So I had this long, overly complex post all prepared about how much I love AIT/Planet Lar, and about how cool Larry Young is and all the sage advice he's given me over the years. I even had a few rants ready to go about all the bad mouthing he gets on the fan boards, and what I think of those people, then I decided I'd rather accentuate the positive, so I threw it out. Instead, I decided to post a listing of every AIT/Planet Lar graphic novel to date, so that I could see it all spread out in one place, sans commentary. If you're curious about something you see here, go check out the AIT/Planet Lar website. Larry is a master at writing promotional copy and far better at pimping his product than I am. This one is purely a labor of love.
Incidentally, the best place on the entirety of the internet to get your graphic novels is Khepri.com. If they don't have it in stock they will absolutely knock themselves silly to get it for you. They're good people, just like the ones at AIT/Planet Lar. So, Let's get to it.
In the hopes that Blogger doesn't blow a fuse, I'm actually going to break this post into the same genre categories that Larry has on the AIT/Planet Lar website.
by Larry Young,
Live from the Moon
by Larry Young,
One Shot, One Beer
by Larry Young,
by Larry Young,
by Joe Casey,
by Jason McNamara,
by Larry Young,
by Brian Wood
by Brian Wood,
The Ballad of
by Brian Wood,
by Brian Wood, Rob G
by Brian Wood, Rob G
by Stuart Moore,
by Joe Casey,
by Rick Spears, Rob G
by Max Allan Collins,
by Larry Young,
by Matt Fraction,
by Kirsten Baldock,
by Warren Ellis,
by Peter Gillis,
No joke, time goes by and people continue to do stuff even when you aren't constantly checking up on them. The review of Raven's Children was written several years ago, and in preparation for revising it, I did some checking up on Ms. Lawlor. She has in the intervening years literally exploded onto the internet, publishing work for Girlamatic and putting up her long running science fiction epic Kismet, as well as several other works in progress at Layla's Website. Layla also has her own Livejournal wherein I see that she laments the fact that people still hold up her Raven's Children work as representative of the skills she has now. Sheesh, she's also moved to Alaska.
Anyway, I want to go on record here by reiterating what I had originally surmised three years ago when I originally wrote this review. Layla Lawlor's writing and Artistic skills will only get better with time. Well folks, go check out her stuff. I wasn't wrong. A quick tour through the Kismet stories is like watching a timeline of artistic progression. She's better now than she ever was. Doesn't mean I love Raven's Children any less, just means she's growing. By the way, while you're over at Layla Lawlor.com, stop by the Raven's Children website, and order the second graphic novel, and what looks to be the conclusion to the Raven's Children storyline.
Being a review of the movie Kung Fu Hustle
I hate to come across as an obvious cliché, but I just love Hong Kong action movies. I think most guys do, really. We're programmed for it as small children. While I wouldn't consider myself obsessive about the genré (unlike pretty much every other aspect of pop culture), I am fairly well versed in the Hong Kong action movie canon. It started with Bruce Lee, for certain, but it soon spread to Sonny Chiba, Chow Yun Fat, Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Li Gong, the list goes on for pages, and it's of special note that I will move heaven and earth to go see any film with Michelle Yeoh in it, no matter how badly it reeks. Hong Kong directors have and still are turning out some of the most innovative and sublimely directed action movies. Tsui Hark, John Woo, Wong Jing, King Hu, Yimou Zhang, and Ronny Yu are as good as and oftentimes better than directors like Renny Harlin, John Frankenheimer, John McTiernan and Walter Hill. (Anyone who's thinking, "Geez he left Michael Bay off the list," can leave now.)
That's why when some amazingly bright producer at Miramax (gotta love Bob and Harvey) decided it would be a grand idea to bring Stephen Chow's movie, Shaolin Soccer, to The United States a couple of years ago, I was all sorts of excited about it. So excited, in fact, that I ran right out and completely missed it. It showed here in Kalispell, MT for like a week... maybe. Fortunately it's now out on DVD, so I can catch myself up later. If it's anything like Kung Fu Hustle, it should be great.
Kung Fu Hustle is a revelation. One part Hong Kong action movie, one part Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner cartoon, it brings a refreshing sense of humor to a genré that's notorious for taking itself way too seriously. (Jackie Chan excepted, or course.) The special effects are better than most of what's currently coming out of Hollywood, and Stephen Chow uses every part of his amazingly complete director's kit to maximum effect.
The visuals in this movie are a head-spinning delight to the eyes. Each scene is packed with layers of visual cues and graphic in-jokes that make me think I'm missing something by not being able to read Cantonese. That's okay though, because what I do get is that this movie is a nuclear explosion of funny. Stephen Chow is a master of comic timing. He has taken the natural grace and beauty of his Wing Chun Kung Fu style and translated it into a slap-stick worthy of the best works of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplain (or Daffy Duck, whichever you prefer).
The plot is simple; gangs take over town, townspeople fight back, gangs bring out ultimate bad guy, townspeople up the ante by dragging out, "The Chosen One." The characters are clichéd to the point of being icons, but that's the idea. Wah Yuen and Qui Yuen do a superb job of immersing themselves in their respective roles as unlikely martial arts masters. However, it's the on screen chemistry between Stephen Chow and his longtime compatriot Kwok Kuen Chan (they have this kind of Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez thing happening) that steals the show. The two are superb as master and snivelling toady, deftly switching roles by the movies end.
I can't recommend this movie enough. If you like martial arts flicks or even if you just like good cartoons, Kung Fu Hustle will delight and amaze you. Oh yeah, and you'll laugh your ass off, too.
Something that I forgot to touch on is how impressed I was with the wire work and the special effects in Kung Fu Hustle. It holds up easily in comparison to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and The Matrix Trilogy. It's a nice change of pace to see these special effects put to use comedically.
The dissolution of Miramax will no doubt put a hold on bringing more Stephen Chow movies to The United States. Unfortunately, I have yet to see an interview with Bob and Harvey Weinstein that mentions this at all. I'll update everybody when I know more. In the meantime, go enjoy what we have. Go see the movie. The subtitles will not harm you. Go... Go Now! You must not resist.
Mike Allred/Lawrence Mavrit
Every Saturday morning my little brother and I would get up at five thirty and sit with our noses plastered to the television screen, consuming massive amounts of cocoa frosted sugar bombs and watching Saturday Morning Cartoons. Six hours later, our mother, "God bless her," would peel our hyperactive little bodies off the ceiling. Twitching with massive sugar buzz and phosphor dot induced flicker vertigo, we were then banished to the hellish wilderness of "outside" for the duration of the weekend. But that was okay, because for those six hours, every week, we could escape our miserable little lives. During those precious few hours we could soar into outer space with Space Ghost or The Super Friends. We could explore exotic jungles with Tarzan and The Herculoids. Or, we could just get stupid crazy with Blue Falcon, Dynomutt, and the rest of the Hanna Barbera psycho circus.
Pretty much every comic book reader that grew up in the 70's and 80's grew up this way. So, it's no fucking wonder that three of the top selling comic books are all nostalgia-based retreads. It's a damn shame that drivel like G.I. Joe, The Thundercats, and Battle of the Fucking Planets will sell like crazy, while a brilliant piece of work like Mike Allred's new one-shot, "Spaceman," will fade out and die.
