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View From The Brig(gs): Episode (Sweet) Sixteen

While Miley Cyrus has been twerking up a storm these past weeks, just for a change of pace I did a little work for somebody else on a new super-secret network TV show that’s in development while waiting for things to coalesce on “Panzer 88”.  I can’t say any more at this juncture, but it was a pleasant breath of fresh air and also it’s something I’m doing less for the money, and rather more because the subject matter was deeply influential to me growing up.

I only hope I can get to finish my commitment for this “mystery show” before “Panzer” hits. More on this as it happens!

Meanwhile, in other awesome news for those of us that truly appreciate picture quality: Kodak has announced that it’s completed the final steps in its restructuring as a reorganized company (they say).

Yay! Amidst the acres of P.R.-speak to tout it’s phoenix-like rise from Chapter 11 bankruptcy was this encouraging nugget to the Hollywood Reporter from Kodak’s Andrew Evenski, that: “…The motion picture film business will continue to be part of the company’s future. We are manufacturing film, we’ve inked contracts with six studios, labs around the world are dedicated to quality service, and, most importantly, filmmakers are choosing film.”

Amen to that, Mr Evenski.

Chris Nolan; Steven Spielberg; J.J. Abrams; and (ahem) myself and Gary Kurtz all plan on shooting movies on film, and together with Kodak’s announcement of new film stocks a year ago for archival purposes (if you don’t know why this is important, you should), this is a welcome…uh… “development”.

Okay, enough hilarity.

Less nice this last week was Apple releasing their new iOS 7 mobile device “upgrade”. I’m a long-time user of Apple products (1992, natch) and a huge fan of skeuomorphic interfaces: to me, they show somebody took some time and care about their work, rather than Jonny Ive’s ghastly attempt here.

iOS7 is slow and ugly (did Fisher Price play a part in its design?) and lots of it seized up or didn’t work right off the bat for me. It ruined my mail system, and then it completely jammed-up my Podcast App. It still has me swearing on a regular basis, even after I took the time to go through and deactivate all the spurious new battery-draining settings, and the only game I regularly play at the moment (NOVA 3, if you’re curious) has now gone laggy.

Seriously, Apple: you let me down. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does…boy, you know how to do it. Rethink this lame travesty, please.

It’s a significant step backwards.

By the way: I hope you fellow “Star Wars” fans out there noticed, as conceptual artist-turned-film director Joe Johnston got his own Facebook page and seems to have embraced the medium gleefully.  I like Johnston as a director (“Rocketeer” is one of my all-time favorite comfort movies, and I will genuinely go to bat for him for the excellent extended cut of “Wolfman”, which is head-and-shoulders above its rather limp theatrical cut), and I can rave all day about his abilities as an artist: he is genuinely in one of the top five designers in film there has ever been. (Pretty much everything cool in “Star Wars” was designed by him.)

It’s fantastic that he’s decided to embrace the internet in this way. I can’t think of another director that’s “hung up” his day job to interact with the fans in quite this way. Go check him out.

Sunglasses After Dark…

My attention wandered elsewhere the last few weeks, so my reading habits have suffered somewhat and only one actual book made it through to completion. The latest in Kim Newman’s “Anno Dracula” series (“Johnny Alucard”) has literally just hit the stands this week, and I’m very much looking forward to it. So to whet my appetite, I re-read Kim’s last installment; “Dracula Cha-Cha-Cha”. I was astonished to realize that this was originally printed back in the mists of 1998 (where does time go?), and the newest Titan Books reprint includes all-new material from Kim, including notes and a whole new “Anno Dracula” novella entitled “Aquarius”, set in the swinging London of 1968.

The plot of “Dracula Cha-Cha-Cha” leaps forward forty-some years in the same universe as his previous “Bloody Red Baron”, with the vampire royalty of Europe flocking to Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” Rome on the occasion of Dracula’s wedding.

However, a vampire killer is carving a swathe through the assembled, and British secret agent Hamish Bond (yes, no kidding) is there also with his own agenda.

As with the previous two books, “Cha-Cha-Cha” is a rollicking read, with in-jokes aplenty , although my personal favorite of the three is still “Baron”.

