Friday, May 10, 2013

View From The Brig(gs) Episode 9: Rise Of The Titan

Hey, Briggonauts.

I can't sugar-coat this one. It trended (sadly) all over the web three days ago, and the Fan-O-Sphere had a collective group hug.  I was right there alongside them. Ray Harryhausen, Master Of Dynamation, passed away at the venerable age of 92.

Way back in the mists of time, IGN magazine approached me for their "Ten Questions" feature, and I cited Ray as a particular inspiration for "fueling a kid's imagination".



My Dad similarly loved his movies before me, and some of our greatest father-son memories were sitting with Dad watching "Jason And The Argonauts" especially on vacation television (and this is back in the dawn of prehistory, when there weren't even VCRs, and you had to watch a movie through without interruption).

My dad would cook a "Special Breakfast" that accompanied "Jason" (and others), and I still think it's weird I associate the smell of grilled mushrooms with the visage of the gargantuan steel giant Talos rounding a rocky promontory. (I'm an avid collector of all things Talos, by-the-by.)


When Tom Hanks stood at the Academy Awards and cited "Jason And The Argonauts" as one of the greatest movies ever made, I felt those little prickles at the corner of my eye.

Gary Kurtz (producer of "Star Wars", and the movie we're making, "Panzer 88") lives in London, as did Ray, and the two of them were friendly with one another. I had needled Gary once or twice to get me an introduction to meet Ray. I guess now I never will.

In some halcyon dimension somewhere, I'm willing to bet that the two Rays, Harryhausen and Bradbury, friends from childhood Los Angeles are back together in some celestial Airstream diner, hunkered down on red vinyl stools and talking dinosaurs and spaceships once more.


Adios, Ray. You were an even bigger Titan than the ones you brought to life.


In A Communal Place Of 3-D
Still in movieland, "Iron Man 3" opened last week, and is currently cracking box-office record planet wide, so any reviews are pretty redundant really. It's also directed by a friend of mine, Shane Black. It's tough when your friends make movies, because you have to comment honestly on them. (Well, you COULD lie, but I don't do that. I'd have live with it, and I don't like doing that "Hollywood Game"). And not only is Shane a solid filmmaker ("Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" was great, wasn't it?), but he's a lovely bloke, too.

Besides, Shane knows my favorite movie of his is "Last Boy Scout" (and still is), and I think he wouldn't respect me if I didn't fess up the truth.


So, here's my obligatory 3-D moan first. I was pleased that the 3-D was subtle, and not as in-your-face cardboard cutout as it was in "Captain America" (which looked infinitely better in 2-D). Honestly, I would have still preferred to have seen "Iron Man 3" in 2-D, but it wasn't a biggie overall.

Okay, into the movie. There's some pretty big SPOILERS here, so if that makes you alarmed, skip this.


As an actual "Iron Man" comic book reader, I never liked Marvel's original "Extremis" comic plot line, and certain of the plot elements bothered me in the silver screen version, Tony's leaping armor especially still not really working for for me.

The Extremis Soldier technology bothered me also, because I didn't feel that it was contextually a logical extension of current human technology; even though in the comic, it was explained as being yet another extension of the Super Soldier serum chestnut that spawned Captain America.

(Personally, had these plot elements been described as "Alien Technology Offshoot" from materials salvaged from the Chitauri invasion, I'd have felt it was a reasonable get-out clause for what's portrayed in the film. Tony was concerned about being able to protect Pepper from the encroaching forces of the Universe: something like that would have given Pepper an understanding of what Tony was up against, and (as they say) "strengthened their relationship".)

It also bothered me there weren't a couple of lines to help explain this movie's particular character vacuum-extrication from the overall SHIELD and Avengers universe, now that that genie is out of the bottle and these movies have a responsibility, unfortunately, to individually address the absence of the other characters.) I was, though, very pleased the missing Extremis component in the Comic Books, of having Tony being able to access electronic networks through his body, was dropped for the film.
Shane's familiar movie trademarks are here (I'd be disappointed if they weren't). Christmas time, helicopter attacks, well-rounded bad guy goon repartee, stilt house collapsing damage, dockyard showdown, rapid good-guy duo banter. Stark's "bully" gift to the kid was plainly the Shredder Bullets from "Last Boy Scout". And was that sequence with the deer and the car in the snow REALLY an alternate "What If?" for Geena Davis' crash in "Long Kiss Goodnight", or am I reading too much "in-joke" into that?