It's a given that comic book readers don't want a rockin', brilliant, science fiction story. They don't want cool, weird aliens and kick ass animation style artwork. Fuck no! They want sloppy plotting and bad dialogue, with artwork churned out by a committee made up of cut-rate draftsmen who will never understand why Alex Ross and Jim Lee are brilliant artists. They all want the same tired pabulum we always get.
It just makes me mad that Mike Allred and Lawrence Mavrit won't make truckloads of cash off this nostalgic time warp back to one of the best parts of our collective childhood. Mad, because that means I won't get any more Spaceman stories. I'm never going to see this work in graphic novel format, printed on high quality slick paper that would really show off Laura Allred's mind bogglingly gorgeous colors. I'll never get extra pages of behind the scenes goodies that show me everything that went into making this book. I'll never get to see the cool alien landscapes that Lawrence Mavrit didn't use. I'll probably never learn how they got that nifty translucent effect with the word balloons.
Spaceman is too fucking cool! It's a love letter from Mike Allred and Lawrence Mavrit to all of us who miss Saturday Morning Cartoons. Go buy this book and give me some hope that maybe a few of you out there don't have crap taste in reading material.
Garth Ennis/Amanda Connor/Jimmy Palmiotti
The Pro is a one-shot that deals primarily with classic themes of honesty, and what it takes to be a true hero. It's a sweeping, grand "widescreen" tale that packs in wall-to-wall action, a large cast of supporting characters, and artwork by one of the best teams producing comics today. It's also the story of a foul mouthed, ill tempered, cut-rate prostitute that gets super powers.
Anyone who hates super hero comics will love this book. Garth Ennis, the man responsible for the masterfully done Preacher series from DC, does a surgically precise job of providing a red-hot liquid metal enema for the ass of a comic book establishment that has become mired in an inescapable cesspool of mediocrity.
Anyone who loves superhero comics to the exclusion of everything else, should be strapped to a chair with their eyes pried open Clockwork Orange style, while angry Sunday school teachers read this book to them on a never ending tape loop. It's parody, pure, simple, and heartfelt, that cuts right to the heart of what's wrong with mainstream superhero comics. The brilliant script, coupled with Amanda Connor and Jimmy Palmiotti's fine traditional superhero comics style renderings, provides an entertaining and somewhat gut wrenching slide reel of flat out speed, action and dead-on comic timing. The entire package is a wonderfully entertaining head-smash, that comes with a clear and quite loud message. "Mainstream superhero comics are broken and there isn't much more to do with them than let them die a slow, torturous death." Beethoven soundtrack is of course optional.
In fine Garth Ennis tradition, The Pro is by turns nasty, shocking, insightful, and funny. Best of all, it's truthful. Ennis has taken every sophomoric trope from every major adolescent male power fantasy, and lined them up squarely under the magnifying glass of his rabid comic wit. He has concocted the perfect treatise on the current state of the comics industry, and it's just as relevant today with the current glut of superhero films, and all that fat Hollywood cash flying around the offices of the big two, as it was a few years ago when the opposite was true, and comics were trying to be more like the movies. Ennis brings the current schism between comic book fans of the same old boring crap we always get, and the fans touting violent, bloody literary revolution to light with the same comic clarity as a Richard Pryor sketch or a Lenny Bruce rant.
When The Pro first came out, it was largely ignored by most everybody. It didn't sell nearly as well as it should have, and it was a sort of one trick pony to begin with, so action figures, Happy Meal promotions, and a movie deal were right out. However, it has gone back to press several times, and copies are still out there and easily available. Track this book down and buy it. If you have any history with superhero comics at all you will most likely enjoy it, and if none of this hyperbolic pimp fest entices you, hey, it's kinda' naughty too.
Garth Ennis hasn't done much outside the realm of The Punisher lately, and I just know that all you Ennis fans are as bored with it as I am, so do a little digging and find this little gem. You will not be disappointed.
Little White Mouse Open Space #1
By Paul Sizer
Blue Line Pro Comics
It drives me absolutely fucking insane when I have to take extraordinary measures to find things that by all accounts should be easily accessible. In a perfect world, Paul Sizer would be recognized as the creative genius he is, and LITTLE WHITE MOUSE would be at my comics store, stacked ten issues deep every Wednesday and sold out by Thursday. I wouldn't have to tear my hair out trying to find the minuscule Blue Line Pro section in Previews. I could simply grab it off the shelf with my X-Men comics.
This is so not a perfect world, but there is hope. While the rest of the comics buying public is busy making MASTERS OF THE Fucking UNIVERSE the top selling comic for November, an elite cadre of comics fans who appreciate masterfully rendered artwork and top notch storytelling, are going that extra mile to dig LITTLE WHITE MOUSE out of the monthly Previews slush pile.
This story works as a great jumping on point for new readers, as Sizer takes the central character Loo away from her asteroid prison and into "open space", marking a dramatic shift in the series narrative. This is Paul Sizer's fourth LWM mini series and he still rocks. He re introduces all of the central characters by a short synopsis and creative use of several flashback sequences that actually help the story along rather than interrupting its narrative flow. It's a chance for all you cheap bastards out there who wouldn't afford the fifteen bucks for the graphic novels to jump in on one of the greatest comics to come along in a decade.
LITTLE WHITE MOUSE kicks ass! If you're not reading it, your life is empty, worthless, and devoid of meaning. Go to your comics store, give the guy behind the counter $2.95 and the info at the beginning of this review, and make him get LWM for you. If he can't or won't, he is obviously not worth your time and you should seriously consider shopping elsewhere. If you want, just order it online at www.littlewhitemouse.com. Trust me on this one folks. It'll balance out your karma for the whole MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE thing.
*** Retro A GoGo!***
This is a piece I wrote for SAVANT a few years ago, right around the time the first Spider-Man movie came out. At the time Marvel had a man named Bill Jemas as its president, who they wisely promoted to somewhere other than spokesperson. I have to admit that under Joe Quesada, Marvel Comics has prospered. Right now, they are enjoying the current upswell in comic book movie popularity. I doubt their business practices have changed much since this was written, and I still have a sneaking suspicion that time will tell wether or not they've banked enough movie capital to keep them in business once superhero movies are no longer Hollywood vogue.
KILLING MARVEL COMICS
By Dan Traeger
I'm afraid the patient is terminal. Marvel Comics is dying. It's hemorrhaging money and like any drowning animal, it can't help lashing out at those of us who want to save it. Part of me wants to just let it go, but man, I'll miss my X-MEN.
A quick look at the last quarterly financial report from Marvel Comics Inc. to their stockholders breaks down like this:
12 million dollars profit from the Spider-Man movie.
3 million dollars profit from a change in their accounting procedures.
7 million dollars loss from day to day operations expenditures.
All in all, an 8 million dollar profit for the last quarter-- not bad! Not bad, that is, unless your company happens to be 170 million dollars in debt. So, assuming Marvel can keep drawing in a 12 million dollar profit each quarter from their various movie properties while keeping their daily operations expenditures in the miraculous seven million dollar range they should be operating in the black again in about a decade.
