Sunday, September 25, 2011

Justice League #1 Review

Sometimes terrible things happen. Horrible, unspeakable, unimaginable things. Like a loved one being diagnosed with a terminal illness or a beloved family pet running into the path of an oncoming car. Or, ‘gasp!’ the worst, your local comic book shop neglecting to pull you a copy of Justice League #1, only the most colossal, groundbreaking and sought after comic publication since the death of Superman in 1992. Sadly, such was the case with me when after months of build up and anticipation the book finally hit the stands prompting a storm of midnight release parties in which literally hundreds of copies found their way into the yearning clutches of many an eager fan boy and girl. Perhaps it was the machinations of the Legion of Doom or some cruel karmatic force coming back to bite me for a prior misdeed. Whatever the reason, the proud writer of this blog came frighteningly close to tearing his clothes and cursing the fates when a customary weekend pilgrimage to his local comic shop ended with the soul crushing discovery that a copy never made its way into the protective custody of his subscription file. However, the store employees, being the awesome folks that they are, acted quickly to certify a second printing with my name on it and this past Wednesday, three weeks in to DC’s historic, new 52 relaunch, my long wait was over as I quickly uncovered JL #1 nestled cozily in my stack.
Now that I have talked a little about my struggle acquiring the book I bet you are curious about what my thoughts are on the comic itself after actually having read through the thing. Though not a whole lot seems to transpire in the course of the first issue, the narrative does a superb job achieving its goal of acquainting the reader with the truly volatile and unpredictable world that is the new DCU. Especially in the latter parts of the old DC continuity costumed heroes were more or less viewed by the public as celebrities, adored, imitated, and idolized. A striking bronze statue of The Man of Steel stood tall in Metropolis park erected as a kingly tribute to its unearthly protector while in Central City, the Scarlett speedster had an entire museum dedicated to his many heroic exploits. Heck, even the edgy, anti-social Dark Knight who for the longest time had taken such extreme measures to preserve his anonymity as an urban legend had become somewhat of a public figure with his international recruitment campaign for Batman Inc.
In the new DCU, no such admiration yet exists as JL #1 introduces to a world that is still very leery if not downright hostile to this abnormal wave of costumed crime fighters. Such is illustrated in the opening pages of the comic which sees Batman chasing down a terrorist while he himself is being doggedly pursued by a Gotham City swat team. The issue continues by showing us the first encounter between Batman and Green Lantern. GL, believing the terrorist to be of extra-terrestrial origins which are his specialty, persuades the Caped Crusader to let him lend his interstellar expertise to help get to the bottom of the creature’s agenda.
The team up gets off to a bit of a rocky start as we see the two heroes’ oil and water personalities result in some genuinely funny exchanges. A couple of examples of this are when Batman steals the ring right from Green Lantern’s finger without the other noticing and, flustered, GL summons the ring back warning Batman of the its power to give life to his thoughts to which the other sarcastically replies, “I would be afraid if I thought you could think.” Another occurs when GL materializes a glowing green jet to fly him and Batman to Metropolis. When Batman criticizes him for their less than subtle arrival, GL wittily responds “How else were we supposed to get here talk in a deep voice?” As the issue draws to a close the two Seek out the Earth’s only known alien inhabitant who they are led to believe is implicated somehow in everything that is going on. Not exercising much in the way of precaution, Green Lantern is dispatched with relative swiftness by their new adversary resulting in a vintage cliffhanger ending teasing a showdown of epic proportions between the company’s flagship characters, Batman and a certain red and blue wearing Kryptonian.
