July 22, 2008

Continuing the media excursions

More quick hitters of what I've seen and read of late...

The Stark Truth - Pretty straight forward baseball writing from Jayson Stark of ESPN on who the most over- and underrated players at each position are.

Also, pretty repetitive after a while.

In case you were curious, Nolan Ryan is the most overrated right-handed starter of all-time.

I'm okay with that choice and with most of the choices, but I still couldn't bring myself to do more than just skim the rest of the book. I'm thinking that this would be a book to read in bits and pieces.

The Great Darkness Saga - This is supposedly the greatest of the Legion of Superheroes stories, but I just didn't get it. Much of the arc is given to the return/rebirth of our mysterious villain, and I'm thinking that the impact of the eventual revelation might've been a little more powerful if they hadn't put the well-known (to DC comics readers, anyway) face of the big bad guy hugely on the front page of the book.

Kinda killed the surprise for me.

Don't get me wrong, the villain is the mack daddy of DC villains and all, but I knew who he was going to be from the moment I picked up the book.

And the way that the heroes eventually won didn't make any sense to me as somehow Highfather was reborn and aged from birth to oldhood in like a couple of days and then saved the universe and all.

If this is the best of the Legion of Superheroes, then it's probably a good thing that they rebooted the series.

New Avengers: SEntry - I dug the story introducing the Sentry to the New Avengers. Nice artwork, good story, really entertaining insight into the characters as they come together into a team.

Even the conceit of Sentry having erased everybody memory of him - and subconsciously creating a villain for himself - worked for me, and the use of Emma Frost to come in and fix that worked, too.

My only qualm with the trade is that for $14.99 - which, of course, I didn't pay because I'm a frequenter of the awesomest 'bary in the world - you only got four issues plus a bunch of "data files" on semi-minor Avenger villains.

Good story but not nearly enough for a full trade paperback. I understand that it was a story arc with a definitive open and close, but Marvel has to give up more than just those four issues.

Emma Frost: Higher Learning - Marvel has started publishing a series of original comics in Manga-sized volumes aimed at bringing in younger readers who might not consider picking up full-sized graphic novels. The first of these that I saw was Mary Jane, tales of MJ in high school mostly sans Spidey. Cute read, probably a good opener for tween and early teen girls - a touch or two of manga to bring in more readers as well.

The second of these that I saw was Runaways, which was originally published in full-sized comics and then reprinted in the smaller sizes. Runaways is outstanding and a must-read for any comic fan.

The third series in this format - third to me, anyway - is Emma Frost, and this one feels like the slightest of the three. It lasted only eighteen issues before being cancelled and focused on the time between Frost's high school years and introduction to the X-Men universe.

In this collection, Frost is introduced as a loner child of priviledge, insulted and unappreciated by her father, part of a family whose only parallels would have been the Carringtons of Dynaasty with each blackmailing and plotting against each other in an effort either to curry favor with or rebel against their patriarch.

The run of introductory issues is full of betrayals, transgressions, and conniving and felt like a true product of the excess-is-everything eighties.

It's a fluff read, fitting as an origin tale for a character who would go on to find herself as the White Queen, but it's not one that left me with any desire to read further in the series.

H-E-R-O: Powers and Abilities - This one, on the other hand, left me with a huge desire to read further on with the series, though no other collections have been put to print, so it looks like I'll be out of luck.

In the 60's, DC had a series called Dial H for Hero in which a teenaged Robby Reed (eventual influence for the cool Dial B for Blog) would become a different hero every month, supposedly taking his powers and costume design from suggestions sent in by series readers. It was a decent bit of golden-age fun, and DC revived it in the 80's for a few issues.

In 2003, then, DC gave the title a third try - the first issues of which are collected in this tome - and took it in a different direction, handing the dial to a different person every issue (or few issues) and seeing what a "normal" person would do if suddenly handed the somewhat-limited super powers for a time.

--- warning: here there be spoilers ---

One character tries to be heroic but finds himself lacking the the training or willpower to keep it up forever. A second becomes obsessed with heroism leading to the dissolution of his marriage and loss of his day job. The third, the preteen daughter of the obsessed man, finds herself using the dial to impress and make friends though that, of course, eventually goes wrong, as well.

