Saturday, April 30, 2011

B&B 2-in-1 Round 5: Bat-Squad vs. Iron Fist

Can the Thing's hold a lead, now at 3-1 against the Batman, even without Mantlo at the helm?

In the black corner... it's Batman and the Bat-Squad (who?), written by Bob Haney and drawn by Nick Cardy, Brave and the Bold #92, Night Wears a Scarlet Shroud!

In the orange corner... we have the Thing and Iron Fist, written by Marv Wolfman (uh-oh!) and drawn by Ron Wilson and Sam Grainger, Marvel Two-in-One #25, A Tale of Two Countries!

Ready or not... DING DING DING!

The Stars
Haney's Bruce Wayne is always getting his hands into everything, so here he's visiting a film set in London, seeing as he's invested in a movie about the Scarlet Strangler, a Jack the Ripper wannabe from the turn of the century, directed by acclaimed genius Basil Coventry. Fog descends on the gaslit streets, and the next thing you know, history repeats itself. Good thing Batman always has a good cover story, like studying British police methods, so he can show up in the nick of time. His investigations and several close calls with the Strangler eventually make him fall through a floor and get his leg pinned under an unexploded Nazi bomb... and the fall has reactivated it and will blow in 10 minutes! Though the guest stars try to disarm it, Batman bravely send them away before it's too late.
Huge explosion. Batman's dead. Well, not quite. Feeling a bit of wetness, he uses a stick to puncture the earthen wall keeping the river at bay. Water crashes in, Batman wriggles out of his trap, and survives to get some explanations. +6 bat-points

Ben Grimm's not having as good a day. His story starts at a football game, and while I understand Alicia Masters wouldn't see the game anyway, those still have to be the worst possible seats.
He and Iron Fist get kidnapped and brought to a fictional country in Asia where the Fist keeps doing marginally better than him with what seems like willpower alone. And Ben's not doing that much better against human opponents. He gets thrown out of a jet and survives, but he otherwise doesn't seem to be much stronger than, say, Captain America. And about as light.
Did Wolfman even know who he was writing for? +2 points

The Guests
Who are the Bat-Squad? Just three people on the film set with an amazing array of skills between them who help the Batman out that one time. You've got Margo Cantrell, beautiful script girl and stand-in with a black belt in karate. You've got Mick Murdock, former pickpocket/demolitions expert with a cockney accent and a way with the guitar. And you've got Major Dabney, retired Scotland Yard detective and crime consultant, who spots a crucial clue because he knows blind beetles who live in wine cellars each evolved differently.
Find the cellar, you'll find the Strangler. Oh, and he's got an unerring sense of when a WWII-era bomb will blow once it starts ticking. They make a good team, and the Bat couldn't have done it without them. Mick even sacrifices his guitar, so they're real heroes. The end of the issue asks readers to write in if they'd like to see more of the Bat-Squad. They were never heard from again. (Sounds like a task for Grant Morrison.) +7 bat-points

Like I was saying, Iron Fist steals the Thing's thunder at every opportunity. He's the one who manages to escape first and free Ben. Dude can drop from a plane and just "twist his body" to insure a soft landing.
And of course he punches as well as Ben does. He does have a rude tendency to call Ben "Thing" in every sentence, which sounds very condescending, but to be fair, Ben calls him Fancy-Fist and Greenie, and mocks his yellow slippers.+5 points

The Villains
The Scarlet Strangler is actually the son of the long-dead serial killer from 1906, who went mad and was put in an asylum. But now he's escaped and he's reenacting his father's crimes on his son's set (got all that? the current Strangler is director Basil Coventry's father). He's deranged, and he's really strong, but for me, he's all about the way Nick Cardy draws his gloves:
He gets shot by Dabney and the river claims him, but that just makes Coventry the Younger go crazy and try to choke Batman. Thankfully, there's a big Nazi bomb in the room and Bats uses it to make him realize we're well past 1906. Phew! +5 bat-points