It’s always nice to have new material from Kim, so I was keen to read “Aquarius”, which serves as a backup novella in “Cha-Cha-Cha”. Kim unfortunately (for me) emulated the occasionally squalid and kitchen-sink aspects of the Swinging 60’s rather too well, and I consequently found some of it a slightly morose read.

I was especially upset that his vampiric journalist character Kate Reed, whom I’ve loved in the previous books, seemed to be reduced to a fairly mousy and downtrodden character here with, some of her pluck taken out of her. The plot line of “Aquarius” has Reed this time investigating a series of murders of “warm” women on behalf of the Diogenes Club, which are inciting anti-vampire hatred in England. “Aquarius” is a substantial work in its own right, and Kim could likely have made some coin by releasing it as its own piece: had that been the case, I might have paused in recommending it, but in having it coupled as a hugely generous freebie bonus , I can only encourage you heartily to take the plunge and pick up this excellent value Titan-twofer.

I Oughta Be In Pictures…

I got through a fair bit of movie catch-up this time around, with some real surprises, but none more than my first. Before I launch into the other mainstream genre flicks, I want to single out Shane Carruth’s “Upstream Color” (only his second film; the first being the time-travel twister “Primer” back in 2004), for some special treatment.

I gather this film has been getting a fair amount of press on the American Indie scene (mostly as Carruth has supposedly been distributing it in an unorthodox fashion, which ironically perfectly suits the subject matter), but I confess I was ignorant even about the movie’s existence until Mark Kermode covered it recently on his BBC Radio 5 show.

Ooooooooh, boy! To say that “Upstream Color” is a singular and extraordinary film only really begins to scratch the surface: when it comes time to do my Top 20 flicks for 2013, I’m likely going to have to take this one out of the running and mention it in a class by itself, as to lump it together with anything else would do it a disservice.

In fact, to fully appreciate “Upstream Color”, I’m likely going to have to view it a further time (couple of times?) with a bottle of whisky close by. Carruth’s film is almost unlike anything I’ve ever seen: it’s well directed; very well shot; and is completely out of its tree. If Stanley Kubrick, Terrence Malick, and David Cronenberg got in a room together and squabbled over the camera, this might be the result.


If you even TRY to follow this synopsis, you’re likely going to be scratching your head in puzzlement. The story concerns a couple who fall in love (maybe), after the girl has been kidnapped by a mysterious drug chemist (a sort of Cronenbergian “Breaking Bad”) who infects her with a mind altering parasitical worm that makes her do all manner of things she can’t later remember. A music composer-cum-pig breeder harvests the parasites from her body, and then spends a lot of the movie trying to replicate a humming sound that only people who have been infected by it can hear. (Still with me?) Like the pod people from “Invasion Of The Body Snatchers”, the infected then seem eager to spread their “message”…

This is not a movie to casually watch on your laptop while doing something else. Carve out an evening, sit down, and concentrate. (You know, like we used to do with movies in the good old days.) I would recommend having some booze to-hand, but if you’re teetotal that likely isn’t going to help. The movie is perplexing, infuriating, and fascinating. And quite beautiful. It will polarize a lot of opinion, and likely will annoy many. Don’t blame me if you hate it (but spread the word if, like me, you love it.)

On with the rest of the genre offerings. I caught up with maligned “Quantum Of Solace” director Marc Forster’s “World War Z”, extremely loosely based on the (very nifty) book by Max Brooks. Several years ago, I attended a “Science In Hollywood” seminar about zombies in Los Angeles (I mean, the seminar was in Los Angeles…and it was about zombies…not…oh, you know what I mean…), which featured a Q & A with Max Brooks (along with George A Romero and others) in attendance. Being a smartass, I posed a rationale to Max about why a zombie apocalypse would ultimately fail for the decaying lurchers, and he took it on the chin with good aplomb. (When I introduced myself afterwards, he gushed about how much he loved “Hellboy”, so I naturally liked him a lot.)

Anyway, now here we are with this epic adaption of his zombie apocalypse yarn. Despite a troubled production, I was surprised by how much I loved this. It was enormously entertaining, and a phenomenal logistical exercise from Forster. The money looks like it’s up there, and I was staggered by much of the spectacle, from a pure filmmaking standpoint. (I guess when you have unlimited cash to throw at the screen, things become easier.)