The dialogue was an improvement on "Avengers" (well, dude…it's SHANE BLACK…I mean, duh!), and I enjoyed seeing a couple of actor friends I hadn't seen in a while. I liked seeing Bill Sadler as the President, and it was great that Rhodes got more to do out of the suit. (And that Iron Patriot looked much cooler onscreen than in photographs.)


On the downside, I didn't understand the overall motive for why Killian was doing what he was doing (or, what that ultimately actually even was, beyond the Presidential speech), or the rationale for Maya's Eleventh Hour threat to him. Granted, this at least shows the genesis of AIM, which is a good thing for the Marvel Universe. I know there's a bunch of stuff left on the cutting room floor, so hopefully there'll be some of that on the DVD. I also don't know how I feel about having Tony's heart MacGuffin so easily and swiftly tied up, considering it was pretty much a motivating force in the first two movies, and it's just casually resolved here.

My favorite parts of the movie were the ones with Stark in Middle America out of the suit, whether with the kid or not.


My favorite setpiece was definitely the whole "Barrel Of Monkeys" action sequence. Brian Tyler's tune accompanying the titles was absolutely awesome, and further demonstrates for me the ongoing lamentable trend of movies in general of putting cool title sequences at the end of a movie (especially given they now get butchered out of the film when shown on network TV). The movie's a solid addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but my two favorites in the series are still Favreau's first "Iron Man", and "Captain America" (Hey. I'm all about '40s nostalgia.)

While not "genre" (and thankfully also not 3-D), I also caught up with "Jack Reacher". To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Good dialogue (although the plot is simultaneously linear; lacking in surprises; and faintly absurd), Chris McQuarrie directed it well; it has some great little setpiece scenes (there's a ridiculous fight scene halfway through that's great because it's stupid), and Caleb Deschanel is on good form with his shot-on-film cinematography (I do miss his old school soft lighting from movies like "The Right Stuff" and "The Natural", although he compensates with some really nifty subtle camera movies here.)


Cruise is perfectly fine (and certainly far better than he was in "Oblivion"), but still miscast for this role. I was mentally recasting it as I was watching it, with Hugh Jackman and (yes, sorry) Mel Gibson.

Still. Silly fun, and greatly recommended.

In The Land Of The Splash Panel
Okay, I want to start my comic delve off with a serious matter.

A couple of issues back, I mentioned "Thanos Rising #1", which attempted to chart the genesis of Marvel's Mad Titan, soon to be a bad guy for your kids in some forthcoming "Avengers" installment at your local multiplex. And, it's about the kids that I want to speak.

Marvel are owned by Disney now, whether you like it or not. And, once upon a time, kids actually read comic books!

I know: I used to be a kid, and (golly, gee-whiz) comics were simpler and more naive in my day, and didn't really deal with "issues" in anything other than a basic way that kids could relate to.

There used to be that thing (much derided, but it did serve a purpose) called The Comic Book Code, and good taste and "adult supervision" (if you want to term it thus) were generally rigidly adhered to.

Comics post-1980s seem to be solely aimed at an older audience, and those ruddy-cheeked angels don't much have anything fun for themselves any more. Mainstream comics feature relationships; overt sexuality (heterosexual and otherwise); some queasily disturbing violence on occasion; and  @#$!!**@#$!!! bad language hinted at, to-boot.

I grew up with (and enjoyed) Action Comics and Dredd and Hook-Jaw in England, when things were much more sedate in the U.S., so I'm no stranger to penny dreadful sensationalism. Thing is, there's now a whole generation out there who have iPads and computers and mobile devices. And there's still comics, and comics are still cool. And the kids are still impressionable. And often their parents don't even know what the hell their little tykes are downloading.

Which brings me back squarely to "Thanos Rising #2".


Now, I've liked Thanos as an Ultimate Baddie since I was about 11, I guess, and back in my review of Issue #1, I'd mentioned that I didn't much care for the demystification of the character this story arc is bringing to it. In an offhand manner, I likened it to what "2000 A.D." in Britain did with Judge Death, their major Judge Dredd adversary, when they created a childhood backstory for the Other Dimensional Superfiend, basically reducing him to a tawdry little oik who started-off torturing pets.

I hadn't actually realized that that was where "Thanos Rising #2" was going to go, as well.

I was deeply disturbed by this issue, which I feel may possibly reach an all-time bad taste low for Marvel, and for mainstream comics in general. I watch "Dexter" and "Hannibal", so I get my fill of depraved fictional psychos on a weekly basis. And I know that there are demented sickos out there that likely will emulate those shows into the real world, sadly.