The Thing and Iron Fist were at some point invited by Prince Dragon to come and help train his troops so they could invade the country situated UNDER their own (access via volcano mouth). They refused, so they get kidnapped and the troops sent after them. They start out strong, grabbing Ben with hooked chains during a football game FROM THE GOODYEAR BLIMP.
After that though, it's like a video game. The good guys beat the Manchurian goons (WHY would Chinese analogs be using high tech Amerind weapons like the ja-dagna though?), then move on to the palace level. A palace, by the way, that only serves to show how preposterous this country is:
They pass the ring of volcanoes and moat of lava, and then fight slightly tougher goons, like the Brute with Knives, and the Blind Swordsman. When they get to Prince Dragon, he tells them all he wants is to get their kidnapped queen back from the evil General Chonga, which if they would have said so before, the heroes would have come willingly, yada-yada-yada. The good guys jump into a volcano, easily beat Chonga, and Queen Sen, though Prince Dragon's lover, marries the old, wizened king as per prearranged marital business. Boo-hoo. +5 points

Odds vs. Ends
From Brave and the Bold:
-Haney has all sorts of strange occurrences point to the idea that 1906 and the present (1970, in this case) have merged. Some are shown to be coincidences, but some are not. Would we have found out in Bat-Squad #1 had, like, a single reader written in? -1 bat-point
-Actually, that's not true. B&B #94's letters page reveals "overwhelming" support for the team, garnering more letters "than any other event in B&B". So what went wrong?! +0 bat-points

From Marvel Two-in-One:
-The Jack Kirby cover makes a much better meal of the Thing doing a high wire act. Kirby power! +2 points

Farewells and Scoring
Friendly farewell: What was Batman's opinion about working with the Squad again?
Overwhelmingly positive as well! +3 bat-points

Unfriendly farewell: Well, Iron Fist and the Thing don't really say goodbye, but then they perhaps weren't friendly enough to think of it. The farewell shot deserves points off tor the schmaltzy heart in the background.
1) It should really be broken, 2) no one cares if Prince Dragon is heartbroken. +1 point

That's the second win in a row for Batman with the Bat-Squad scoring 20, and Iron Fist only garnering 15. Told Ben to watch out for the comeback king! The score stands at 3-2 for Ben as we take a couple weeks off to get a couple What Ifs in (entirely due to my schedule over the next couple weekends).

Reign of the Supermen #192: Kerry Callen's Superman

Source: Kerry Callen's Blog (2011)
Type: PasticheCartoonist Kerry Callen of Halo & Sprocket (relative) fame does a pretty fun Superman on what seems to be the cutting edge of the Golden and Silver Ages (original "S" shield/revels in being a jackass). Kerry's got some great stuff on that blog of his. I invite you to browse.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Kung Fu Fridays in May

Cheng Pei-Pei is the featured star on May's KFF poster, one of modern Hong Kong cinema's first female action stars. She made her debut in Come Drink with Me, but you might have seen her as the Fox in Crouching Tiger. Of course, neither film is on tap for May (been there, done that), so here's what visitors to my home showings can expect next month:

Ip Man 2 - Donnie Yen's Ip Man, about the early life of Bruce Lee's master, was easily one of our favorites last year. I sure hope the inevitable sequel is up to snuff! Because of an improv tournament over the weekend, I've decided to break with tradition and show it on Thursday instead. The movie just came out on DVD and we can't wait any longer than that.

The Lady Hermit - There's always at least one Shaw Brothers movie each month, and in May, that's The Lady Hermit starring Cheng Pei-Pei. It'll also be a test of Funimation's Shaw Bros. line, to see if I will buy from them again. Amazon keeps pushing their product with cool mod covers, but I want to check out the quality before I invest more.

The Man from Nowhere - Been a little while since we've had an Asian crime thriller, and even longer since we've been to Korea. The Man from Nowhere is a new release that offers both, and from what I've heard, it's pretty good, even if I expect the story to be derivative (it usually is in these things).

Warriors of Heaven and Earth - Our token historical epic mixes western-style outlaw heroes with magic and Chinese history. Production values on Chinese historical epics are usually high, so even if it turns out the film has problems, it'll most likely be entertaining. I've bought films like this on sight based on what actors were in it. In this case, I don't recognize anyone, but reviews were favorable, so why not?

And that's our month of May. Hope that those who can join us, will!

