black Hole and Snake Walker (above) from The Muppet Movie.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

It's Clean Underwear Tuesday!

It's Tuesday, and that can only mean two things:

  1. Clean underwear! Each Tuesday I pull out all the stops for the sake of odor and hygiene. It's a big hit with my co-workers.

  2. It's time for another lame space-filling picture post!

Here are a few Phantom covers that I have to post because I find their radness compelling. I found them at Cover Browser, my new favorite site ever. They have a metric assload of scanned covers and you will waste an entire afternoon at work looking at them. Check it out!

The Phantom dispatches a straw hat-wearing thug with a contemptuously casual over-the-shoulder shot while his pet wolf Devil eats the guy's crotch. OWNED!

The Phantom just wants to know where his order is. He paid for the two-day delivery and it's not there, and if you can't help him then The Phantom would like to speak to your supervisor.

Last Phantom cover, I promise. This one speaks for itself, I think.

High fivin' bear! I resisted the urge to put some LOLcats text on this image. They would have been along the lines of:







And finally, one of those dog alien guys from The Fifth Element. I loved those guys, they were the best part of the movie. I want a movie just about a pack of those guys getting in trouble and shooting things.

Monday, June 18, 2007

THE POWER COMPANY #1 DC Comics, 2002

The Power Company was an old-fashioned superhero comic book with a new twist – this group of bickering misfit heroes was drawn together not for the common good, but to get paid in full. The Power Company, who should not be confused with The Electric Company, were corporate professionals who provide “superhuman services” to wealthy clients.

I do not use the term “old fashioned” in a pejorative sense; Power Company reminded me of DC’s great team books like New Teen Titans and Batman and the Outsiders and – of course -- Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew. One of the great things about books like those listed is that they brought together heroes with radically different backgrounds and personalities. They’re colorful, shiny. Fun.

Another old fashioned trait of The Power Company was that it had the same creative team for the entire run – writer/creator Kurt Busiek and artist Tom Grummett. OK, think there might have been a fill-in storyline drawn by the awesome Stephen Sadowski in there somewhere, but stil, in today’s age of transient artists, when four issues is a long gig on a book, it was refreshing to see some consistency and persistence of creative vision.

So of course, that shit got cancelled.

I don’t think The Power Company hit the mark every time, but overall it was a straight-up solid superhero team book. Busiek, the Continuity Master, worked a couple of third-tier characters into the line-up (Bjork*, Manhunter) but staffed his team mostly with new characters, which is always a bit of a gamble. For whatever reason, the book didn’t click, and after a few years it was axed. From my perspective, DC gave it a marketing push and an opportunity to find an audience, which is more than what most books get in today’s market. These days I bet Power Company wouldn’t have made it four months before somebody in Accounting pulled the plug.

One of the things I enjoyed about The Power Company was the diversity of characters. I didn’t really care for Bjork or Striker Z (Gawdamn, what a name!) but at least they were a departure from the standard straight-white-guy as hero paradigm. The character I found most interesting was Skyrocket, a black woman in a star-spangled power suit. She has a bit of a stick up her ass in a Hal Jordan way, but I really liked Busiek’s idea of a principled, smart, ass-kicking woman in a low-rent suit of powered armor. Skyrocket is a great character and I think she could fit into the larger DC Universe nicely.

Plus: Manhunter.

I’m a fan of all incarnations of Manhunter – the Walt Simonson version, the scary red robot version, the masked bounty hunter version, and the current all-red version. When I was a kid I read this fantastic short story called "Gotterdamerung" with art by Simonson that got me hooked on this minor character. Does anybody remember that story? If memory serves, it was a back-up in Detective Comics and it featured Manhunter in full-on Seventies kung fu bad-ass mode fighting a bunch of assassins in a huge cathedral. That story just gripped my shit and made me a Manhunter fan for life.

Overall, I liked where Busiek was going with the series and appreciated the mix of DC Universe continuity and new characters. Plus - Haunted Tank! The book had a poll for what characters readers wanted to join the team, and they overwhelmingly voted for Haunted Tank. Busiek obligingly add the Haunted Tank into the mix, which I thought was incredibly cool of him.