The movie wavers a bit in the last half hour set in a research institute outside Cardiff (that’s in Wales, in Britain, if you’re geographically-challenged), and there’s some very “Huh?!” plotting in that third act. (Slight spoiler here: you inject yourself with something that could be terminally fatal, so that zombies will avoid you? Aside from the pure stupidity of surviving the conclusion of this logic, can somebody tell me how this “something” you emit can be detected by zombies through the sealed confines of a biohazard lab? Are you suddenly giving off some tenuous alteration to your morphogenetic field, or what?) Paramount junked, supposedly, a giant zombie battle in Russia that was completed and in the cut, but dragging the movie down. I have no idea how that would have affected the flow, but on the basis of what’s on display here I still would have loved to have seen that.

Regardless, this is a big, fun movie. And I think you should see it. So there.

I was wowed by Neil Blomkamp’s directorial debut “District 9”, which was developed with Peter Jackson, and when “Elysium” was announced I was curious to see how Blomkamp would fare with the often-problematic “Second Album”. (In the interests of fairness, I should also admit that I’m friendly with Mr. Jackson, who has helped us considerably in getting our movie “Panzer 88” off the ground, although that in no way biased this review.)

Oh, brother. I saw this in a packed cinema in Sweden last weekend, and I was inclined to have warm and cuddly thoughts for the movie from the outset, given it was a summer offering that I didn’t have to suffer through viewing in 3-D. (Longtime readers of this column will know how much I detest 3-D moviemaking.)

For the first 15 minutes of “Elysium”, I was simply boggling and thinking “Wow: this might very well be my favorite movie of the year!” However, by the time I’d reached 15 minutes from the end, I’d downwardly revised that drastically to “Wow: this might be one of the most infuriatingly dumb movies of the year…”

So, what happened? First, the good: the movie’s design is impeccable. I mean, just staggering. Weta in both its incarnations, Digital and Workshop (hi, chums!) have pulled off both extraordinary design and a photorealistic, staggeringly real look for “Elysium”, with some of the best conceptual creation I’ve seen onscreen in recent years. This surely has to be the closest there’s been to creating a high-end video game look as a backdrop, yet absolutely real: just extraordinary stuff, and “Elysium” really ought to pick up the production design Oscar next year (and obviously has to be one of the main contenders for visual effects).

Okay, now for the downside.

There’s not much to fault overall in the acting department (aside from one major issue, and we’ll get to that.) Damon is perfectly fine, basically doing Jason Bourne in a bolt-on exo-suit within the parameters of what the script asks him to do. Copley has proven himself to be a very good actor, and once again any problems I had with him in the movie are as a function of the dialogue and direction given to him. (Pretty much, it felt to me as if Blomkamp just said “go nuts, Sharlto”, and that was the limit of his direction.)

Which unfortunately brings us to Foster. Oh, criminy. Googling “Jodie Foster’s Accent In Elysium”, reassured me I wasn’t the only one wondering what had gone amiss. Foster is usually highly watchable, and you might first be forgiven for thinking that she’s turning in a deeply eccentric performance. (I think she’s certainly not being restrained enough, but that only hints at part of the problem.)

What it reminded me of, more than anything, was seeing the Christopher Lambert Tarzan movie “Greystoke” back in the Eighties. Andie McDowell plays the love interest in the movie, and for reasons best known to the producers, her Jane was dubbed over by Glenn Close. And even back then, when both actresses were unknown quantities to the general public, you could sense something was a little off watching the film.

Which is what flashed through my mind watching “Elysium”: that Foster had tried the movie with a certain accent, and it flat didn’t work. Intrigued, I took a look online: from the comments of others, footage was shown at various pre-release expos of Foster speaking in a French accent, so that clearly confirms that suspicion. It would be interesting if that cut of the movie surfaces at some point.

Sadly, I didn’t feel the plot had been put together with the same care as “District 9”. Too much relies on co-incidence: arch Earth criminal Spider embroils Damon to attempt to hack Elysium’s data accounts, but simultaneously the awesome William Fichtner (with extraordinary makeup that deserves an Oscar all by itself) also has a plot to takeover the Elysium data-cores, and both intersect: criss cross, “Strangers On A Train”-style. It’s all a little too convenient, and the fact Spider was able to instantly read the assembler code in one second and figure out what it is, while at the same time Damon is saying that the information was “scrambled” makes no sense, nor does the fact that they were able to “synchronize” the information from Fichtner to Damon (faster than you can say “Johnny Mnemonic”)…and Spider can access the information to read it, yet isn’t able to make a copy? Huh, what? And when he finally gets it, is able to change the purpose from replacing the President (which seems like another “Huh? What?” moment: you’d kinda notice if Obama was suddenly replaced by Bob The Builder overnight), to…giving access to everyone?