Reign of the Supermen #191: Ugly Superman

Source: Superman vol.1 #126 (1959)
Type: DisguiseIn the category "Stories in which Superman is cruel to Lois Lane"...

It all starts when Lois double-books a date. She promised a friend she'd go on a blind date with some dude, and two hours later has a date scheduled with Superman. To get rid of the blind date as quickly as possible, she makes herself ugly.
Fine, but Clark sees her in that get-up and recognizes her (he's peeped at her with x-ray vision often enough, he'd know those... bones... anywhere). Not cool, Lois, he thinks, so he'll teach her a lesson and here it is: On their super-date, he asks her to marry him. It's the happiest day of her life!!! Then he takes her to an apartment he rented that evening, and takes off his "mask" to reveal his secret identity. He's apparently Alfred E. Newman. Suddenly, Lois isn't so sure if she loves him cuz really, what an ugoid! Boo hoo!
With the Daily Planet girls laughing at her, she tries to keep the dates discreet as she gives his marriage proposal "some thought". After he gets shot in the face by thugs and quickly "puts on his mask", Lois' intuition kicks into high gear. She KNOWS! So the next day, she says YES. OOPS! Superman always has a Plan B however. He says she must show up for the wedding at a specific time, one minute late and he'll know she hesitated and the wedding is OFF. And of course when she shows up, he welds her car doors shut to keep her from reaching the chapel on time.

So that big picture of Superman getting shot in the face? (Yes, I know that's not how photography WORKS!) Lois noticed he protected his face when he got shot that night, but in her creepy wall poster, he obviously has no trouble take a handful of lead without flinching (don't you just hate it when people close their eyes during picture-taking?). It doesn't explain why she's still after him after he's toyed with her emotions though...

Thursday, April 28, 2011

100 Things I Love About The Movies

Inspired by Michael May, who was in turn inspired by Cinema Fanatic and Jason.