--- spoilers done ---

These issues were very well written and showed a darker side of the heroic powers that so most view as a solution to all their ills. I know that the series was cancelled after twenty-two issues, and I could see that if the dark tone established in this collection were to have continued without balance, it could have become a tough series to stick with, but these early issues are outstanding. I can see why Geoff Johns put a money-back guarantee on the first issue, and his introduction to the collection is well done.

I wish DC would collect the rest of the run, though I'm guessing this trade didn't sell all that well as it has only two brief appearances by Superman to work for its advertising, and the story doesn't seem to have a recurring character with whom readers could connect and follow.

A shame, really.

Borat - I finally got around to seeing Sacha Baron Cohen's performance/mockumentary of Borat.

I will say that I was glad I didn't pay to see it. It's not that the movie - clocking in at eighty minutes total - didn't have funny moments; it did. But there's a part of me that has trouble watching someone secretly film and mock people all around the country, so I'm a little disappointed - though not surprised - to hear that Cohen is making another movie in a different persona.

It's a funny flick in a number of moments, but I'm not happy to say that I laughed a decent number of times. I feel kinda trashy.

I do, however, get more of these jokes now.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Pan's Labyrinth surprised me because the previews suggested that much of the film would be spent in the fantasy realm, and the film turned out to be 90% not fantasy.

Guillermo flips that on its head here as a solid 90%+ of this film is all about the fantasy and the creatures, and it's a gorgeous world that he's created for Hellboy and his crew. Visually, the film is a solid nine out of ten. The story is a little more straight forward an less impressive - probably a seven on the same scale. Put 'em together, and it's a nice little tune that you can certainly dance to. I gave it an 80 on Criticker - much better than I rated the first Hellboy, but my memory has been kind to the first one.

del Toro's reliance on actual creature creation rather than CGi pays off in spades as his films looks remarkably better than nearl anything that's being CGI'ed in the theaters today. The tooth faries (ferocious li'l buggers), the troll market, especially the angel of death, the new Krauss character, and so many other creatures make an amazing sight, and the story is a massive step forward from the first film, bringing Hellboy and Liz's relationship to the fore as the driving force in the characters' world.

It's not perfect, particularly as the actual storyline - elf prince steals artifact to awaken the titular Golden Army and wage war on the human world - felt almost like a MacGuffin even though much of the movie spends time on the plot. The plot vascilates between between the relationship and the impending inter-world war, and that weakens both plots a bit.

But it's still pretty good on the whole, and the actors have really come into their own in the roles - particularly Selma Blair's Liz and Doug Jones' Abe Sapien (even more his now without David Hyde Pierce's voice casting). It's a strong ensemble and one that I'll look forward to seeing in volume III of the story whenever it comes around.

Silverstein Around the World - I knew Shel Silverstein had worked for Playboy as one of his first jobs out of the military, but I just sort of assumed he'd done ribald cartoons for the magazine. I had no idea that he'd been a sort of travel reporter for them.

This book collects his travellogue dispatches from around the world - Spain, Japan, Russia, Scandanavia, Mexico, Greenwich Village, Haight-Ashbury, even a nudist colony - nearly all of which were a dozen comics plus a half dozen photos of Shel "with the natives". The comics typically contained Silverstein as a character in them, something that he was intially reluctant to include but which he was convinced - by Hef, himself - was a good idea. The inclusion of the cartoonist into the cartoon really allows Silverstein to connect with his audience, bringing a sense of everyman into the cartoons.