Tom Grummett's art work was solid, professional, tight -- the usual. Grummett has a well-deserved reputation as a reliable workhorse who can crank out quality pages month after month - see what I mean about old fashioned? This guy has probably forgotten more about page layouts and transitions and drawing action scenes than most of these slow young whippersnapper prima donna artists will ever learn.

Jeez, listen to me - I sound like an old man, don't I?

Hey, if digging professional, well-crafted comic books makes me an old man, I guess I'll accept that. Now you damn kids stop hitting baseballs into my yard!

*Seriously, Icelandic pixie/pop star Bjork is one of the stars of the book. She wears this crazy swan dress and everything. Gets thrown into Phantom Zone in issue 3.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

G-8 and His Battle Aces

I stumbled across this excellent cover gallery of a pulp series called G-8 and His Battle Aces that ran from 1934 - 1944. I have never read a G-8 adventure but now I want to, if only to find out if they really fight zombies pilots or flying Viking ghosts or if the covers are just heavily metaphorical.

Go check it out.

My favorite:

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

THE UNCANNY X-MEN #268 Marvel Comics, 1990

This issue of Uncanny X-Men is probably memorable to a lot of comic readers my age for a few things: the Jim Lee art, the decades-spanning storyline stuffed with ninjas, guest stars Black Widow and Captain America, and the fact that this issue broke the title out of a long creative rut.

It was the first halfway decent X-Men comic we had seen in like, a year, and it proved that given the right elements (Wolverine/ninja/Jim Lee/babes) the X-Men could actually be… cool.

I say “cool” in a superficial sense, because the addition of superstar artist Jim Lee to the mutant books really just added a fresh sheen of glamour and style to the tired old X-Men template. Longtime writer Chris Claremont learned to cater to Jim Lee’s strength and over the course of their collaboration on the X-Men books, Lee got to draw Rogue in a jungle bikini, Nick Fury, helicarriers and super-submarines, dinosaurs, chic new villains, and just a lot of people striking tough poses while festooned with gear and ammo and pouches and knives and shit. Lee made the X-Men books a sexy high-tech militaristic fashion show and brought a certain action figure sensibility to the comic that endures to this day. The X-Men were hot again. The word that perfectly describes the Jim Lee Era on X-Men and all its early-Nineties goodness is “radical,” and I mean that in the colloquial sense, as in “tubular” or “wicked @wesome.”

So here’s the story: during one of the most meandering and unfocused periods of X-Men history, the team had been broken up and Uncanny X-Men followed all the different X-Men and minor characters doing their own things all over the world – for like, a year and a half. This particular issue features Wolverine, Psylocke, and (shudder) Jubilee with guest star The Black Widow in a ninja-packed adventure in the modern-day Orient while flashing back to an equally ninja-infested adventure in 1941 with young Captain America and young Logan (Wolverine). That’s all you need to know.

The three X-Men save The Black Widow from an army of ninja from Marvel's preeminent ninja sect, The Hand. They color The Black Widow's suit with zipatone for the entire issue, and it's a great effect. Plus, I'm a fan of the Widow's short-hair big-collar grey-suit look.

Man, there are a lot of ninjas in this book. You have to understand, back in 1990, we weren’t sick of ninjas yet, not by a long shot. Don't judge us, we were young.

So the story alternates every few pages between the Widow storyline and the 1941 storyline, when Captain America and Wolverine meet for the first time. I have to say, from a pure fanboy perspective, Jim Lee draws a fantastic Captain America.

Check that out over there, plunging into a bunch of ninja blades like a star-spangled bird of prey! CAAAW!!! He looks bad-ass, you have to admit.

Claremont's writing style is so distinctive that you never forget you're reading an X-Men book, even with the new paint job. Here's a typically wordy panel where Jubilee spies on Wolverine and Black Widow having sex:

I'm just joking, kids. They weren't having sex. Wolverine doesn't have a penis.