1. Godzilla's wrestling moves
2. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy meeting again 9 years later
3. Jason Bourne
4. "But you aaaare, Blanche, you aaaaare!"
5. Bruno Kirby's story about his father in City Slickers
6. The gorier sound effects on Akira's original English dub
7. The fact Harrison Ford hated making his best film, i.e. Blade Runner
8. David Mamet scripts
9. Janeane Garofalo (in any role)10. Magnolia's use of Aimee Mann's music
11. Shakespeare adaptations
12. Khan's speech leading up to Kirk's famous "KHANNNN!"
13. Charlie Kaufman scripts
14. Any appearance by Ricky Jay
15. The Princess Bride's final "As you wish"
16. Doc Holiday in Tombstone
17. Forest Whitaker getting called out as a hustler in The Color of Money
18. Paul Giamatti freaking out about the Merlot
19. Bud Brigman letting his wife drown in order to save her life in The Abyss
20. The Golden Harvest logo
21. Evanescence in Daredevil
22. Twist endings to 1970s SF films (double points if Charlton Heston stars)
23. Ian Holm
24. Roman Polanski's kid on his bike chanting "Creepy Carrie! Creepy Carrie!"
25. Athletes vs. terrorists in Born to Fight
26. Toby discussing Revenge of the Nerds in American Splendor
27. Everything about Apocalypse Now! both in front and behind the camera
28. The heart-wrenching final scene of The Plague Dogs
29. Cameron finally snaps in Ferris Bueller's Day Off
30. HAL 9000
31. Watching Groundhog Day every year on Groundhog Day
32. The premise of Bubba Ho-Tep: Senior citizen Elvis and black JFK fight a soul-sucking mummy
33. Donnie Yen
34. Seeing Canadian money in a film
35. Edward D. Wood Jr.
36. Any time James Bond orders something other than his usual martini
37. Harvey Keitel as The Wolf
38. Use of the theremin
39. Garak in Dirty Harry
40. Sweding
41. Puss'n'Boots eyes
42. The cats in Logan's Run
43. Fahrenheit 451's spoken credits
44. The Cohen Brothers
45. The kitten refereeing the Bruce Lee-Chuck Norris fight
46. The character of Sanjuro
47. The music in Blood Simple
48. Body Snatcher screams
49. Every word of Shakespeare in Love
50. Neurotic female characters you can't help but fall in love with
51. The history-bending finale of Inglourious Basterds
52. When Lau Kar-Leung's fight choreography extends to 12 or more moves in one unbroken shot
53. Robert Downey Jr.'s banter
54. All the sex in Dr. Strangelove
55. The Rheostatics' soundtrack for Whale Music
56. "There's that word again; 'heavy'. Why are things so heavy in the future? Is there a problem with the earth's gravitational pull?"
57. The Shoveler
58. Captain Picard quoting from Moby Dick in First Contact
59. All the ridiculous justifications for both Schwarzenegger's and Van Damme's accents
60. Yul Brynner in a cowboy hat (various sources)
61. Thelma and Louise driving into the Grand Canyon
62. The more miserable Michael Douglas gets in a film, the happier I get
63. Taylor Mead in Coffee & Cigarettes
64. Once Upon a Time in China's theme song
65. Antonio Banderas playing a new-made guitar in Desperado, not long before he pulls a gun out of it
66. Wong Kar-Wai's improvisation
67. The snapdragon scene in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
68. Kurt Russell
69. Sam Peckinpah
70. The animation in Waking Life
71. Peter Sarsgaard's freak-out in Jarhead
72. Emma Thompson in Much Ado About Nothing
73. Dustin Hoffman's literature professor in Stranger Than Fiction
74. The "Michael Jackson" interrogation scene in Three Kings
75. El Tango De Roxanne
76. Dead Poets Society's classroom scenes
77. The message Jon Favreau leaves on a girl's answering machine in Swingers
78. Chris Doyle's cinematography
79. Those little bits they sometimes put after the end credits
80. J.K. Simmons' J. Jonah Jameson
81. The long tracking shot that starts Altman's The Player
82. Movies that lovingly allude to other movies (Hot Fuzz, Kill Bill, etc.)
83. Silk Stockings' singing communist robot girl ("Do you find me aesthetically pleasing?")
84. Anything with Tony Leung in it
85. Navigator: "She'll fly apart" Captain Sulu: "Fly her apart then!"
86. "You need and you need and you need and you NEED!"
87. Slim Pickens' death in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
88. The discovery of face-to-face sex in Quest for Fire
89. Editing (in general)
90. The human arm candle sticks in Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête
91. "Passionate eye" documentaries
92. Puzzle movies
93. Amy Adams in Junebug
94. Badass Sarah Connor
95. The idea that Serenity was even allowed to be made
97. Divine on a trampoline in Female Trouble
98. Tony Stark's rubbish robot arm with the fire extinguisher
99. Mothra
100. There are so many awesome films I haven't even seen yet

Reign of the Supermen #190: Zzzuperman

Source: Batman and Superman: World's Finest #9 (1999)
Type: ImpostorKarl Kesel's World's Finest mini-series has a cute bit occurring in Year 9 of the two heroes' careers, which for Superman is when he was dead. So you've got the four Supermen of Reign, and they come across four MORE Superman, all of them impostors and Intergang agents (briefly) getting in on the action.

The first of these is Zzzuperman, whose cover story is that he "evolved to the next Kryptonian life-stage". An electric Superman before there even was such a thing (in the chronology, that is), he quickly surrendered when the Eradicator started throwing his own energies around.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Cat of the Geek #108: Figaro

Name: Figaro
Stomping Grounds: Disney's Pinocchio, a number of shorts as Minnie Mouse's pet or as a solo artist, and the mascot of RAF Ace Ian Gleed's Spitfire
Side: Good
Breed: Tuxedo cat
Cat Powers: Warplane lucky charm. Flying on food smells.
Skills: Eat 3, Sleep 5, Mischief 7, Wit 4, Sharpening claws on a real boy 3
Cat Weaknesses: Water. The abomination of having a mouse for a mistress. Goldfish rival.