There’s just so much tech in this movie that makes no sense.

A space station has a defensive capability that consists of firing handheld rockets AT the station from the planet at their targets, when the targets are almost at the station!? (Ignoring the trajectory of the resultant destructive debris right AT the station after the target is destroyed?) And what propellant are those rockets using?

Unaerodynamic drop craft are capable of going into orbit and back. L-5 colonies don’t seem to be at any L-5 point. (And how the hell is that atmosphere held into the rings? You can land right on someone’s lawn, even though at various points we’re shown docking bays in the central hub.) The medical tech is preposterous: you live as a privileged human being on this space station, yet you have to run an ID code to use your own medical pod: this makes no sense, especially when you have hospital ships that have (presumably) tons of uncoded pods in their boarding bay. WHAT are these ships even used for? They’re sitting there, but nobody is using them. (Likewise, the entire facial reconstruction scene had me howling with “Aw, come ON!”, but Sharlto’s mystical “HALO” videogame energy shield had already pissed me off long before that.)

There seems to be barely any rationale towards the backstories in the film. What is the Earth planetary government? How is any kind of “no-fly zone” over a city enforced, when Elysium seems to have no offensive capability? How does a disavowed Sleeper agent get to land on Elysium without being met by robot guards once there? How is the central control room for Elysium likewise not guarded by robot guards? How does another Earth ship just land on Elysium right after Copley’s, and nobody in control seems to bat an eyelid? How is it that Damon, who is monomanically focussed on repairing himself and could give a stuff about the little girl of the woman he loves enough to have a tattoo of emblazoned on himself, suddenly decided to give a crap about millions of people he’s never even met?

Why is everyone on earth so dirty (nobody even bothers washing up for surgical procedures, apparently), and living in slums (when they could go and salvage a few solar panels, and go live off in the countryside somewhere.) I seriously could go on-and-on about this movie…the plot seemed to have been glued together without much thought.

It’s really “Occupy Orbit”, with Blomkamp clunking bits and pieces from every William Gibson book he’s ever read, but not giving much thought about the details of his own societal structure he’s created. I did laugh out loud at one art department detail: when they’ve got Damon all hooked up in the Elysium medical bay to suck the information out of him, on the interface cable that goes into his head is emblazoned a very tiny “42”.

While visually awesome, stylistically I got fed up with the excess of slow-motion shots, the looseness of the editing in a lot of scenes, and the pretentious sub-Malick “lyrical” flashback interludes. Overall, the film entertained me, but even as I was watching it, it was dropping down, down, down the list of my movies of the year. Blomkamp needs to edit tighter next time, and hopefully collaborate with someone else who is a better writer.

You spend all day waiting for an Apocalypse Comedy, and two come along at once.

First up, and flying the British flag, was “The World’s End”. I’ve unreservedly loved all three of Edgar Wright’s previous movies; this one isn’t a “strike”, but it is a disappointment. In the various reviews of this film, I’m very surprised not to have seen a comparison to the recent Ben Stiller movie “The Watch”, which (without giving too much away) I can’t help feeling had a number of similar aspects that were handled slightly better.

The film has a fairly choppy first 15 minutes (a number of Wright’s usual key production crew are missing this time around, and it doesn’t feel quite as effortless), and I felt the dialogue had rather too much swearing, with the plot not quite as effortless as Wright’s previous work and feeling a little forced. Although it was a delight seeing Nick Frost becoming “The Man” for this story, it was conversely dissatisfying seeing Pegg flip roles to being the asshole Frost portrayed in “Sean”.

There’s good stuff. (I laughed at the “Shaun Of The Dead” jukebox jingle appearance in one of the pub scenes.) I liked it: I enjoyed it…I laughed. But I didn’t love, love, love it like I did with Wright’s previous movies, and probably can’t see it playing on the same constant rewatch rotation I have as “Shaun” and “Hot Fuzz”.