Though the issue itself doesn’t quite live up to all the hype surrounding it (how could it?) it is still a really fun read and lays the ground work perfectly for a truly epic story arc that sees the very first teaming of the world’s mightiest heroes. As always, Geoff Johns displays an intimate knowledge of who these characters are in his writing while Jim Lee’s artwork is absolute candy for the eyes. Despite my prolonged suspense Justice League #1 was well worth the wait and I am truly excited to see what happens next.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Action Comics #1 Review

Unless you have no interest in comics and therefore, no soul, I’m sure you are well aware of DC comic’s monumental 52 relaunch. A bold attempt to reclaim the loyalty of fickle fans while simultaneously kindling interest among a broader demographic of people who would possibly like to start collecting comics but are afraid of being overwhelmed by frustrating crossover events and decades worth of fuzzy continuity. Now, with the entire DC Universe being given pretty much a clean slate, the new 52 offers the perfect jumping on point for readers old and new alike with 52 number one issues sporting new directions, new creative teams, and new interpretations of our favorite superheroes.
In an attempt to retain the best possible aspects of the prior continuity while offering a fresh, exciting interpretation of areas that could be improved upon the re-imaged DC Universe sees some of its core characters like Batman and Green Lantern left pretty much untampered with while B-listers like Captain Atom, Hawkman, and Green Arrow given new aesthetics, and status quos to make them more modern and relevant. But perhaps no character underwent more of a face lift then the big guy himself, that’s right, the man of steel, Superman.
In the months heading up to the relaunch Superman pretty much had it made. He was happily married to his long time love interest Lois Lane and had achieved a considerable measure of success as one of the Daily Planet’s star reporters. He had successfully mentored Kara Zor El (Supergirl) and Conner Kent (Superboy) into mature heroes whose nobility and sense of justice and morality were almost a perfect reflection of his own. He was the undisputed paragon of the superhero community, solid, soldierly, super.
So imagine my shock when I open the pages of Action Comics #1 and Superman is dangling a man threateningly above his head atop the balcony of a 20+ story building. Imagine my distress as he is surrounded by a swat team who hates and fears him, ready to fire away at the slightest provocation, imagine my bewilderment at seeing his very “un-super” looking choice of apparel. Superman in Levis!? What was so wrong with the red trunks over blue spandex!? And are those short sleeves he’s wearing!? And work boots!? Who is this guy!? Surly it cannot be the same superhero whose standard is one of the most instantly recognizable symbols in all of the modern world, the same superhero whose mythology is enriched with affinities to Moses, Jesus, and every foreigner who ever set out for the new world, risking life and limb just to fulfill the dream of being a part of this great country. But the more I read the more I realized how the man on the pages epitomized the core of who Superman is behind the title and the costume and the mystique, a hero of the people. That is the crux of who the character is, and that is certainly what writer Grant Morrison and artist Rags Morales delivered in Action Comics #1. Not so much a salubrious, borderline messianic figure but rather a rough and tough champion of the common man whose ardent pursuit of truth and justice in a corrupt, unscrupulous world make him an outlaw rather than an idol, a vigilante rather than a superhero.
The changes are no less prevalent for Superman’s alter ego Clark Kent. Not yet an award winning reporter Action Comics #1 sees Clark as an underpaid stringer cutting his teeth on human interest stories, living in a dinky apartment and barely able to make rent. His marriage to Lois has been dissolved and the two are now working for two competing media outlets. She makes an appearance along with several other recognizable characters from Superman’s supporting cast including his hair impaired arch nemesis Lex Luthor. No longer a villain but now on the right side of the law in this re-imagining, Lex is a military contractor working with the authorities to subdue and capture Superman.
All in all this first issue of Action Comics was an absolute blast, and I cannot recommend it highly enough if you have any interest in Superman or comic books in general. The writing is great the art is great and superman, unlike his portrayal in the mopey, introspective “grounded” storyline that ended the old continuity is really super again. Although not able to take the sky just yet this Superman is not afraid to face danger head on and throw himself in the mix while at the same time smiling and saying nice things to people. Although he may not yet be strong enough to change the course of mighty rivers this superman will not hesitate to throw himself in front of an out of control train even if it means enduring some cracked ribs and blood streaming out his ear. Because of this I suppose I can forgive the jeans and the work boots, heck I kind of dig them. After all it’s not what he wears but what he does that truly makes him Superman.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens Review

Cowboys + Aliens equals one heck of a awesome movie. That is probably the most apt phrase I can think of to describe “Cowboys and Aliens” which I finally got around to seeing this past week. This movie had kind of an underwhelming reception when it came out a couple months ago which surprises me considering the flat out good time my dad and I had watching it. Maybe people’s expectations are just too unbelievably high nowadays. Or maybe like the film’s less than peaceful extra-terrestrials I must be from another planet. Anyhoo, this genre blending spectacle of guns and (not so little) green men captured my imagination and kept me well on the edge of my seat until the credits started rolling. Complete with mystery, monsters, space ships, and a heavy helping of daring-do, “Cowboys and Aliens” is pretty much everything one could ask for in a summer blockbuster. Oh, and did I mention Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford star in it? Talk about too much testosterone for one movie!