Reign of the Supermen #189: Iron Munro

Source: (1st) Young All-Stars #1 (1987)
Type: Replacement/AnalogWhen the original Crisis wiped the Golden Age Superman from history, Roy Thomas, the re-architect of both DC and Marvel's Golden Ages and never one to leave a continuity hole unfilled for long, had to re-cast the role. It's not a perfect plug, of course, since Iron Munro, the character chosen to fill Superman's boots, only started operating in 1942, leaving a four-year gap there if every single story needs to have happened. Still, 1942 being where we left the All-Star Squadron off, we could pick up again without missing the erased Superman, Batman&Robin, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, even though they played a very small part in ASS (yes, I'm using the abbreviation, live with it). But not only did the Big 5 get replaced, those replacements now became the focus of the revitalized ASS, re-named Young All-Stars (which at least proved one thing: Roy Thomas could never write New Teen Titans). Well, despite being a huge fan of the Golden Age era and of ASS (keep laughing), I tuned out at that point. Well... truth be told, the book was Direct Sales only, and I was still living a comic book storeless town. But I wasn't enthusiastic about the issues I did find and read.

Iron Munro is not a perfect analog of Superman, of course. He doesn't come from another planet, yada yada yada. He does have similar powers, including strength, invulnerability and jumping over tall buildings, a telltale "S" curl, and the tendency to appear on comic book covers busting out of chains (that's totally a Superman thing). His actual origin makes him the son of the 20th century's first superhuman, his powers of hereditary gift. But like I said, Arn "Iron" Munro was NOT a total invention. Roy Thomas dug him out of Shadow Comics #1 (Street & Smith, June 1940), a strip based on Aarn Munro, a 1930s pulp hero written by John W. Campbell. Furthermore, Roy made his superhuman father, Hugo Danner, the protagonist of Philip Wylie's 1930 novel "Gladiator" (even though the book explicitly says those powers cannot be passed on). I call that the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen school of writing.

Though none of the Young All-Stars seemed destined for greatness - after all, where were their legacies in the present day? - they all managed to appear later in supporting roles, except for Flying Fox (a rare Canadian hero for DC) who was admittedly a rather strange and poor replacement/analog for Batman. Iron Munro got the most and best attention, I think. It was revealed that he had a child with the original Phantom Lady (va-va-voom!), a child that became a psychotic killer but also the father of the current Manhunter, Kate Spencer. The powers seem to be inherited only by males, so Kate's young son has them. Iron Munro is currently a part of their lives, but he was also a father figure to Damage.

And most recently, a link was finally drawn between him and Superman in the pages of "Grounded" (Superman #710). Superman and Batman flash back to a time before they put on costumes when they were walking the Earth and crossed paths. Each of them had an inspiration, and Clark's was reading old Iron Munro comics. Chicken and egg keep mixing it up, folks!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Suicide Squad Retirement Files 040-043

We are very close to the end of the first series now, but there are still several of Amanda Waller's files from this period to disclose...
Files 032-035 - File 036-039 - Previous

Subject: Sportsmaster II
Profile: Obscure Manhunter villain
Powers: Sports equipment-related gimmicks.
Mission: During the event known as the "War of the Gods", collect intel from the island fortress of the sorceress Circe.
Chance of survival going in: Low. With only one appearance under his belt, and in a Suicide Squad cousin book - Manhunter - Victor Gover had little chance of continuing his copyright infringement on the Golden Age model, "Crusher" Crock.
Retirement: RELEASED. Sportsmaster escaped Circe's island unscathed and was by all accounts released with a full pardon. (Suicide Squad #58)
Final report: Gover later tried his luck against Wildcat and ended up bruised, battered, and forced to retire and join Gamblers Anonymous. You don't mess with Wildcat!

Subject: Major Victory
Profile: Obscure patriotic hero
Powers: Suit that gives him super-human strength and toughness.
Mission: During the event known as the "War of the Gods", collect intel from the island fortress of the sorceress Circe.
Chance of survival going in: Low. Prior to joining the Squad, Major Victory had only ever been seen with the Force of July, most of which were massacred during the Janus Directive. In other words, none of them had any depth and were considered expendable. Since the Major had effectively quit just as the Squad was dissolved, his return during the War of the Gods might have been his blaze of glory moment.
Retirement: QUIT. America sells out. Was offered a leadership position with the Captains of Industry and jumped at the chance to leave an organization he was never truly comfortable with. (Suicide Squad #59)
Final report: In his next appearance, Major Victory joined the Shadow Fighters, a group of heroes assembled to fight Eclipso. Most were massacred, the Major among them. His name has since been used by at least two other heroes.