This story may not have sex, but it's got lots of foxy superheroines and lots of violence and lots of Claremontisms:

Is Wolverine shooting somebody with heat vision in that panel? That would be so cool.

So let's see - Jim Lee art, ninjas, zipatone costumes, Claremontian dialogue, Captain America... It was 1990. How could I not love this comic?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Hola hola.

Dave's Long Box is a grudging participant in Guntherfest '07 and is not responsible for any seizures, angst, or psychological damage the viewer may incur whilst watching the video.

I wouldn't describe the Gunther video as "safe for work" - it's not that the content is obscene, it's just that you'd look like an utter freak if the girl from accounting walks by when you're watching this at your desk. It's not worth it, dude.

Monday, June 11, 2007

FANTASTIC FOUR #243 Marvel Comics, 1982

Look at that. Look at that frickin' cover. The cover alone is worth the price of the comic - such is its awesomeness.

I refer of course to John Byrne's awesome cover to Fantastic Four #243, which is in itself an awesome, awesome comic book.

There, I just used up my annual allotment of the word "awesome" and it's only June. From this point forward I shall not use the word "awesome" in a colloquial way. Actually, from this point forward, because I just said "awesome" in the last sentence. Damn it! No more "@wesome" from now on. Starting now.

What is the comic about? Look at the frickin' cover, it's about a bunch of heroes attacking frickin' Galactus, the Eater of Earths! 'Nuff said, pilgrim!

In the comic, the Fantastic Four and friends do indeed battle Galactus, that giant purple planet eater who wanders the cosmos destroying random planets. John Byrne wrote and drew this intergalactic beat down wherein the FF and select Avengers battle a giant Galactus on the streets of New York City.

Oh, did I mention --?


I'm not even going to explain that, I'm just going to let you trip out.

There's a great fight between a severely weakened Galactus and all the heroes who were stuck in Manhattan when it went spacebound in a big way. Thor damn near takes Galactus's head clean off with a shot from that kooky hammer of his. Behold:

Even when he's not at the top of his game, Galactus is still more than a match for a handful of heroes. When shit goes wrong, sometime you gotta bring in Dr. Strange to fix things. Hey, it works for Brian Bendis! Ba-dum dum! Byrne draws a cool neo-Ditko version of Dr. Strange in this issue.

Anyway, the Sorceror Supreme steps up to bat and just takes Galactus out with a Dio salute:

After Reed and The Thing take out a staggered Galactus with a crazy slingshot move, Dr. Strange smugly explains that he cast a spell that showed Galactus his greatest fear and he lost his shit. What did Dr. Strange show Galactus that freaked him out so much? What is the greatest fear of the Chower of Worlds? The Borg? Sharks? Comets? Mine would be watching the 1993 season of Boy Meets World over and over and over while dingos endlessly eat my innards.

Of course, the heroes prevail over Galactus, but wait. He's sick. Maybe he's got a thorn in his paw or something that's been making him grouchy. Aww, he needs our help...

Save Galactus?!?!! Wha-HUH?!! That's 100% old school Reed Richards right there.
The classic model of Reed Richards (depicted here) is a personality based on relentless curiousity and moral absolutism - something we haven't seen a lot of in some recent appearances of the character like Civil War. Here, Reed sees it as his moral duty is to save Galactus, even if it is inconvenient or inexpedient - and it's a decision that will cost him. That's the Reed Richards I dig.

The great thing about this issue and Byrne's FF run in general is the affection/reverance Byrne has for the real classic Lee/Kirby comics. Plus, the art was tight. Growing up, Byrne's work during this period really defined superhero comics for me - I just ate his stuff up, and I think it holds up remarkably well today.

This comic has the versions of Reed Richards and John Byrne that I most dig - I can pretend that the other stuff doesn't exist as long as I have comics like Fantastic Four #243. Contented sigh.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Let me tell you about a comic book that I totally love. It's Robert Kirkman's Invincible, published by Image Comics, and it kicks so much ass it should get arrested for assault.