Recently, Marvel alleviated a big chunk of its debt going forward into the new fiscal year by converting a lot of its preferred stock into common shares. So, it's a step in the right direction, but they're still in debt, and until Marvel starts showing a profit independent of motion picture money, they are likely to remain so. Many companies operate at red line expenditure rates and do just fine. However, these companies succeed by putting out a limited amount of quality product and backing it up with great customer service. If you take away the money from the movie deals, and that's valid because it won't always be there, Marvel Comics is bleeding money like a chainsaw victim. They are aggravating the injury by making it standard practice to alienate their primary distribution system, while continually belittling and berating their consumer base.
The main wedge Marvel is driving between themselves and the comic book retail outlets is their policy of not overprinting their comics. Marvel's President and COO Bill Jemas claims that not only does this cut down on Marvel's printing costs, but it also helps reinstate a collectible factor to its books, thereby allowing retailers the opportunity to charge more for "scarce" recent issues. He has also stated on several occasions that this will have the added "bonus" of drawing speculators back into the comics fold. This is a statement of intent that is insulting to both retail stores and the comics buying public.
Jemas' comment about speculators is mind-boggling. Comic book fans and retailers alike have demonized the terrible gathering of faceless teeming masses that buy comics with the hope of reselling later at a drastically inflated price since the "collectible" rug yanked itself out from under the comics market, dropping it on its ass in the mid 90's. Speculators caused a lot of damage, sinking many comics specialty stores when they collectively realized one simple truth and then went away. The truth is that a worthless piece of shit comic with a lenticular, die-cut, holographic, glow in the dark, singing, dancing, gives you a blow job, and feeds your cat cover, is still a worthless piece of shit comic. They left behind a ravaged publishing industry that suddenly had a catastrophic reduction in its consumer base, and a lot of confused company executives that couldn't understand why any magazine with a print run of 100,000 to a million issues would never be collectible. Anyone ever see any "hot", "collectible" issues of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC or TV GUIDE less than 30 years old? But here's a clue Marvel, they're not coming back. Those of us who survived the mid 90's implosion know that, why don't you?
If you ever find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, dripping with cold sweat, and dreading the return of the speculation crowd, look at it this way. Several things conspired to draw speculators into the comics market. The sports card market imploded leaving lots of people looking for the next big thing. Marvel got a lucky break when it ended up with Mark Silvestri, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee and Rob Lifeld who were all masters of self-promotion. These artists were working on Marvel's A List titles all at the same time, which caused even more hype. This snowballed when they left in unison to form Image Comics. Rival company D.C. then jumped on the collectible bandwagon to maximum effect with its Death of Superman media blitz. The odds of a promotional zeitgeist like this ever happening again are so astronomical that even Carl Sagan would have a hard time conceiving of a number that big.
Whether it offends your ethical sensibilities or not, retailers certainly make more money selling a hot comic for $25.00 than they do by selling it for the $2.50 cover price. Or do they? Anybody who tells me that it's better to sell 10 books at $25.00 each than it is 100 books at $2.50 is just not thinking. Yes, the dollar figures are the same, but comics are intrinsically soap operatic and therefore addictive. Human beings for the most part love a soap opera, and like good little crack whores, they will always come back wanting more. Even Marvel's marketing staff should be able to see that the potential for repeat business is much higher with 100 readers than with 10.
"But wait," you cry! "They certainly save money by not having a lot of unsold product sitting around." The major cost of printing a magazine is getting the pre press straight. Once a book goes to press, I'm told you even get a significant price break for a larger print run. Storage space for the overprinted books is negligible when looking at the big financial picture, especially when most publishing houses just destroy the unsold product after a certain length of time anyway.
Bill Jemas' statement of the intent on Marvel's no overprint policy is just one in a string of knee-jerk, short-sighted, quick fixes that will do more long term harm than short term good for both Marvel and the comics industry. Jemas has a big fucking mouth, but he's not a stupid man. He's merely a man saddled with the nearly insurmountable burden of running a publishing house in deep financial trouble. Either that or he's receiving kickbacks from E-Bay. Given the fact that he seems to be trying everything in his power to alienate fans and distributors alike, I'd say he's just desperate. His company is hurting and even negative attention is still attention.
It's terribly ironic that content wise, many of Marvel's books have never been better. They have successfully relaunched most of their top superhero books with A-list creative talent. They've single handedly made superhero comics cool again. What they haven't done is shown us what's next. Many of these books are bordering on three years old now, and fans are fickle even without a company mouthpiece to browbeat them. Marvel is swiftly coming into the time frame in the life cycle of any mass media publisher when the collective reader base commands something new. It starts with readers dropping second tier books. It's up to Marvel to show us where it ends. If their current state of their customer service continues, even Joe Quesada won't be able to save them.
So, what can you do about all this? Well, for starters, use your wallet. Half of what Marvel puts out is utter dog shit that you just buy out of habit anyway. So stop doing that, and when Marvel starts wondering why its numbers are dropping through the floor, you can tell them you're sorry, but your comic store was always sold out so you just stopped buying. Remember this. We are comic book fans. We are strong and powerful, and we have ultimate say over the type and price of the books these companies produce. Together we can kill Marvel Comics Inc. if we have to. If the speculators could melt down the entire comics publishing industry, we should be more than capable of taking down a company that thinks we're stupid enough to pay $50 for back issues of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN. We should at least be strong enough to get Marvel to sell us their fucking product at a reasonable price.
Here's a ray of hope for you. There are two comic book stores in my town. One store has the dubious practice of significantly marking up back issues that WIZARD Magazine says are "hot" and racking them in a prominent display, right next to the register. You know what happens to these books? They sit there for months until they finally get pulled into the half price dump box. Comic book fans aren't stupid; they just need a methadone program (or in this case a slap in the face.) This is one of the most insulting marketing tricks a store can use. As consumers, we have too many other options open to us to even think about paying $25 for a comic book that's been out less than a year. Screw the stores that mark up two month old comics with artificially inflated prices. They don't deserve your money. Go across town to the store that doesn't do that. If you don't find it there, wait for the Graphic Novel. If you're really desperate, order it off the Internet where you have all sorts of different pricing structures to choose from. Barring all that go read a book without pictures.
Much like a drug, you can live without Marvel Comics once you break the habit.
***Retro A GoGo***
This was a recruiting piece I did for SAVANT. When I stack it into the whole "Dan Traeger" cannon, I think it still reads okay. It definitely accomplished what I wanted it to, at least within my limited sphere of influence. I still really like the anecdotal part of this one.
IDIOTS AND SAVANTS
by Dan Traeger
A special note before I start on this tear. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author. Savant magazine and her editorial staff have nothing to do with this, other than the fact that they are, in this instance, serving as my own personal soapbox, which I will now proceed to stomp into toothpicks. All hate mail may be addressed to email@example.com. Thanks.