Subject: Atom III
Profile: Suicide Squad original character
Powers: Shrinking.
Mission: As part of an extended mission to pose as Ray Palmer in order to attract the Cabal's attention, allow himself to be captured by the Cabal's Micro Squad
Chance of survival going in: Fair. As usual, character specifically developed for the Squad are labeled as expendable, though there still seemed to be some juice in the character of Adam Cray, not least of which a fateful meeting between him and Deadshot over the shooting of Senator Cray. It is possible that the powers that be needed Ray Palmer's Atom to return, requiring this legacy hero to die prematurely (sound familiar?).
Retirement: DECEASED. Nailed in the back by Blacksnake, a member of the diminutive Micro Squad. (Suicide Squad #61)
Final report: Adam Cray was raised from the dead as a Black Lantern and finally destroyed in Blackest Night.

Subject: Atom II
Profile: Classic DC hero
Powers: Shrinking.
Mission: Escort Blacksnake to jail.
Chance of survival going in: High. Though Ray Palmer agrees to help the Squad for a little while, there was little chance that this Silver Age legend would die, especially this soon after the death of another Atom.
Retirement: ASSOCIATION ENDED. After a single mission (to protect Quraci president Marlo from assassins), Ray Palmer left the group. He may have been injured when Cabal assassins hit Blacksnake, forcing his hand in the matter. (Suicide Squad #64)
Final report: Jumping from title to title, from crossover event to crossover to event, from paradigm to paradigm, the Atom went on to almost rejoin the Justice League, get regressed to his teenage years, found a team of expendable Teen Titans, and most recently be the object of a search through the multiverse.

Next time, the books close on the Suicide Squad's first volume.

Reign of the Supermen #188: Superman of X'vyv'x

Source: Superman: The Man of Steel #92 (1999)
Type: Computer simulationSo the plot of "The One-Man JLA", as it unfolded over the last four Amalgamondays, was that an alien called Cogito, from the subjugated planet X'vyv'x, found Jor-El's absurdly detailed computer simulations that revealed what would have happened had he sent Kal-El to various planets. Cogito implants these in Superman's memory to see if a Superman by any other name is still a selfless champion of the people. His endgame is to give Superman memories of growing up on X'vyv'x, so that he would naturally fight off the oppressive regime of the "Sole Jurisdiction". However, the JLA shows up and throws a wrench in the works. When Cogito explains, they of course offer to help, but the alien is paranoid to let anyone know of his planet's location, fearing one invasion would follow another. So Superman does the only reasonable thing (consider here that he is brain damaged through most of the arc): He submits to the memory implant and is sent to X'vyv'x as if he'd always lived there.

Landing site: X'vyv'x
Adoptive parents: Unknown
A new life: Superman believes he was crashed and raised on the planet and that the invasion just now occurred. He can't understand why no one recognizes him or how quickly the Sole Jurisdiction got a foothold on his adopted home. Because he also has Elseworld-like memories of fighting against many an enemy there, including Luthorro #1, Mr. Ljxmzpsk and the Funster.
Final score: C+

Cogito, filled with gratitude, allows the JLA to go pick up and unbrainwash their friend, and promises to ask for help next time. I bet the JLA was over there all the time after that, or are probably scanning their calls.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Even When Chang Cheh Doesn't Try, He Succeeds

I'm not alone in finding many of Kung Fu movie director Chang Cheh's films (accidentally) homoerotic, but I thought The Deadly Duo was really restrained in that regard. No bare-chested young men clasping unduly holding each other in their sinewy arms, or rejecting girls to go hang out with the bros. But I guess Shaw Bros. still marketed it that way. Check out this frames from the trailer:
Finally! No pesky girls to get in the way of the action! No woman gets between me and MY bro!

Poor Chang Cheh... can't get away from it.

Reign of the Supermen #187: K'All L'Ell

Source: Superman: The Man of Steel #92 (1999)
Type: Computer simulationBeing the fourth and final part of Jor-El's post-Crisis modeling of alternate rocket destinations for his baby Kal-El...