In addition to the cartoons and images of Silverstein as he enters the bullfighting ring, chats up the attractive natives, and climbs mountains, we're also treated to the original text that accompanied the dispatches, gorgeously worded period pieces in their own rights. Take, for example, this introduction which accompanied Silverstein's cartoons from Italy:
our boy capishes and finds it delicious

The lambent land of Italy is the home of mandolins and macaroni, olive oil and opera, gorgonzola and gondolas. Without it, there would be no Venetian glass, Florentine leather, Neapolitan ice cream or Roman fever. We of America are especially indebted to it: Christoforo Colombo discovers us and AmerigoVespucci lent us his name. We have a town called Italy; three called Rome; five each called Naples, Venice and Verona, and we also have an airfield named La Guardia. our language is studded with snappy words on lend-lease from Italy:
tempo, fiasco, piano, umbrella, stucco, fresco, ditto, volcano, casino, bordello, incognito, quota, soda, stanza, vista, vendetta, manifesto, motto and mah-rone!. And what do we call that leaning-tower-type thing in which the forgoeing string of words is printed? Italic. The Boot meets The Beard this month as the fine Italian hand of Shel Silverstein - PLAYBOY's ambulating americano - sketches sunny Italy.
Silverstein's insights - supprisingly few of which are of the off-color nature considering the medium in which they were to be printed - are impressively insightful and show even further that Silverstein truly was deserving of the title of Renaissance man.
The phrase "Renaissance man" tends to get overused these days, but apply it to Shel Silverstein and it practically begins to seem inadequate. Not only has he produced with seeming ease country music hits and popular songs, but he's been equally successful at turning his hand to poetry, short stories, plays, and children's books. Moreover, his whimsically hip fables, beloved by readers of all ages, have made him a stalwart of bestseller lists. A Light in the Attic, most remarkably, showed the kind of staying power on the New York Times chart—two years, to be precise—that most of the biggest names (John Grisham, Stephen King, and Michael Crichton) have never equaled for their own blockbusters.
Plus he was a stud...

The Rejection Collection - I dig The New Yorker, and I'll readily admit that when The Girl had a subscription back in college, I would grab it and flip right through the entire magazine reading the cartoons before even looking at the article headlines. This book, then is right up my alley, showing up fifty or so of the chosen cartoonists' favorite cartoons that they'd submitted for publication but that were rejected for one reason or another - often because they'd've offended somebody along the way.

The quality here is every bit as high as those that made it into the magazine, and the questionaires that each 'toonist completes regarding their own work are every bit as funny as the cartoons themselves.

Click on the link in the title of this section to see some of the cartoons in a YouTube video.

The Hulk: The End - I'd been dying to get my hands on a copy of Future Imperfect for a while now - probably since Dave reviewed it a while back. It's a two-issue alternate future in which the Hulk has gotten even stronger (probably not WWHulk strong, but stronger) and has his full intellect, changing his name to Maestro and becoming about as brutal and calculating as you can imagine the Hulk to ever be.

The End combines Future Imperfect with a single-issue The End part of a look at the possible final adventures of various Marvel heroes. In this one, Banner wanders the Earth trying to die but never quite being able to, the Hulk always coming in at the last moment to prevent his own destruction. It's one of the most well-written Hulk tales that I've read and is a marvelous counterpoint to Future Imperfect.

Though the collection only has three issues to it and comes in at a $20 hardcover edition, so I'm thinking that it's not one to go out and purchase, but it's totally one to steal for a few minutes from Barnes & Noble like I did.

A always, I'm down to quick reviews of the final few because this is already too long...
  • Fables: The Good Prince - volume ten in the series and possibly the best...amazing tale of Flycatcher/Ambrose establishing a kingdom of Haven in the Homeland...this series continues to get better and better, easily one of the best things being written in comics today...if you aren't reading this, you're a fool...
  • JSA: Thy Kingdome Come - It's becoming really interesting as much of Kingdome Come is being folded into the "regular" DC universe...this volume feels like so much prelude and the KC Supes shows up and we start to see that some for of Gog has been killing folks...nowhere near a conclusion yet, though...not in this volume...I'm not a regular JSA guy, but how frickin' easy is it to become a regular in this group?...people seem to join the group every issue...kinda annoying to have such a huge cast as most of them get ignored for much of every issue...
  • Batman: The Resurraction of Ra's Al Ghul - meh...kinda figured he'd be back...too muchcharacter shifting back and forth for me...I like my characters to be somewhat consistent, but here Tim Drake gives up everything he believes in, nearly kills Nightwing, and the reverses courses again twice in an issue...and the other characters do the same...blech

1 comment:

ame said...

Every year when I do a unit on poetry in my classroom the kids always BEG me to read Silverstein. They love him.