Every Wednesday I make it a point to hang out and shoot the shit with Mark. This particular Mark is the owner and operator of Other Realm, the better of the two local comic stores here in Champaign\Urbana, Illinois. Mark and I have this long running argument about his not carrying minor Indy comics. For some bizarre reason, he thinks that a comic should actually sell if he's going to dedicate shelf space to it. I am of the opinion, however, that the damn things don't sell themselves. He should get up off his ass and stop pimping Marvel, D.C., Image, and Cross Gen, which all do a mighty fine job of selling themselves. I think he should start helping out the little guys who can't afford co-op advertising, massive four-color posters, and thirty pages in the front of Previews every month. The running argument seems to be having an effect on him. This Wednesday he had two entire shelves dedicated to minor independents.
I'm an activist by nature. I want my comic book store to stock more Indy titles, so I'm doing something about it. Mark can always count on me to buy at least one of anything interesting he takes a chance on, and he listens when I tell him what I like and what I don't like. It's a good trade off. My next project is to nag him until he starts shelving mini comics.
Included on these independent shelves were six copies of LITTLE WHITE MOUSE: OPEN SPACE #1, which he ordered for no other reason than that I asked him to. (That's putting it politely, but you get the drift.) This Wednesday was special to me because for the first time ever, he also racked a stack of Savant issues containing my Essential essay about LITTLE WHITE MOUSE. That's unusual because he rarely (and understandably so) gives up his limited shelf space. By Friday all six issues of LITTLE WHITE MOUSE: OPEN SPACE were gone, as well as about half the stack of Savant. For the better part of an hour I hung around on new comics day, talking with the regular customers, putting copies of Savant into their hands, and generally bullying them into buying off the new Indy rack.
That same day a young lady walked into the store. You could tell she'd never been in a comic shop before. She had that deer-caught-in-headlights-am-I-safe-here-look about her. Turns out she was a commercial art masters student, and she'd walked in thinking she might find some inspiration for her next project. Upon seeing row upon row of superheroes though, she almost walked out. Fortunately I was there. Don't get me wrong here, Mark genuinely does a good job of welcoming newbies into Other Realm, it's just that this happened to be new comics day, and he was kinda busy already being three places at once. So I spent ten minutes with her going over what she liked in movies, music and reading material in general. She left the store that day with BERNIE WRIGHTSON: A LOOK BACK, UNDERSTANDING COMICS, KINGDOM COME, and the SPIRIT ARCHIVES #1. She was looking a little green about the price tag she'd racked up until I remembered her mentioning an eight-year-old niece. With a nod of approval from Mark, I scooped a stack of POWERPUFF GIRLS comics out of his $.25 bin and gave them to her. The lady could not have been happier. I don't even work there, but damnit, it's my comics store and I want it to succeed. I think everyone should be reading and enjoying comics. I'm kind of an activist that way.
That is what activism means to me. You pick a cause and you do something to help out. It's one of the hardest things in the world to do, but when done right it can form a world superpower. For most of my life, the only tool I've had to help cater to my activist bent has been my big mouth. Now I get to add Savant to my bag of tricks. It's an online magazine that I can download in a PDF and print into something physical, something real. I regularly give copies of Savant out to lots of people, and some of them have also started printing copies, and handing them out on their own. I think of viral marketing as activism too.
At the urging of the editors, I've taken to writing for Savant over the last few months. It's a great place to share my thoughts about the industry, or my taste in comics with a lot of people I would otherwise never get to meet. I get instant feedback on Savant's Delphi forum, and I get to instantly explain or defend myself if I have to. Either way, we are all comic book fans and we are communicating. Once more we have achieved activism, grass roots activism even.
Lately, there's been some criticism that Savant is "repeating itself" or "preaching to the converted." Let me engage in a bit of activism here, and respond to these allegations. Maybe Savant is starting to repeat itself, but so what? Obviously nobody was listening the first time, so why not say it again. It is, in my opinion, a writer's solemn duty to say things over and over again in the vain hope that someone somewhere will finally fucking listen. Comic buyers still hide the fact that they read comics. They still buy shitty art and inept stories out of habit. They still buy enough of the most puerile crap imaginable to make shit like BATTLE OF THE PLANETS, TRANSFORMERS, and MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE top sellers, while solid intelligent fare like LITTLE WHITE MOUSE, SHADES OF BLUE, and FINDER have to struggle.
Those of you who think that Savant has lost its focus need to get over it. In case you weren't paying attention, the activism part is incumbent on you. Savant is merely a tool; a weapon to help you fight the good fight.
Savant is by its very nature a magazine with an activist agenda. They are beholden to no corporation. Their editorial policies are still open enough that if I want to say, "Fuck You!" in print, it'll happen. They still have a toolbox full of things those of us with a shine for guerilla marketing can use. Most importantly, if you think Savant's stated focus is no longer being served by its content, fucking change it. If you think you have a better idea then what you are reading, write it up and submit it. If you're incessantly bitching about something, even Savant, in any kind of public forum guess what… You're a fucking activist! Come write for us, the editors would love to have you. They are always looking for new contributors and new ideas, but they damn sure won't find any if you don't raise your hand and add your voice to the mix. Trust me, you'll fit right in with the décor.
There's just this one thing I wish everyone would think about. There are an awful lot of idiots out there. People with no opinion or half formed, stupid opinions abound. Some of these people think that everybody owns a computer with Internet access. Some of these people are currently trying to recapture lost bits of their youth by buying predigested spew masquerading as comics. Some of these people don't realize that Savant Magazine is a healthy, dynamic paradigm. It changes and it grows so it's not always going to be the same. People say that the magazine doesn't have the same vibe it did back when it started almost three years ago, and all I can say to that is YOU'RE GODDAMNED RIGHT IT DOESN'T; there's an almost completely different group of people writing for the magazine now. If it still felt and sounded exactly the same, something would be wrong. Savant has new writers now, and as far as I'm concerned, they all kick just as much ass as the old boys ever did. If we're smart, Savant will have new writers again and again and again, for as long as it's a going concern.
Savant is set up to preach the gospel of great comic books to the widest arena possible. However, it is up to you to be the activist. Savant is written and distributed by smart people who know the difference between a great story coupled with great art, and the primal urge to recapture one's youth. It's a chance to let those fuckers that hang out at the Starbucks in the Barnes and Noble know how you feel about the fact that they snicker at you while you're reading BOX OFFICE POISON or MAUS.
If you think there's a problem with Savant, step up and help try to fix it. If you're not part of the solution then really you're just being part of the problem. The comics industry has enough of those to deal with, so quit being part of the problem.
RAVEN'S CHILDREN: SHADOW OF THE SNOW FOX
Layla Marie Lawlor
US $14.95, 144 pages
When I was living in Champaign Illinois, there was this mini comic that was written, drawn and published by a local creator, Layla Lawlor. The book was called RAVEN'S CHILDREN, and to this day it is still one of my favorite mini-comics series. I had always wanted to meet her if for no other reason than to just say thanks for putting out a mini-comic that is consistently more entertaining than much of what I get from the big publishing houses. Normally you wouldn't think it terribly odd that we hadn't met, after all, creators are busy and they don't often afford much time to the outside world, and Champaign/Urbana is a pretty big town. There were more than a few Karmic forces at work though. We lived in the same town. We frequented the same two comics stores, (actually, there's only two) so by default we knew a lot of the same people. To top it all off, I'm a loud mouth who regularly pushed her work on unsuspecting customers with all the aplomb of a sugar-buzzing used car salesman, so I tend to be hard to miss.