This week: Becoming the Martian Manhunter
Landing site: Mars (oooh, just missed!) or perhaps just a far-away planet the Martians colonized long ago
Adoptive parents: Unknown -- the computer simulation is really breaking down now
A new life: For some reason, Superman is green. How? Why? Jor-El's files corrupted...
Final score: I (incomplete)

Sadly, the Superman of Mars is never fully realized as Superman's mind breaks down, but his mind merges with that of the actual J'Onn J'Onzz (out to rescue him) and they become a true, physical Amalgam until Kal-El's mind is returned to his body. And thanks to J'Onn's shapeshifting skills, he really looks like the above. Now, this is the last "One Man JLA" combo, but the short arc did yield another Superman. Continued tomorrow!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

This Week in Geek (18-24/04/11)


A few books came in the mail this week, including Chicks Dig Time Lords (what are these creatures called female Whovians?), Incredible Change-Bots Two (yes!), and Code of the Krillitanes (a "quick read" Doctor Who book).


DVDs: On the premise that Steven Moffat can do no wrong, I watched all four series of his Coupling despite my general disinterest in sitcoms. The truth of the premise held. Though superficially following the Friends model (3 boys, 3 girls, a sofa facing the audience), the show's engine is completely different. As Moffat himself says, Coupling is farce-based as opposed to joke-based, but more than that, his skill with narrative structure makes for at least a couple of cleverly crafted episodes per series. So unlike American 18-minute sitcoms, these full 30-minute eps can toy around with structure to great effect, reprising entire scenes from other points of view, for example, or letting key misunderstandings reveal themselves through flashbacks and flashforwards. Oh yeah, and I genuinely found it funny and in the end, kind of touching. The middle series have commentaries with Moffat usually sitting in (but watch for nasty spoilers to the next season), while the last has a good making of documentary. Otherwise, there are interviews with everyone, outtakes, and deleted scenes (though these are really outtakes on series 3).

Chang Cheh's The Deadly Duo was on tap for Kung Fu Friday, an old Shaw Brothers' movie with rather relentless action and gore, and I mean "relentless" in a pejorative way. The plot involves rescuing a prince from an enemy stronghold, but though played straight, that plot is often ridiculous. Still, there are exciting beats, and you can always count on director Chang to create new weapons and fighting tactics (the River Dragon's disassembling of rafts, the Fire Demon's explosives and those cool fighting cymbals, for example). And you can forgive a lot of the film's problems because the majority of it is filmed outside, giving it a lot more scope than most Shaw productions. The DVD also includes interviews with the two stars, David Chiang and Ti Lung, about their careers, though The Deadly Duo is not actually mentioned.

Long weekend AND computer problems, so I sat down in front of the tv and watched some bare bones DVDs (why is the widescreen version on the "B"-side? what was wrong with people at the dawn of the DVD age?) First was Richard Linklater's romantic Before Sunrise, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, a young couple who meet on a train and decide to spend a night in Vienna before parting ways forever. Linklater's interest in philosophical conversation in on show, but spinning all sorts of bull, bouncing off another person, all that is so very much part of my own "courting" experience, that I can't help but love it. However, I'd forgotten just how much of it was a full-on romance between two well-realized characters.

And it's in Before Sunset, made 9 years later, that you realize just how well those characters WERE drawn. Jesse and Céline meet up again in Paris for another "timed visit", perhaps to pick up where they left off. Again, my memory of the film was that of sparkling conversation, but once more it's the romantic elements that struck me. More than a progressing document about a couple (and actors) at a different place in their lives, the film also addresses how that night 9 years ago affected them profoundly. And it ends as ambiguously as the Sunrise, but maybe more satisfyingly. This time, the DVD has a short, but worthwhile documentary that discusses the making of the film by the director and two leads, who all wrote it together.

Another old favorite that still hasn't gotten a stellar DVD treatment is David Fincher's often forgotten The Game. It's a very well made thriller in which Michael Douglas (always at his best as a hard-put-upon business man) signs up for a "game" (for the man who has everything) and finds it's more than he bargained for. I wasn't sure it'd be as good if I already knew the twist(s), but The Game is made well enough that I still found it engrossing and clever. When you look at Fincher's other films, even a failure like Alien3, there does seem to be more of a vision at work, and I can understand why The Game would have been lost in-between Se7en and Fight Club, but it's still worth your attention.