Roll on “Ant Man”, though.

From the other side of the Pond, the Rapture comes a-calling in the Seth Rogen-starrer “This Is The End”. I have to put my hand up and admit that I hated “Pineapple Express”, and stoner comedies generally just don’t do it for me.

Thankfully, that’s only one aspect of this movie, which has some very funny scenes with a whole checklist of actors playing themselves, and some wonderfully slick-but-cheesy Harryhausen-esque monster effects. I mean: any movie that features the awesome Jay Baruchel and demonic creatures has to be a winning formula for a movie, right?

The final two genre flicks I saw plummeted slightly in enjoyment level. Question: what happens if you glue “Men In Black” to “Beetlejuice”; then smush the endings to “Ghostbusters”, “Hellboy” (hey!) and “The Avengers” together, and graft the resultant mess to one another and give it terminally-dull dialogue? Answer: you have “R.I.P.D.”, which commits the cardinal sin of making Jeff Bridges (who has since gone on record as saying he doesn’t think much of the movie) be incomprehensible for 2 hours, and your $130 million dollar movie just lost $69 million dollars. I know I’m trying not to say bad things in this column, but you don’t really need to see this movie.

And while you’re avoiding that, you might want to skip “After Earth” too, which has a poe-faced and irritating script, crummy direction, and some of the lamest-looking production design that left me breathless with disbelief at how cheap it was.

Right. Moving away from the genre flicks, I also saw “The Look Of Love”, Michael Winterbottom’s film about the career of British porn king Paul Raymond (whose oeuvre admittedly formed an instructional part of my formative years), played by British comedian Steve Coogan.

There’s very good direction here from Winterbottom, a surprisingly witty script from Matt Greenhalgh, and the whole thing is nicely shot, starting with black and white photography in the 1950s segments and going through the decades (although a little more delineation about what year it was wouldn’t have gone amiss). Imogen Poots was wonderfully naturalistic as Raymond’s daughter, and Tamsin Egerton is breathtaking and proves that Gemma Arterton really oughtn’t to have gotten all the acclaim after “St Trinians”. I’m going to recommend this: it’s one of the more entertaining movies I’ve seen this year.

But be aware that almost every other scene seems to feature a spectacular-looking girl, who is usually naked. Because I know most of you reading this will probably hate that.

Zipping along, I watched “Trance”, a somewhat overlooked “psychological” film from Danny Boyle, the nice man who directed that spectacular pre-Olympic Games show. This was well directed, although certain aspects of the digital cinematography annoyed me intensely.

James McAvoy puts in a good turn, and Rosario Dawson is ridiculously gorgeous and watchable. I was quite enjoying it until the absolutely ridiculous last 15 minutes, including the absurd “why” explanation. Definitely worth a look, though.

A trio of sidesteps into subtitled non-English movies rounds out the movie portion of the column for this time.

The first was “Lore”, a quiet, above average German movie (co-produced by Australia, and their entry for the Oscars last year, although it didn’t get nominated).

This is about the titular character (a German young girl), who has to take her siblings cross country to their aunt after her Nazi parents are taken in for questioning in 1945. The film is well done, boasting a very good central performance by the lead Saskia Rosendahl, often reminiscent of a young Kelly McGillis.

Be warned that it’s fairly brutal in places, and somewhat akin to a Terrence Malick movie (if Malick could remember how to tell a compelling linear story.)

The second movie with readable words was Costa-Gavras’ French film “Le Capital”.

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable ripoff of “Wall Street”, with the exception of a quite troubling scene where the movie’s protagonist rapes an antagonistic catwalk model bimbo.

The film is smart, but not quite as smart as it could have been. I’ve always enjoyed the lead, Gad Elmaleh, and he doesn’t disappoint here.

Finally, we rounded our trip to foreign climes off with “The Hunt”.

This is a fairly uncomfortable (and often infuriating) movie, which has Mads Mikkelsen (the bad guy from “Casino Royale”) as a kindergarten teacher being falsely accused of child molesting.