It took me two years of pimping her work online and around town, before we finally ran across each other in G-Mart (one of the local comics stores.) I came away from that meeting with a newfound respect for anyone who chooses to work in that field.
The people who create mini-comics are amazing; especially those devoted enough to put them out on a regular basis. They usually are their own artists, writers, publishers, pr departments, etc. Unfortunately, much of the mini-comics catalog appears amateurish at best, and just unreadable at worst. Those of us who love the format have a tendency to excuse the sloppy artwork and rushed storytelling. There's a bit of a punk rock esthetic at work here, and we like it that way. It's a sense that anyone with time, inclination, and guts, can make their own comic. Every once in a while though, someone brings a voice to paper that rises above the chattering. A creator will spin silk out of rough-hewn cloth, and we as readers are left with a series equal to or better than anything published by a large company. Every so often a creator will show us unequivocally that it is always a bad idea to judge a book by its cover. Layla Marie Lawlor does this with RAVEN'S CHILDREN.
The owner of my favorite comics shop, Other Realm, first pointed out to me that Layla had collected the first five issues of her ongoing mini-comic into a graphic novel. Even though I'd been following her work since the first issue of the RAVEN'S CHILDREN mini, I bought the book anyway. The shop owner knew I was a sucker for a starving artist (still am) and that I'll always go out of my way to support an independent comics creator. Although I'm quite sure he thought it would distract me from the fact that he had next to nothing in the way of independent comics that week. I figured that at the least, I'd get to re-read RAVEN'S CHILDREN without having to crack into my somewhat dilapidated and love worn minis. What I got when I opened up this shiny new graphic novel was something unexpected, and absolutely wonderful.
The story is really what has always set RAVEN'S CHILDREN above the rest of the mini-comics pack. It's a sprawling, historical epic with occasional bits of fantasy and science fiction thrown in for good measure. Inspired by the Inuit Tribes of Alaska and Northern Canada, Layla has meticulously crafted a handful of dynamic societies and set them at odds with each other in an ongoing clash over territory and cultural differences.
The plot of "Shadow of the Snow Fox" evolves from a summit meeting between the Raven's Children clan and the Tolshay Kahn Empire. The meeting goes horribly awry when the sole translator, Jained, brings his personal politics and somewhat self-serving agenda into play, causing the Raven's Children to attack a far superior force. This results in a slaughter for the clan, which the Tolshay Kahn seem to write off as a failed diplomatic attempt, and Jained gets away with it. There's more. The story is stacked with nuance and layers of meaning. It would take me a novella to explain what Layla masterfully distills into 144 pages.
RAVEN'S CHILDREN is as grand and sweeping as Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels. Like much of McCaffrey's work, Layla uses science fiction and fantasy elements as backdrop, but the important elements of the story are the characters. She's figured out how to make fully realized people from different and sometimes diametrically opposed cultures come to life, by merely setting pen to paper. She's packed the story so densely with real characters that you almost don't realize that the whole story takes place on another planet. From Deneko, the cruel and stalwart war-chief of the Raven's Children tribe, to Jained the strange telepathic translator for the invading Tolshay Kahn Empire, to Ronin Kheheli, the reluctant provincial governor of the Tolshay Kahn, and Leesansut the impossibly strong slave woman indentured to the Raven's children tribe, Layla's characters crackle with energy and life.
The real stunner of the graphic novel though, was how well Layla's artwork represented. I had always dismissed Layla's artistic style as that of someone still learning her craft. She is still learning, just like any good artist should be. This is evident, as she gets better with each successive issue. But to my mind, her art was always decent, just not my cup of tea. However, her pen and ink renders translate much better when printed on 8 ½" x 11" glossy paper with real printing values. She puts across much crisper and cleaner line work when she's printing with something other than whatever Kinkos has on hand. The higher printing quality also shows off her wonderful use of the black and white format. Layla's characters and backgrounds achieve a sense of detail and fluidity that I've rarely noticed in her minis. Obviously, she's a lot more accomplished than I ever gave her credit for.
Layla has taken full advantage of the graphic novel format by including a bunch of extras. She gives us a covers gallery, an index of the major characters with a family tree, and a big section of footnotes (a la Carla Speed McNeil's FINDER.) More importantly, she has given us a tale packed to the hilt with heroes, villains, gods, monsters, love, life, and death, all wrapped up in a pretty bow of masterful dramatic tension. Layla's an emerging artist who will only produce greater works as time goes on. As it is, she's damn good now, and well worth reading.
***Retro A GoGo!***
This was my introductory editorial when I took over editing duties for SAVANT's Toolbox section. Toolbox was a bunch of printable stickers, t-shirt designs, and viral marketing inserts designed around movies, DVDs and other cross promotable books. I had big plans to revamp and expand the whole section... ooh the plans I had. Before I could accomplish anything with it though, SAVANT imploded, and it seems the idea of comics activism went with it. Too bad, it's still a viable idea. As an article, this really doesn't hold up well. Delphi is mostly dead. Matt Fraction is well on his way to becoming a comics superstar in his own right. And SAVANT is a fond memory, and an internet ghost town.
by Dan Traeger
You can only smash your head against a brick wall for so long before something's gotta give. So, still dripping with arterial spray and picking chunks of my own gray matter out of my hair, I stumbled over to Matt Fraction's Delphi forum in search of help.
If any of you want to go read what happened, the thread is located in the "questions and queries" folder. It starts with, "I think I need some help from SAVANT's old guard." A lot of SAVANT's original writing crew hangs there and I thought it might be a good place to go for advice. See, I wanted to know why I wasn't having much impact on SAVANT's online community, no matter what I wrote. I thought there might be some trick to this online activism gig that I was missing. In a moment of weakness, I reached out for help from some of the writers who helped create SAVANT Magazine… and I got bitch slapped. Then my thread was stopped cold before I could respond or even say thank you. That's right, "Thank You." Sometimes you need someone to shake you up a bit.
I had forgotten something that Fraction knew all to well:"…online tribes descend into tribalism, hostile and intimidating to new voices."
It made me take a few steps back and think about things. It made me think about the online tribe I'd chosen and what I wanted to bring to that community. In order to figure that out, I first had to decide what I wanted from the whole comics nation.
So, I decided to make a couple of lists. I like lists. They help force chaos into pretty, well-ordered patterns. It's kinda like fractal painting.
Top 5 things I want from the comics nation.
1. I want creative genius to be rewarded with money and recognition, just like it is in other creative fields. Brian Wood, Paul Sizer, Renee French, James Kochalka… there's a long list of massively talented people I can't even begin to type out in full here who deserve a lot better from their chosen profession.
2. I want to be able to walk into any comics store and find a big fat indy selection packed with the good stuff from Slave Labor Graphics, Fantagraphics, Top Shelf, Oni, and IDW. I want the entire AIT/Planet Lar catalog racked right at the top with flashing lasers, blinking neon, flowers, balloons, confetti, gutted beanie baby carcasses, and the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, all loudly proclaiming that Larry Young is one of the most innovative, excellent, and important publishers putting out comics today.