Invincible is the continuing story of Mark Grayson, an average kid with decidedly above-average abilities. His dad happens to be Omni-Man, a Superman analog, and his mom happens to be a normal human being. Mark's normal, too, until one day when he's taking the trash out at his crappy after-school job:

The trash bag lands in London -- several issues later.

From that point on, Mark's life changes for the better (and the worse). He starts to develop super powers like his dad, who is a sort of secret ambassador to Earth from the planet Viltrum, where EVERYONE has super powers. Omni-Man begins training Mark in the superhero business, and young Mark becomes Invincible in name and in reality.

*SPOILER!* It turns out Dad has not been completely honest with his family. Sure, he's a super-powerful alien, but the Viltrumite Empire he works for are a pack of fascist supermen who take the concept of manifest destiny to a cosmic level. Omni-Man is really here to "prepare" Earth for assimilation into the Empire, and he wants Mark to join him.

Mark is a stand-up guy and wants no part of any world conquering so he says hell no, of course. Omni-Man beats the living bejeesus out of Invincible, pounding him from one end of the planet to the other, with massive colateral damage. Just as he's about to kill his son - he can always make more - Omni-Man has a change of heart and rockets off into space, abandoning his post.

Mark tells everyone his dad died in a car crash. His mom is devastated and starts drinking. Betrayed and abandoned by his father, Mark rejects his sinister birthright and has to learn how to become a hero on his own.

Of course, the shit ain't easy. He's got a secret identity, a crush on a cute superheroine, the occasional moral quandry, bad guys coming out of the woodwork, and he's still gotta finish high school. Welcome to the world of Invincible.

Basically, Invincible is like a candy bar with nutty Superman on the outside and chewy Spider-Man on the inside.

Creator Robert Kirkman's greatest achievement with Invincible is creating strong characters that you really care about in a superhero setting that is at once familiar and new. Mark Grayson is a likeable young protagonist, sort of like Green Lantern's Kyle Rayner done right. He's noble and cocky and overconfident, but insecure and wounded at the same time.

The supporting cast is equally good. Mark's mother Debbie is the MILFy Aunt May of the series, who has to endure a lot of traumatic shit just because she married an alien, yet manages to take it in stride.

Mark hangs out with the Teen Team, a group of young heroes led by the enigmatic and well-named Robot. Foxy Atom Eve, the matter-shaping teen heroine, happens to attend the same high school as Mark, and they develop a long-standing unfulfilled love thing - sort of like Ross and Rachel from the first couple of seasons of Friends. You know what I'm talking about, dude, don't be ashamed. She's brave and resourceful and compassionate - at one point she quits the hero business and does some Peace Corps stuff in Africa with her matter creating powers, which if you think about it, more heroes should do. I mean, would you rather have Firestorm fight Black Bison or patch up the holes in the ozone? What's the best R.O.I.? Anyway, Atom Eve rules. She would be played by Laura Prepon in the Invincible movie.

Other noteworthy characters include Robot, the acerbic genius with super-robot armor and a dark secret; Monster Girl, a woman who is cursed to grow younger every time she transforms into a powerful troll beast; Rex Splode, who just has an awesome name; and The Immortal, the ageless hero who was once Abe Lincoln, no kidding.

Invincible is absolutely lousy with characters as a matter of fact. Kirkman's not afraid to spend page space on Robot or on Mark's girlfriend Amber Bennett, and after 42 issues, it makes for a pretty rich little superhero universe that liberally samples from and sends up just about every comic book ever.

There's something for everyone, though. Invincible is chock-full of pathos and relationship drama that is counterbalanced by a flip sense of humor. The romance stuff is played with such sincerity that you can't help but get sucked in. For instance, when Mark hooks up with his classmate Amber Bennett, she's the Other Girl that is keeping Mark from Atom Eve, his destiny. But with each issue Amber becomes more and more important to Mark and likeable to the reader, until she's so likeable that you're sure Kirkman will have something horrible happen.