The two Doctor Who stories part of the "Mara Tales" feature the 5th Doctor in easily some of his best stories. Up first was Kinda, an almost surreal Buddhist mediation of a story, though it really doesn't work as an allegory, and I think its detractors are wrong to look at it from that angle. Kinda creates an odd world that is more allusive than allegorical, and relates as much to the Garden of Eden as Pandora's Box and The Heart of Darkness. It has its problems, including a silly giant snake (though there's a new CGI sequence that fixes this convincingly), but it rewards second and third viewings where you get more and more out of it, has expansive sets, an excellent guest cast, and the best Doctor Who madman of all time. The DVD has a good making of that doesn't skimp on the disagreements between the writer and the more literal director (though both do good work, even if they work AGAINST one another), and there's also a retrospective on director Peter Grimwade's career, and 14 minutes of very interesting deleted scenes.

The sequel, Snakedance, likewise creates a tangible world in which the Mara tries to escape, but instead of literally dwelling in the highly symbolic, it turns symbol into myth - myth no one believes. Writer Christopher Bailey once again is on solid thematic ground, though he now understands better how to fit his ideas into the Doctor Who format. And again, we have an excellent cast and surprisingly expansive sets that add to the story's value. So while there are set pieces in Kinda I like to revisit a lot more, Snakedance is the more cohesive story. The making of is a direct sequel to Kinda's - both of these a respite from over-negative cast commentary tracks on both DVDs - and you'll also find a deleted epilogue cut for time, rather comical studio recordings as effects don't work as expected, and Peter Davison's only mildly interesting visit to Saturday Superstore.

Audios: I was stoked when I heard Nicholas Farrell's voice on Time Reef by Marc Platt, a 5th Doctor, Nyssa and Brewster Doctor Who story set in a most unusual environment. It was fun to hear Doc5 so unusually cross (his TARDIS had been stolen and parts sold off, after all) and there were a lot of zany characters, but it never quite gelled into a whole for me. Remains a clever and interesting audio, but the parts are better than the whole. The second story, A Perfect World by Jonathan Morris, explores the effects of more time meddling by Brewster, and being a simpler tale, it is a better one. However, I'm not sure I buy the premise, so I consequently have trouble buying the bit. Still, the production team gets points for making Brewster a more interesting nuisance than, say, Turlough.

The Brotherhood of the Daleks by Alan Barnes, featuring the 6th Doctor and Charley is most definitely in danger of collapsing under the weight of its continuity references (from Spiridons to Thaleks to Mechanoids to other, non-Dalek, non-6th Doctor audios), but manages to stay afloat thanks to lots of twists and turns. Of course, your enjoyment of this one may depend on what you think of Communist Daleks (although who can argue with a Red Dalek?). The star of the audio, however, is the relationship between Charley and the Doctor, and her keeping secrets from him. That Doctor-companion team-up is a twist unto itself and it's still got juice.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 3 new cards, leaving me only 5 slots to go before I finish Reality Unbound.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - Classics Illustrated
II.ii. Rosencrantz & Guildenstern - French Rock Opera

Reign of the Supermen #186: Superman Reborn

Source: Superman: The Man of Steel #25 to Superman vol.2 #82 (1993)
Type: The real dealHe was the first comic book superhero, so perhaps it comes with the territory, but Superman's always been more than a little Old School. The boy scout ethic, growing up on a farm, working for a NEWSPAPER, for Pete's sake.

The Death of Superman, then, becomes necessary for him to be reborn in the anti-Old School 90s. I mean, look at the 90s trappings when he is resurrected: First replaced by "badass" or "trendy" heroes in a series of interlocking "events", then returns in a black costume (oooh, dark!), long hair (oooh, fashion!) and, yes, GUNS (oooh, gritty!).
Only the haircut would last, but still, how symbolic is THAT!

And speaking of losing the black costume... I bet it could have stayed, but it just wasn't durable enough.
And it made Superman more graphically violent. Maybe it was Venom's cousin?

The 90s... One thing I hope is never resurrected. Happy Easter!