3. I never want to see a weak, joyless, nostalgia fueled, piece of shit comic, based on any crappy licensed property, ever again crack comics top 100 bestsellers.
4. I want comics specialty stores to start acting like proper retailers and give me clean, well lighted, good smelling shopping, topped off with excellent customer service. Moreover, I want the retailers who already do this to stand up and be counted.
5. I want everyone I meet to know how cool comics are, and I want them to know how empty and worthless their lives are because they don't read them.
Once I had this in perspective, I then went back and looked at what I wanted to bring to my tribe, the SAVANT readers. It didn't take me long to figure out that the best way for me to accomplish anything here was to lead by example, thus, another list.
1. I will treat creators with the respect and admiration they deserve. Online, at conventions, or at signings, these people are rock stars and I will treat them that way. I will buy their books, and I'll make sure that everyone who comes to SAVANT knows where to go for great reads and how to avoid the dog shit.
2. I will buy the good stuff that comes from all of the indy publishers. I'm gonna pimp the holy shit out of their books, and I'm gonna use SAVANT to do it.
3. I will never again buy any comic tied in to a licensed property. And I'm gonna mercilessly fuck with anyone who does. You hear me Potter? You're not safe, buddy!
4. I'm gonna keep badgering my local comics shops, help them out when I can, and fight my battles one at a time. I will continue to effect changes in the way they do business by being a better customer.
5. I will keep preaching the gospel. "Comics are cool!" I will continue inviting new members into the tribe and accepting them with open arms, even if I don't like or agree with what they have to say. And I will arm every one of you, so that you too can go out and preach to the masses that aren't a part of the comics nation.
For the first time in its nearly three year history, SAVANT has added a new editorial position. For some bizarre reason, when Dave, Al, and Dan Carroll were sitting around trying to figure out who they knew that was psychotic enough to take it, my name came up. Of course, when they offered me the job, I jumped at the chance. It's a job much akin to master weapon-smith. It doesn't pay anything, and it's largely thankless, but I think it may be most important job on the website. I get to create and oversee the creation of the tools we use to spread the word that comics are cool.
I'm the new editor of SAVANT's toolbox section. That's the part of the website that gives you weapons to use against the filthy heathen hordes of non-comics people.
If we're a tribe then so be it. I'll provide the weapons. You provide the war party.
I'm probably being paranoid about this, but I think it's time to grab all my stuff that's still floating around in the old SAVANT ghost town. For those of you that don't know, I used to write for an internet webzine called SAVANT. It was a fun time in my life, and I turned in some really good work for them. Eventually, SAVANT collapsed under the weight of hubris, petty squabbling, and disinterest, but for a long run there, it was one of the best Comics Webzines going.
There's probably a post or two about SAVANT, and how not to run a webzine, but I'll save that for another time. Suffice it to say that for the next few days I'm going to be posting all of my old SAVANT articles and reviews here, so that I still have an electronic record of them when the SAVANT web space finally goes away. Some of the things are no longer relevant, some are pretty SAVANT specific, but in cases where I can, I'm going to rewrite a bit. If I run across something that won't take to a rewrite, and is outdated I'll mark it as a Retro Mojo! piece and be done with it.
Have fun, there's lots of good reading to be had, and hopefully by the time I'm done with this run, I'll have some new original content ready to go.
THE METABARONS Volume 1
"Path of the Warrior"
Jodorowsky & Gimenez
THE METABARONS Volume 2
"Blood and Steel"
Jodorowsky & Gimenez
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm not perfect. I'm human just like everyone else. But I've tried to be open, understanding and liberal my entire life. I don't consider myself a racist or a sexist or really any other "ist" for that matter. Most of my favorite comic book writers are British, Scottish, or Irish, so I think I'm fairly open when it comes to my reading material. When it comes to European comics though, there is a black mark on my soul.
I've tried bits and pieces of European graphic literature over the years, mostly books from Germany, France and Spain. There has been only one common denominator that I've found over too many years of forcing myself to read these books. I loathe European comics with a dark, seething passion that one should only reserve for child molesters or rapists. Mind you, there are exceptions, but I'd be hard pressed to tell you about them. I can't stand Judge Dredd or 2000 A.D. I've never understood why Moebius is held up as a national treasure in both France and the United States. I love science fiction, but for years I've tried to make it through either a whole issue of METAL HURLANT or its American sister HEAVY METAL. The work just leaves me cold. I've tried reading these stories many times and I've always been left with a hard, burning chill that makes me want to light these mags on fire and dance like an aborigine on their crumbling ashes. I never understood why, and it always bothered me to my core.
I'm better now. Basing my decision solely on the recommendation of Warren Ellis (I don't know him personally, he recommended it through his forum or mailing list), I gave THE METABARONS a try. Now, I understand the beauty and complexity that can come from someone not working within the confines of my homeland. THE METABARONS changed everything for me.
Ostensibly the history of a clan of uber warriors, The Metabarons is a science fiction epic on the literary scale of Frank Herbert's DUNE, or Isaac Asimov's FOUNDATION. The series creators are masters of plot and pacing. The art and story work with perfect synergy, as every bizarre plot twist and seemingly insignificant sub plot combines perfectly into an epic saga that spans generations of humanity. Alexandro Jodorowsky and Juan Gimenez have crafted a grand and decadent culture on an intergalactic scale. They have created a paradigm of human society, occupied by people so far advanced into the future that even the simplest of human emotions seems complex and alien. The sublime irony is that the central framing sequence is played out by two robots that seem closer to our current model of mankind than any of the story's human characters.
Borrowing just a bit from Waiting for Godot, the aforementioned robots narrate the first graphic novel, Path of the Warrior, as they wait for their master. The initial tale is primarily the story of Baron Othon Von Salza, the first Metabaron. It follows him from his early days as a marble miner on one of the most inhospitable planets ever created, through the series of tragedies and betrayals that result in his metamorphosis into the galaxy's most feared warrior and assassin. During the track of the story, we are made privy to the events of Von Salza's life that become Metabaron traditions in the second novel, and later in the comic book series. We are shown Von Salza's maiming, which results in the Metabaron tradition of replacing organic body parts with technology, as well as many other seminal events that give us a better understanding of things that happen later in the second graphic novel.
The second book, Blood and Steel, traces the bloodline through to the current (in continuity) Metabaron. Once again, the two robotic narrators take us back in time while they wait for a master who never shows. As the story of each successive Metabaron unfurls, we are given snapshots of the key moments in each of their lives. How the Metabaron traditions bind and shape each character's life, makes for one seriously mind-blowing exercise in plot, as well as a dynamic, enthralling read. Blood and Steel culminates with several Shakespearean level betrayals and a massive space battle that sets up the fifth Metabaron as the greatest warrior in the line.