Mads has never been better, although the script hits a couple of false notes. (There’s one moment where a teacher says in all seriousness “Children never lie”, and I just roared out loud, “Oh, COME ON”…)

In The Last Flickering Glimmers Of the Cathode Ray Tube…

Lots of stuff happened on T.V. this week. I’ve been an avid follower of “Dexter” (seen every episode), but that Last Episode Ever was one of the poorest, most anticlimactic let-downs I can remember, apparently designed merely to tie-up loose ends. Is Dexter [Spoiler!] really playing matching beards with “Man Of Steel” Clark Kent somewhere off in the backwoods?

Shame.

Meanwhile, over in Britain…thrill! At the temptation of seductive housemaids returning to titillate middle aged men! Simper: as the ersatz bad guy inadvertently reveals an evil employee! Gasp: as electric whisks run amok! Yes, “Downton Abbey” is back on our boxes, and as welcome as an old pair of slippers.

Much as I really like “Downton” (and, I’m afraid I have to admit I do), my one quibble is that I can’t help but wonder if this show’s music is scored by an A.I.: you can almost guess what the next musical chord is going to be depending on what the scene is showing. Still, in a little homespun comfort amidst swearing, mutilation, and sordid plot lines a world gone mad, is no bad thing. Right?

In A Place That Only Formerly Existed On A Rotating Metal Rack

We’ll end with comics, now. I want to start out with Marvel, and single out Rick Remender’s “Captain America #11”, with its absolutely gorgeous artwork. I’m highlighting it, though, not because I loved it…but because the ending struck a sour note with me. The plot line follows on from Cap having been stuck in an alternate dimension for several years, fighting Arnim Zola.

On returning, he goes through a barrage of tests while Zola’s daughter is interrogated by Nick Fury. The story ended with Cap…burning his entire war memorabilia collection after Miss Zola gives him a little speech. And…I don’t buy it, I’m afraid. Not for a second. Cap is entrenched is history, and as a historian he knows the value of learning from the mistakes others have made. It’s important. I’m not convinced that some hippy-dippy “Let Go Of The Past And Move On” speech would cause Cap to flip his SHIELD zippo and let rip.

Sorry, Rick, but I think you made a bad judgment call letting Cap do this. I enjoyed the issue regardless of the denouement, so you should check it out.

Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan’s “Deadpool #16” was…well, wow! This title has been off in its own deranged little universe for quite a while now, packed to the gunwhales with outrageous sight-gags and bad puns. Along the way, it’s been setting up a very slight little subplot, in which Deadpool is sedated every once in a while. Here, we discover the reason why: he’s been serving as a donor for cloned superheroes! This issue marks a major turn of tone for the comic, and a welcome breath of fresh air.

And speaking of The Deranged One, “Deadpool Kills Deadpool #3” has The Watcher (or, rather “A” Watcher) witness the Army of Pools bring forth…Galactipool to the fight. This is seriously silly stuff, and well worth a glance at if you want a giggle.

I’ve long ago felt that Marvel need to wrap-up their Murderworld storyline, but “Avengers Arena #15” was basically an enjoyable “All Guys Versus A Big Monster” for the whole issue, with a minor flashback transgression to see a young Blue Nara The Fishgirl being dissed by Namor. This one gets a Hail Mary Pass from me. This time…

“Mighty Avengers #1’s the latest Avengers title to prize us away from our money, but luckily it does so with dash and aplomb. (No, that’s not two featured characters.)

With the actual Avengers in outer space, a semi-retired Luke Cage finds himself teaming up with the body-swapped Doc Ock “Superior Spider-Man”, and whomever else he can get his hands on, when Thanos’ hench-chick Proxima Midnight (another escapee from Manga programming) invades New York.

I’m actually looking forward to seeing how this team shapes up next issue.

Al Ewing laces his storyline with scads of humor, and Greg Land and Jay Leisten’s art is a blast.

Recommended!

I’m not the biggest fan of Paul Cornell, and so it surprises me no end that I enjoyed the hell out of “Wolverine #9”. The newly-mortal Wolverine hits the road after Mystique steals a samurai sword precious to him, and in the process runs into third-rate supervillain Batroc, who’s out to nab the ten million dollar bounty on Logan’s head. There isn’t a lot more to the story, but it’s a heap of fun.

“X-Men #5” has the X-Men on the trail of a fleeing young Jean Grey and Scott Summers, who have been brought from the past to the present. I want to mention one panel in this issue in particular: after Wolverine and the others locate Scott and Jean’s Blackbird plane abandoned on a beach, artists David López and Cam Smith (or maybe even colorist Laura Martin…where to place the blame?) completely forget to draw-in the faces of four featured characters!