But I'm an adult. I'm meant to exercise my judgement in how I react to my societal stimulants. The old censorship chestnut argument has no real resolution, and will only continue to chug along. And that's fine. That's a discussion, and I'm not really going to weigh in on that. What I do want to say, is that kids are not adults, and they don't have that weighty privilege and responsibility. And, they are impressionable.

Now. This issue portrayed Thanos, fairly graphically, going about his "Science Experiments" at school. Here was Titan's own version of the frog dissection class, called (I think) a "Green Tail". Before you know it, we see Thanos at home…and without further ado, butchering a lashed-down Cave Ape with the accompanying text telling us fairly explicitly how he took it apart while it lived and suffered.


And then in a hop, skip, and a jump, Thanos has kidnapped a canoodling photogenic couple, and in the turn of a page has them almost-naked and similarly fastened splayed alive to dissecting tables in his lair. (I say "almost naked" as the comely girl's wearing salaciously-illustrated lingerie, as if to tantalize you into the sexiness of this act.) Thanos reaches for his blade, and then the rest is mercifully left to the imagination.


Things get worse. Seriously. In a few pages, Thanos launches into his big, rambling eloquent justification speech, in which he reveals that he'd moved on from his scientific musings (and in which he included descriptions of him murdering children as well as his teachers) to a point where he admits that he just likes killing.

And in the flip of a page again, we see his own mother strapped and gagged to a table, and Thanos' blade is plunging for her chest.

Look: make no mistake about this.

Older "Classic" Thanos is a genocidal maniac (and his name literally IS Death), who won't balk at destroying a planet. But, he's a big "Mwah-hah-hah!" moustache twirler villain.

Even if you're going to grow up to be the next Hitler or Saddam, and claim that you gassed the Marsh Arabs because you were fixated on Moff Tarkin destroying a planet when you were a kid, that's a pretty tenuous argument and hard to take seriously.

But when you have a character who is portrayed as the younger version of themselves, which is as the perennial outcast gawky kid in school that I'm sure a lot of you guys who are reading this can identify with, and that character is compelled to murder their school companions and mentors and enjoy it, particularly in this day and age when Columbine-style lunacy seems to be occurring with frightening regularity, you have to take stock and exclaim: "Wait…hold the phone."

I closed this issue, and seriously wondered if anyone at Marvel had quality controlled this story, and if they had, what the fuck was going through their heads. I also wondered what was going through the mind of Jason Aaron (who is a writer I normally like very much). It's the first time I've ever needed to ponder a comic book in this manner. To repeat: there are impressionable kids out there reading this stuff, and it's no different from those adult-aimed TV shows I referenced above. You can make the cynical argument that kids are a push button away from getting far more debauched stuff from the 'net. And you'd be right. But this is Marvel. A Disney company. And this issue is, and I don't care how you spin a counter-argument for its defense, glorifying murder. The cover didn't even sport a "For Mature Readers" warning. "With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility": remember that?

I was, frankly, disgusted.

Okay, deep breath and onto Marvel's considerably better remaining output.

In Brian Michael Bendis' "Guardians Of The Galaxy #2", the Guardians are repelling a Badoon warship incursion on London (which feels like something from "Doctor Who"), with some nifty stone-cold action from Rocket Racoon.

Meanwhile in a flashback, the Emperor of Spartax J-Son (you see that little DC Comics appropriation they did just there) is making a case for the various warring faction across the Universe about why Earth is special (citing the Watcher and Galactus' interest, in the process.)

You can hear the giant cogs whirring at Marvel HQ as they're setting up the story for the big "Guardians" movie.

Bendis stays in Guardians mode again for "Guardians Of The Galaxy Infinite #4", where we get a cute little story about an alien girl (who lives on a farm that could almost be present day Kansas), who raises a little seedling that (in the space of a page) grows to be the full-size Groot, the Guardian that is a living tree. Which is very timely, as he defeats a bunch of alien invaders that have just turned up to menace the farm. There's not much more to it than that, but Michael Del Mundo's art is adorable.

In Dan Slott's "Superior Spider-Man #9", the Swapped-Into Petey's-Body-Doctor Octopus has finally figured out something's a bit off inside his noodle.


Shades of "Inception", he goes into his own mind to unleash a mental villain's gallery on the last vestige of Peter Parker's ID that's hanging out in there. And the ending…well. Read it. I love this title.

It's Bendis once more, with "All-New X-Men #11". Yet again, the junior X-Kids from the past who've been brought forward to the future to give them an abject lesson in what's going to happen to them, square off and yell at one another. Young Grey perhaps unwisely flexes her powers, and there's a surprise Pepper Potts "cameo". This has consistently been one of the more interesting current "X-Men" titles, so I'm giving it a thumbs-up.