In Invincible, the frequent superhero fights feel dangerous and are often deadly and shockingly gory. The issue where Omni-Man beats on Mark is brutal, and a battle between Viltrumites later in the series is so violent it made me vomit a little. Seriously, there's blood everywhere and they're all holding their uncoiling guts in their bodies with broken fingers and oh, the blood! Invincible is like a Superboy movie directed by Sam Peckinpah.

The violence in Invincible is jarring, particularly because most of the time the fights are standard superhero violence. But sometimes Kirkman follows a terrifying logic and writes some crazy Scarface shit. It makes the fate of all the characters in doubt and creates a dangerous subtext to everything. Of particular note is the issue where Mark accidentally pummels the life out of a particularly troublesome villain in a gory scene. "I thought you were stronger..." Mark says, shocked.

I should say in the interest of full disclosure that I have done some Invincible-related work, so I'm not exactly impartial. I wrote a bunch of entries for the Official Handbook of The Invincible Universe and I wrote the series recap in Invincible #42 - on stands now for only $1.99!

But I've already been paid for all that stuff - I can honestly recommend Invincible because I think it's an excellent comic book that delivers all the stuff that made comics so great when you were a kid, but filtered by an adult sensibility.

Monday, June 04, 2007

FIGHT! Overlooked gems in the world of cinema combat

Sure, this isn't comic book related, but what comic book fan doesn't love a good fight scene? Aside from those emo Ghost World losers I mean.*
Here's a look at some of my favoritest overlooked fight scenes of all time. Here you won't find any fight scenes from They Live or Old Boy or Drunken Master II, which people young and old across the world know and love. No, I'm straying off the beaten path and focusing on some neglected gems, if I may mix my metaphors and I think I can.
Let's go:
Tarzan vs Sabor (Disney's Tarzan, 1999)

Disney's animated Tarzan has a fantastic running battle between our hero and Sabor, the biggest, meanest leopard EVAR. It killed his parents, and now it's coming for his adopted family - but not if the Ape Man has anything to say about it. The guys who storyboarded this brief fight deserve a beer, because it is tight. I particularly like the little martial arts bit where Tarzan draws blood on Sabor then flips up his spear and exchanges growls. Plus, wouldn't all fight scenes benefit from the victor raising the corpse of their foe into the air and roaring in victory? Yes they would. Tarzan kicks that leapord's ass big time.

Street Fighter X-Ray Punch (The Street Fighter, 1974)

I couldn't find the precise moment I was looking for on YouTube, so you'll have to settle for the original Street Fighter trailer. For those unfamiliar with this piece of macho madness, Sonny Chiba stars as Terry Tsurugi, a phlegmatic assassin with a flair for killing blows who is 110% bad ass. In one scene, some bad guys have dropped Chiba's car from a great height. He survives the experience (by focusing his ki power, naturally) and proceeds to whup the living shit out of his assailants. He punches one poor goon in the top of his head and we get an X-ray shot of the guy's skull and neck getting broken. Then the guy spits 2.5 gallons of vivid red blood and dies. Hilarious!
Hector vs Achilles (Troy, 2004)

Achilles (Brad Pitt) kills half of Asia Minor in Wolfgang Petersen's Troy before the end of the movie. Everyone is either scared shitless or deeply aroused by Pitt's bronze age Terminator, or both. The only guy with the stones to stand up to Achilles is Hector, the Trojan prince played by Eric Bana. Hector has no illusions about how this is going to end (badly) and neither does anybody in the audience who sat through a Western Lit class, but he marches out in front of the walled city and takes on Achilles anyway. Betcha he's wishing he had a little of that gamma irradiated blood right about now. This is a deftly choreographed, well-acted, and brilliantly shot and cut fight scene that is better than the movie itself. Bonus points for Achilles' custom killing move, the Trampoline Thrust.

Mani vs Guys in Dresses (The Brotherhood of the Wolf, 2001)

This movie has it all: cool outfits, kung fu, rampaging monster, sword fights, intrigue, and a naked Monica Bellucci. Some people actually don't enjoy Christophe Gans genre-mashing Le Pacte des Loups. Afraid of the French? I think it's brilliant and audacious. You know you're in for something special at the beginning of the film when Mani (Mark Dacascos) busts some 18th century moves on a bunch of bandits in drag during a rainstorm. No explanation or context is provided; all of a sudden it's just a guy in a pirate hat kicking ass on ugly skirt wearing women. In slow-mo, no less.