Juan Gimenez may be one of the greatest artists of his generation. His page layouts are deceptively simple, preferring six and seven panel spreads. He rarely resorts to breaking panel borders, or moving beyond the even pacing of his standard layout. When he does, the effect is a visceral punch that jars the senses. You can smell the antiseptic reek of the imperial city. You can hear the explosions and feel the spatter of blood and alien ichor. There are no sound effects to be found anywhere within these pages. Gimenez' art would render them impotent. The detail of Gimenez' line work would give George Perez eyestrain. He also brings an organic esthetic to the page, sorely lacking in most of Perez' cannon. His use of color radiates an amazing feeling of reality that blends fluidly with his pencils. Throughout the entire series, Gimenez gives us a dramatic, sensual assault, that is, at times gut wrenching, but always beautiful.
The character of the Metabaron was originally introduced in Jodorowsky's other series, The Incal. After chewing through the two METABARONS graphic novels, I tracked down most of the Incal series. It works great as a primer to who and what the Metabarons are, but it's completely unnecessary to enjoy these two books. Warren Ellis' simple statement, "There is literally a new and mad idea on every page," is absolutely true. Jodorowsky and Gimenez throw away enough ideas on background details to fill a series that would make Robert Jordan jealous. They take us on a magical journey filled with fire, viscera, and blood, but leavened by equal parts courage, honor and love.
I never thought it was possible for me to enjoy a European comic series. Somewhere along the line, I think THE METABARONS flipped a switch in my head. Through this stunning work by Jodorowsky and Gimenez, I've garnered a deeper understanding and a greater appreciation of European creators as a whole. The more I read, the more I finally understand what the European artists and writers have accomplished by bringing their different cultural sensibilities to the crafting of sequential works of art. I've started giving other European comics a try, and on the whole, I've been well pleased. I've yet to make it through an entire issue of HEAVY METAL, but I'm taking baby steps. I have a lot of years worth of prejudice issues to deal with.
I try to stay fairly current with these movie reviews, but sometimes for one reason or another, one slips through the cracks. My wife and I went to see Memoirs of a Geisha when it first came out in theaters. She had read the book and was anxious to see how it translated, and I had liked Dion Beebe's cinematography on Chicago. Even though I hated Chicago's directing and editing, I was still willing to give Memoirs of a Geisha a go. There is also the fact that I will suffer through some seriously mind-frying, time-wasting crap for Michelle Yeoh.
So we went to see it and I liked it well enough, but I had some issues with it that I wanted to write about. The problem was that I was having trouble putting into words what was wrong. Like any writing that gives me fits, I shelved it. Sometimes it's best to let things simmer on a back burner for a while.
Several months later, Memoirs of a Geisha was released on DVD and I got the chance to watch it again.Finally, I figured out what I'd wanted to say in the first place.
Memoirs of a Geisha is the epitome of what Michael Crichton likes to call "faux zen", all style and no substance. Much like with his first movie Chicago, Rob Marshall has assembled an excellent cinematographer, a mediochre scriptwriter, and a phenomenal cast to tell an interesting story... badly.
Dion Beebe's images are phenomenal. All wet, flowing silk, juxtaposed with a fair representation of 1930's Japan, the cinematography is worth the price of admission in and of itself. Robin Swicord's scriptwriting, however is scattered in its pacing, and replete with hokey dialogue that sounds more than a bit improbable coming out of the mouths of these actors.
Then there's the actors. I mostly got over the fact that most of them aren't Japanese, shortly after I figured out that Arthur Golden, the writer of the source material, wasn't Japanese either. Besides, I really like Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Li Gong, Kaori Momoi and Kenneth Tsang, and Michelle Yeoh is, well... Michelle Yeoh. Together, these actors read like a who's who of Chinese cinema. In point of fact, the only primary who is actually Japanese is Youki Kudoh who masterfully plays the traitorous Geisha, Pumpkin. It's a bit academic that none of these actors are Japanese, but it is distracting that few of them actually look Japanese either. However, I did suspend my disbelief long enough to buy Charlton Heston as a Mexican narcotics officer in Touch of Evil, could I afford Ken Watanabe any less?
What is not academic though, is that none of these actors were asked to speak Japanese. I submit that every single one of them is capable of it, and it would have lent the movie a much needed air of authenticity. Robin Swicord's horribly choppy dialogue might have been smoothed over by a decent enough Japanese translator. My other big gripe is that none of the actresses really even try to act like Japanese women. If you've ever seen a Geisha show (either live or on film) the first thing you notice about them is a certain stylized fluidity and an absolute precision to every movement. This is a fact of the Geisha entertainer (even the ones practicing the diluted artform we have today) that seems to be utterly lost on everyone, except for Michelle Yeoh who at least tries.
The end result of all this mess is a movie that is big and beautiful with no ring of truth or even a hint of any deep feeling. What should have been a faithful representation of a bygone time, and a lamentation for a dying artform, seems more like a big, noisy, Gaijin interpretation of what we consider to be an interesting bit of Japanese esoterica.
Memoirs of a Geisha picks up an ancient and venerated artform, something as important to world culture as ballet or Kabuki or Shakespearean acting, and plants it firmly in the realm of pop culture. As much as I love the culture of pop, this just makes me sad. It's almost as if Rob Marshall, Robin Swicord and Arthur Golden have unintentionally reinforced the stereotype of the "ugly American" who cannot respect or understand what other cultures have to offer. It's almost comically ironic that this same stereotyped idiot is played so adeptly by Ted Lavine at the end of the movie.
In the final summation, I do recomment Memoirs of a Geisha. It does what it's supposed to, it entertains. But go into it expecting nothing more, and you should come out of it relatively unscathed, if a bit annoyed.
Worshipping at the Altar of the God Emperor of the B-Movie Intelligentsia, and Wondering If It Was Really A Good Idea To Bring All These Grenades.
There are some movies that are just so terribly, terribly bad that right from the outset you want to claw your own eyes out so that you're no longer capable of witnessing the ongoing twenty car pileup that is unfolding in front of you on the screen. If by some miracle of intestinal fortitude you manage to stick it out until the closing credits, you have to repress the nearly overpowering urge to grab the greasy little teenager behind the box office counter and shake him while shrilly demanding the last two hours of your life back. Slither is not that movie. I know what you're thinking, it seems like it should be, but I can tell you with authority that it is indeed that rare gem that occasionally crops up within the played-out diamond mine that is the genre of B-Movies.
There's nothing really new or shocking about Slither. It's your standard; alien-slug-takes-over-local-hick, local-hick-starts-impregnating-local-trailer-trash-females, local-trailer-trash-females-spawn-an-army-of-alien-slugs, alien-slugs-create-an-unstoppable-army-of-shambling-oozing-zombies, movie. You know, a classic. The real twist comes in the writing. It's good. The dialogue is snappy and witty, the smart characters don't suddenly do stupid things, "Oh that's right, just walk backwards while you're alone in the woods while Jason Voorhees is out for his newest spree-kill evening stroll." Doesn't happen in this movie.
The writer in question is the amazingly talented James Gunn. If you look him up on the IMDB , you'll get four choices. You want the writer of the Scooby Doo movie. That's right, the Scooby Doo movie. He wrote the second one too. He's a master at turning ideas that seem like a bad idea on the surface into interesting and oftentimes fun movies.