Kieron Gillen's "Iron Man #9" is basically a big woolly galactic goose-chase.

Accompanying the Guardians Of The Galaxy (gee, do you think Marvel is trying to make us aware of them for the upcoming movie?), Tony Stark hires the alien Bounty Hunter Death's Head, to track down the Machine-Man like mysterious "451", who caused major Celestial destruction the previous issue.

The ending is a little bit of a surprise, and features nothing more than…Howard Stark.

You may have to tune in next issue, as it could have Marvel Universe ramifications.

Mark Waid's "Indestructible Hulk #7" proves the end of "IH #6" was just a big tease.


Hulk wasn't wielding Mjolnir…it was just on its way back to Thor. Yeah, right. It doesn't make any sense, but that's the explanation. The rest of the issue was very cool…I apologize if that sounds like a joke, considering the story's all about the Frost Giants (with one very spiffy moment as a Giant sticks its head through the dimensional portal connecting Jotunheim to Banner's lab on Earth. Highly recommended.

I'm enjoying "Red She Hulk". There, I said it. Issue #65 was a doozy, being the third part of the "Route 616" storyline: basically, a road trip with Betty Ross and Machine Man as they continue to discover what lies at the root of Tesla's world-computer, the Terranometer. I have a particular fascination with Tesla, so I'm greatly enjoying this storyline.


Our heroes this time have to go up against A.I. representations of Ultron, Red Skull, Doom, and Loki (carved on a quantum-pseudoscience Mount Rushmore.) This is a very dense issue, and requires you to read it slowly. Good stuff.

After letting Wolverine kill Hank Pym in the past in the last issue, thus preventing the creation of Ultron, Sue Storm and Logan return to the "present" in Bendis' "Age Of Ultron #7" (Again!?!? Where does he find the time to write this stuff?!?), where they go up against the Defenders, who believe them to be Skrull. There's not a great deal of plot advancement here, but there's a lot of rock-em-sock-em joy to be had. Especially if you want to see Wolverine beat up, er…himself.


Let's teleport over to D.C.-Ville now. I had thought about changing the format of this column, as there's usually so many comic books I love, it's exhausting to even capsule review them. To my astonishment, this time around…there was a grand total of...

One. One D.C. comic book I felt was outstanding. Crazy, huh?

Peter Milligan's "Red Lanterns #19" is essentially a "plot lull" issue, and I don't mean that in a derogatory sense as it's a fun one. Red Lantern Atrocitus basically takes a contract out…on himself. The universe's Red Lanterns turn up to take their leader down, and let him…reinvent himself. It's faintly ridiculous, but highly entertaining, and ends with the Lanterns heading off to Oa to bring down the Guardians.


Thankfully, there was one other glimmer of light that redeemed D.C. this time around. I caught up on Tom Taylor's "Injustice: Gods Amongst Us", which is a tie-in comic book for the video game that was released last month. And, surprise!, it's a great read in itself. If like me you've had your head buried beneath a videogameless rock pile, the premise has The Joker murder Lois Lane, which drives Superman to shockingly kill him in retaliation.


And, further, Superman decides on a zero-tolerance perspective to policing the world. I loved it. Check it out.

Stacks Of Dead Bound Wood On Your Shelf
It's no fun falling behind on one's column obligations, especially when I keep staring at my book pile wistfully (and that thing's not getting any smaller). All I managed to get through this time around was a "Behind The Scenes" book. "The Men Who Would Be King: An Almost Epic Tale of Moguls, Movies, And A Company Called DreamWorks" is the rather long-winded and self-explanatory title of this 2010 tome, and Nicole LaPorte's goes into fairly exhaustive blow-by-blow accounts of the company's financial dealings and the various major players involved.


Curiously, though, it's a shade thin on the ground with details about the making of many of the actual movies. (Considering "Gladiator" was a major production for the company, it's dealt with in a fairly brusque manner. If you're more interested in the production aspects of film, you'd probably be better off ploughing through each of the movies' respective DVD supplements.)

As someone who's discussed projects occasionally with the studio, it was an interesting peek behind the curtain, but I also spotted at least one factual error so I wouldn't like to say how accurate LaPorte's accounts are. Worth a look if you're interested in seeing how the nuts-and-bolts of the business works, but it might otherwise be a little dry and difficult to get through.

That's it for this time. Catch you on the flip side.

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