One of the sloppiest pieces of work I’ve seen in comics for years! Tsk, tsk, chaps!

In Cullen Bunn’s “Venom #41”, we’re in the second of three “Mania” storyline issues. I’m a little uncomfortable with the issues that mix up supernatural and regular superheroes in the same mix; I think it’s the practical screenwriter in me that wants to rationalize the context of putting the differing universes together. Still, this is a fun romp: grown-up paraplegic schoolteacher Flash Thompson’s given a piece of the Alien Symbiote Venom suit to one of his pupils, and she’s running amok with it against the demonic Lord Ogre and Master Mayhem (these sequences reminded me an awful lot of Kick Ass’ “Hit Girl” character, only with expando-tentacles.)

Despite my reservations, I enjoyed this issue greatly, and I mostly like what Bunn’s being doing with Venom.

“Daredevil #31” had a neat little scene where Hank Pym turned a squadron of his ant-helpers into giant-sized rain-seeders in order to break-up a riot outside a courthouse…not something I’ve seen before, and worth the price of admission!

Despite absolutely stunning and intricate artwork from Jerome Opeña and Dustin Weaver, Hickman’s “Infinity” is failing to wow me. I’m a big “pure” science fiction fan, but the word “Sprawling” would seem to apply to this current galaxy-spanning storyline. However, #3 ends with the promise of Black Bolt up against Thanos next time, so that should at least be fun.

Over to the land of DC now, where they’re turning the universe upside down and letting the bad guys take over the house.

Now, here’s an admission: I’ve always felt that Cyborg Superman was…well. Kinda crappy? He just seemed like an excuse to have a Superman flying around with robot bits glued on him in order to let DC sell a few action figures.

Well…”Action Comics #23.1″ gives us Cyborg-Supe’s origins…as Zor-El, headstrong brother of Jor-El, resurrected by Brainiac. And, you know what? This issue worked really well. I give it two thumbs up, and encourage you to give it a shot.

After the Earth’s superheroes vanish, Tony Bedard and Geoff Johns with “Aquaman 23.1” give us not the origin of Black Manta (which was done very well within the last couple of years in the pages of “Aquaman” itself), but a nice little yarn with him escaping prison when the Crime Syndicate (parallel world versions of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) take over…and Aquaman is apparently dead.

There’s a question Manta poses himself: when his entire life is dedicated towards killing Aquaman, what does he do when that goal is achieved? From the closing panels after Ultraman causes clumsy tidal devastation, it seems like Black Manta’s going to war with the Crime Syndicate. Should be fun…

In the same hero-less universe, “Batman: Dark Knight #23.3” features a morose Clayface, relating to us why his temper repeatedly gets him into trouble. After hotheadedly wiped out his team of crooks while on a heist, he decides to do something pro-active that might get him into the good books of the super villain elite.

Unfortunately for Clayface, that doesn’t quite go to plan either. Darkly comic, I enjoyed this a great deal.

“Detective Comics 23.2” chooses Matt Kindt to give us Harley Quinn has his origin story. I feel a little bit dirty in recommending this issue: let’s face it, Harleen IS a psychopath who as a psychiatrist went all Stockholm Syndrome on the Joker at Arkham. Plus she seems to be a Cosplay Role Model.

And Kindt has really too much fun making her sassy and sexy (especially her last act in this particular comic book seems to be to make everybody with a handheld game console go “Boom”). Still…it’s a well told issue.

“Detective Comics 23.3” continues in the same vein, and manages to pack in a tremendous value-for-money rogues gallery, featuring Scarecrow, Mister Freeze, Riddler, Poison Ivy, and Killer Croc! Essentially a character piece with each dealing with their newly superhero-absent world, it’s nonetheless one of the better reads of the week.

“The Flash 23.2” has the Reverse Flash origin of Daniel West, Iris’ brother. I thought his viewpoint was interesting: in his mind, he’s the good guy trying to set things right. Give it a whirl and see what you think.

“Green Lantern 23.3” likewise gives us an insight to Black Hand, as he finds himself appearing on Earth and reanimating a zombie army with his Black Lantern ring.

This was one of my favorite issues this time around.