James Gunn first came to my attention with a little movie released by one of my favorite B-Studios, Troma. The movie was appropriately titled Tromeo and Juliette, and although the directing was sub par, even for the *ahem* standards of a Troma film, the writing was outstanding. Gunn took a truly bad idea, a modern update of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliette, put them a punk setting, and added wit and spark, turning it into the best film Team Troma ever did. Who knew that several years later Baz Luhrmann would try the same stunt again and make a ton more money at it, proving conclusively that a good idea is a good idea, and the only thing standing between you and instant fame and fortune is having an advertising budget the same size as 20th Century (isn't it about time they updated their name) Fox.
Gunn's second film was something that if you were quick, you could have caught it on DVD, maybe. It was a neat little story called The Specials, and it had the bad luck to be a big budget special effects extravaganza with the actual budget of an old English street urchin. Think Oliver Twist and you've got it. The Specials did star Rob Lowe and that guy from Wings... whashisname... Thomas Hayden Church, but neither of them were able to do anything with the supremely inspired but very insular script, and the movie pretty much tanked. It did have one of the best tag lines ever though, "The Specials, not as good as regular super heroes, but slightly better than you."
His third trick was reworking George Romero's original script for Dawn of the Dead into one of the best zombie movies of this decade. Gunn updated the setting, punched up the dialogue, and added enough extra characters to make this movie just under two hours of absolute zombie butt-kicking fun. Between this and the success of the second Scooby Doo movie, he finally got enough press with this one to convince Universal Studios that it might be a good idea to jump on board when it was time to release Slither. Which, except for a bunch of short films (that you can research on your own,) brings us up to date.
Slither is a bit intense for most folk what don't have strong stomachs, but if you have any love at all for smart, witty dialogue, actors who really shine, and a movie that really shows how much fun you can have with a b-movie setting, then Slither is definitely for you. If all this doesn't pique your interest, then go see it for Nathan Fillion. The man is an excellent actor who (if he plays his cards right) will have official leading man status in spite of himself. He plays the local sheriff who becomes the last best line of defense against this hostile alien takeover, and he plays the part extremely well. Michael Rooker is in rare form as the first to be infected by the alien slime worms, and even Elizabeth Banks (whom some of you might recognize as Betty Brant from the Spider-Man films) shows her true potential as a b-movie scream queen. (A dubious honor to be sure, but an honor none the less.)
If you missed Slither in the theaters, and most of you probably did, it's okay. The DVD is scheduled for release shortly, and according to James Gunn's Website it looks to be packed full of extra stuff, which is always a good thing.
One last thing for all you Serenity and Firefly fans. There is a great reference to the grenade gag in Serenity. Actually the movie is packed full of all sorts of sly nods and subtle references to the great b-movies that have come before. Nothing is over the top though, the main plot does a good enough job of that on its own.
It was inevitable that I'd go see this movie. I've been a fan of The X-Men since 1975 when I picked up a copy of Giant Size X-Men #1. It sported a cover by the great Gil Kane and interior artwork by Dave Cockrum who I knew and liked from his run on Legion of Super Heroes. I suffered through another fifteen issues of mediocre plotting and insufferable dialogue from Chris Clairmont on the core title, until issue 108 when magic happened. For the next thirty-six issues, Marvel captured lightning in a bottle with writing by Clairmont and John Byrne, and art by Byrne and Terry Austin. That run of issues formed the gold standard by which all other X-Men books would be measured. The core creative values that these three artists expressed would be reflected many years later in the X-Men movies.
So, here we are in 2006, three decades removed from that excellent run of comics magic. In print, the only interesting thing happening with the X-Men is the new offshoot title Astonishing X-Men which is being written by Movie and TV writer Joss Wheedon with art by John Cassaday who is arguably the best artist working in comics today. The core X-Book has degenerated into a convoluted mess, and there are more peripheral titles and mini-series and one-shots than any sane person could ever hope to keep track of.
And everybody knows about the X-Men from the movies. Oddly, I'm okay with that. Marvel Comics has a long and distinguished track record of dropping the ball when it comes to cross promotion. The core X-Books are a trainwreck right now, so anyone picking up any of these series for the first time would be totally lost. And here we have X-3, The Last Stand. The newest X-Movie has taken its cues a bit too much from the X-Men comics.
All things considered, the movie isn't all that bad. It's just that it can't make up its mind whether or not it wants to be a good movie, or a cheesy action flick.
Let's start with the good. The principle actors in this move are for the most part, outstanding. It's nice to finally see Halle Berry's character get her day in the sun. Storm is a powerhouse, and an outstanding team leader, and Halle finally gets to show off some of those formidable acting chops that netted her an Oscar. James Marsden (Cyclops) gets removed from the story early on which opens up the team leader spot for Storm, and Halle works admirably well with the extra screen time. Hugh Jackman is always a joy to watch as Wolverine. He obviously loves playing the character (who wouldn't) and it shows. Patrick Stewart has little to do this time around, but he definitely does the best he can with what he has to work with. Kelsey Grammer is spot on perfect as The Beast, and Ellen Page does a fine job as the new Kitty Pryde.
The plot revolves around a "cure" that suppresses the mutant gene, effectively transforming any superpowered mutant into a normal human. It's a thinly veiled attempt to show the whole ongoing "is homosexuality curable" debate, and it works well enough. It's also a nice excuse to show the different philosophies involved with the various characters, from Storm's admonishment that, "There's nothing to cure," to Rogue's decision to actually volunteer for it.
Which leads us into the bad. The whole cure thing is funded by Worthington Industries, which brilliantly allows for the introduction of The Angel (played passably well by Ben Foster.) They set him up with a great storyline, but it soon gets tossed by the wayside in favor of an endless series of angry mutant cameos, and overbaked action sequences.
In the comics litany of The X-Men, they have always maintained an excellent rogue's gallery. It's nowhere near the legendary status of The Flash, or Batman's villains, but over the years the X-Men have collected an excellent array of bad guys. So, it should come as no surprise to anyone that once again we get to deal with Ian McKellen's Magneto as the main badness. Apocalypse, Mr. Sinister, The Hellfire Club, Cassandra Nova, The Shadow King, all are missing from the movie cannon, and The Sentinels are relegated to a brief cameo appearance in a danger room session. McKellan does a great job as Magneto, but enough is enough. This movie has several scenes that undercut Magneto's character, relegating him to small and quite petty, instead of showing us that at his core, Magneto is a decent man, capable of compassion.
And finally, we have the ugly. The X-Men movies are at their best when they show us the small moments of humanity between the characters. Little touches like Wolverine turning the heat on when Rogue's hands are cold, or the exchange between Cyclops and Jean Grey that sets up the third movie. X-3 is devoid of those moments. It can take time for a stupid genitalia joke, but the moments of character have all been done away with. Zak Penn, who was one of the scribes on X-2 was paired with Simon Kinberg, who's credits include XXX: State of the Union and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and the mix is not a good one. If there was ever any trace of a heart in this script, it was exorcised in favor of big explosions and snappy, out of character quipping.
One last thing to satisfy the Mythbuster in me... I looked up the technical specs. on the Golden Gate Bridge. It's 1.7 miles long if you include the accesses (which they did in the movie) and since it's only 1.25 miles from Alcatraz Island to the mainland, the cheesiest scene in the movie is definitely possible, if you're a mutant master of magnetism.