The movie opens with Jake (Daniel Craig) awakening in the middle of the desert with no idea who he is or were he came from. His only clue as to what happened to him lies in a strange metallic armband cuffed around his wrist. We quickly learn that Jake is one dangerous dude after he makes short work of some varmints who try to rob him before moseying in to the nearest town of absolution. Jake is not there very long before the unflattering truth of who he is catches up with him and after a perfunctory barroom dustup with the local deputies he winds up cooling his heals in the pokey soon to be tried for his past crimes. Just as with Bond, Daniel once again proves why he is certifiable action hero in “C&A.” He exudes the confident, steely eyed rogue persona almost effortlessly while maintaining a sense of mystery and unpredictability that always make him a blast to watch on screen.
Before Jake is taken away to be tried somewhere upstate, absolution is besieged by a fleet of wicked looking air crafts that terrorize the town and spit out long cable claws that snatch up some of the townspeople while there loved ones look on wide eyed and helpless. During the ensuing melee, Jake takes down one of the attacking ships with his bracelet which he finds out converts into a pretty lethal laser gun.
One of the people taken is the son of Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) an icy land baron (or something like that?) who immediately rounds up a posse of volunteers to track down a fleeing alien whose ship Jake shot down and rescuing their kidnapped kin. Because he possesses the only weapon that can really put the hurt on the enemy, Jake is unwittingly recruited into Dolarhyde’s motley group of avengers.
No stranger aliens or wearing a hat and cracking the whip for that matter Ford’s Dolarhyde is like an older version of Han Solo minus the charm and sense of humor. Despite really letting his irascible old grouch come through in this part Ford still manages to be charismatic and likable as the movie eventually sees him learn to take his inflated ego down a few pegs and be more empathetic to others. He and Daniel Craig worked really well together and it was especially fun to watch these two cinematic bulls lock horns before ultimately coming to like each other in the end.
With such high profile actors as Ford and Craig, one might suspect the two would end up stealing the spotlight but credit is do to the supporting cast for really managing to hold their own and in some cases display just as memorable performances. Olivia Wilde is equally cunning and beautiful as Ella Swenson, a survivor of an earlier alien attack who manages to penetrate Jake’s tough guy exterior and help him unravel the mystery of what happened to him while later revealing some bombshells of her own. Paul Dano is absolutely detestable as Woodrow’s son Percy, a spoiled puke bucket who rides the coattails of his father’s success and uses his influence to bully others and get his way. Jake is the one person in town who won’t put up with his nonsense and quickly let’s the younger man know that, painfully. Sam Rockwell gives a memorable performance as Doc, a geeky tavern owner who goes from questioning his place in such a rough and tough town to fighting aliens alongside Jake and Woodrow when he rises to the occasion after his wife is taken in the raid. And of course it would be remiss of me in lauding the supporting cast not to mention the aliens themselves. Imagine if one of the velociraptors from Jurassic park mated with the biggest, ugliest species of toad and these aliens are probably what would result. Fleet footed and frightening these nasty buggers are probably some of the best CG creatures I have seen to date and are utilized in some great moments guaranteed to make you jump.
With a fresh and fun concept, eye catching effects, engaging story, and great performances all around, “Cowboys and Aliens” ropes in your attention and levels you with its awesomeness like a bucking bronco. Raw hide!