(NOTE: Jeez, turn the sound off and watch this. The only decent clip of this fight I could find has Prince's "Talk Dirty To Me" laid over the video. WTF?)
Jack Bauer's Wall Walking Neck Snap (24 Season 2, 2001)

OK, it's not a movie, and the combat staging doesn't compare to most films, where they have like, weeks to film a single fight, but this scene from the first season of 24 had me off my couch screaming, "OH HELL YEAH!!! JACK BAUER NUMBER ONE!!!" I scared the hell out of my cat. It's all about the context. It's the end of a very busy day for CTU agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), who has run all over L.A, been beat to hell, tortured, had a heart attack -- all without a chance to stop and take a piss. In the final hour of his 24-hour triathalon of pain, Bauer rescues the treacherous First Lady, but gets jumped by a terrorist thug. Fighting ensues, until Jack ends the tussle by pulling a Backside Air on the guy's neck. Ninja!

Martin Blank's High School Reunion Kickboxing Spectacular (Grosse Pointe Blank, 1997)

Finally, a classic fight between black-clad hitman Martin Blank (John Cusack) and a short Basque separatist killer in a turtleneck in the hallway of Blank's old high school. While his classmates at the reunion dance hideously to English Beat's "Mirror in the Bathroom," Blank and his assailant do their own dance -- OF DEATH! The Spanish dude should know better than to try to beat Cusack at kickboxing (the sport of the future), because clearly Cusack has longer legs. Plus, he has a trick up his sleeve: ballpoint pen. That'll teach that Commie to bring a gun to a pen fight.

*Kidding. Jeez, go write about it in your journal if you can't take a little ribbing.

And we’re back

Sorry, I was away on holiday for a week in sunny Lake Chelan, WA with My Krew.

The resort we were staying at had teh internets in the main lodge, but (and I can’t fucking believe this) I couldn’t access the blog because of their goddamn content blocker. I run a family-friendly blog, damn it! What’s more wholesome than comic books and shit? It’s not like I post about hot lesbian nun action or anything. I just don’t understand.

Anyway, I’m back now and darn it, I’m going to start updating more often. No, really. I know, you’ve heard it before but this time I mean it, baby. It’ll be different this time. Come here, give Ike some sugar.

How was my vacation? Awesome, thanks for asking. There was lots of swimming and eating and drinking and hiking and mini-golf and swingsets and paddle boating and popsicles. I burned my ever-expanding bald spot whilst jet skiing and my oldest daughter kept calling me “lobster head” until I started to ignore her. It was the most fun I’ve had on a vacation that didn’t involve bodily risk or alcohol or bears.

Now, apropos of nothing, some random and untimely thoughts on summer movie juggernauts:

So, Spider-Man 3. That wasn’t all that good, was it? When your plot hinges on not one, not two, but THREE incredible coincidences (1. symbiote meteor lands near Peter & MJ, 2. Sandman killed Uncle Ben, 3. Eddie Brock wanders into church at precise moment Peter casts off alien goo) then you have what we call lazy-ass storytelling. Plus, Spidey saves Gwen Stacy from then rampaging construction crane and then just swings off? What about the rampaging crane, dude? Final judgment - It was OK, but they shoulda hired Michael Chabon to write it.

PoTC: At World’s End was one reel and one double-cross too much. There was so much skullduggery that I couldn’t keep track of who was screwing over who. It was like watching Syriana with tri-corner hats. Still, the big whirlpool battle between the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman at the end made up for a lot. That was some cool shit. The whole thing felt like a Terry Gilliam movie – a really long Terry Gilliam movie.

Final judgment - I’d happily pay to see another Pirates movie if Gore Verbinski was still at the helm and I would grudgingly pay to see Spider-Man 4 just out of a sense of geek obligation.

Next: actual content. Seriously.