I have to also mention “Justice League 23.3”, which tenuously actually gives us instead China Mieville dong the bad-guys side this time in his “Dial H” series.

While the artwork is not quite up to snuff to previous “Dial H” entries, Mieville’s invention seemingly knows no bounds when it comes to concocting truly bizarre superhero characters.

I’m really going to have track down an interview with him, as I’m curious as to how his thought and work processes work.

“Justice League Of America 7.2” gave us a character called Killer Frost, who I admit I’ve never heard of. There was an old episode of “Space: 1999” called “Force Of Life”, in which Moonbase Alpha crewman Ian McShane (in his less sweaty pre-“Deadwood” days) is altered by an alien intelligence to suck all the warmth and energy out of everything he touches, and that’s pretty much what happens to Dr Caitlin Snow after (“Watchmen” style) being trapped inside an Ultraconductor experiment in an arctic research station. I enjoyed some of Derlis Santacruz’ dramatic panels very much…I wonder if she’s going to be tangling with Mr Freeze at some point? Hmmm…

“Justice League Of America 7.3” I actually glanced at with disinterest, and figured it wasn’t going to work for me. I was surprised to be happily proven wrong. This one features Shadow Thief, an alien-hunting character from “Hawkman” I don’t really know that well, and who resembles something from a Nirasawa Manga installment, wearing a Venom-esque living shadow suit.

I thought this worked pretty well, and it’s one of the few DC “Bad Guy” titles in this series that really deserves a spin-off title of her own (previous appearances from the character have been male, but she’s way cooler as a girl) once this storyline has wrapped. I’ll even go so far as to say that I think she’d make a pretty decent movie, too. I loved this storyline. Hey, D.C.: gimme a yell

This time around’s bad-guy installment of “Superman #23.2” has Tony Bedard give us the Vril Dox origin of Brainiac, with lovely artwork by Pascal Alixe. Much as this one was entertaining, out of the various “origin” stories that DC are churning out this month, I can’t help but feel this particular one falls into the “Prometheus Movie” category: just because you can show the backstory of something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Brainiac to me is more interesting with his rationales not fully explained. And, really: did we have to see the hackneyed “Wife and child” story for this one?

Like a few of the other bad-guy titles, “Action 23.3” portrays Lex Luthor coming out of jail, giving an employee a very hard time, and then setting up a terminal space shuttle accident to engender anti-Superman feelings with the public.

That’s not the greatest plotline ever for an issue, but Charles Soule kept the pace brisk and thoroughly enjoyable, so it’s a thumbs up from me.

In a similar vein to the “Upstream Color” movie I mentioned above, Charles Soule’s “Swamp Thing 23.1” has the evil master-of-the-rot Arcane explaining the history of his past and the origin of his destructive power to a Godly-transformed Abby. If you’re a Swampy fan (as I am), this is actually an important “Genesis” issue, and has some very compelling art from Jesus Saiz. (One small panel has Arcane sitting in a field with a bunch of corpses making indents around him in the long grass: I can’t put my finger on it, but it made me stop and look at the panel for the longest time.)

Definitely one of my titles of the week.

Okay, gang. Away from the majors, I’m assuming some of you must have read the much-trailed Dark Horse “The Star Wars” comic, adapted from the early drafts of George Lucas’ own “Star Wars” screenplays, by J.W. Rinzler?

There’s always been a wistful “what if” when poring over concept artist Ralph McQuarrie’s early designs for the film, but…really. Be careful what you wish for.

The comic artwork based on those designs is gorgeous to look at, but I can only marvel at the people who are legitimately coming out and saying they prefer this to the actual 1977 movie.

What on earth is wrong with these people?!

Let me just emphasize the point: this comic is based upon the original, discarded screenplays. This is the problem with the “fans”: they’re out there deluding themselves into thinking this is some alternate version they were “cheated” out of, instead of ignoring the fact that it’s actually really a cruder, unrefined, unpolished version of what you eventually ended up with.

There’s a reason George was snipping out his hair when he was writing these drafts: they’re not very good!

The dialogue, which was awful in the screenplay, is still awful on the printed page; and the ideas which were cut as being substandard, all ended up in the reviled (although, I hasten to add, not by me) prequels, which I bet these very same people were haters of!

The human race. Never knowingly undersold…

More next time, hopefully good stuff.

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