Sunday, December 02, 2012

This Week in Geek (26/11-02/12/12)

Buys

DVD purchases for the week include Run Lola Run, Cronos, and the first three seasons of The Venture Bros.

"Accomplishments"

Books: Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is a real page-turner that takes you from the early days of Timely Comics right up to the blockbuster movies era of Marvel Studios, i.e. today, though the bulk of the book best covers 1960 to 2000, which has the greatest ratio of Marvel employees alive and willing to talk (or who had before their passing, in the many secondary sources used). Howe's breezy style finds a way to tell us a STORY, which isn't an obvious thing when talking about a company that's been bought and sold so many times in its life, and seen such upheavals in both staff and fortune, and he certainly has a feeling for life's ironies. Most surprising is the AMOUNT of editorial and/or corporate shenanigans that go on at a comic book publisher, many of which explain Marvel's strangest decisions over the years, and illuminate some of what they (and DC) are doing now. The douchery of Stan Lee, Jim Shooter, Bob Harras and Joey Q (some of the biggest "villains" in the story, along with quite a few "suits") often goes beyond the question of creator rights - which is central to the book's focus - and into the area of creator mistreatment. And just how many Marvel employees died on the job well before their time? I forgot to count. It's a great read, but has the potential to put you off mainstream comics for good (or perhaps go back and find the comics where the creators are clearly taking shots at management, as described in the book). And it makes you pine for a similar treatment about DC, whose story often intersects Marvel, giving us a tantalizing nugget of information. The best recommendation I can give Untold Story is that it's so efficiently put together, there's just about one interesting piece of gossip, revelation, or damning quotation on each page.

DVDs: I want to say Republic of Doyle's third season is its best yet... so I will. It's not just that the Newfoundland-based private dick series' cast is, by now, dear to my heart, it's that the writing has actually become better. Two relationships to watch - Jake and the soulful Leslie and the question of who can speak both official languages; and Des and Tinny's hilarious and touching romantic triangle. Des in particular got to grow a lot as a character this year. There's also an interesting, if at times frenetic to the point of confusion, subplot about Tinny's mom, though that leads to the promise of a paternal guest-star I'd be glad to see. Speaking of guest-stars, somehow, Hawco and co. got RUSSELL CROWE to star in the first episode. I can definitely say he could pass himself off as a Newfie any day of the week. And as usual, you'll find just the right mix of comedy, drama and action. The show revels in the idea that we all act foolishly from time to time, whether we're a hero or a villain. The DVD includes bantery commentary on three key episodes and a making of the finale that goes from writing process to marketing, of good length and pretty fun.

Felt like a 70s SF thriller, so I popped Westworld into the machine, which I'd last seen on some TV station late one night. The DVD has no extras aside from the trailer, but it was still fun to rediscover this cult classic. It's tone switches so often, it's actually a surprise that it works as well as it does, in a Cabin in the Woods kind of way. It's really City Slickers with a rampaging killer robot that looks just like Yul Brynner. The first half is comedy western set against a science fiction premise (treated in cutaways that could have come out of the Forbin Project or Andromeda Strain), and it's the best part. It's fun and rather sells you on the idea that this "Dream Park" stuff would be cool in real life. In the second half, as things turn sour, there are some longueurs. One cowboy tracking another is something we've seen in countless other films (though the tracker has rarely been robotic), and that's where it gets a little dull. But the characters soon find themselves running through Roman World and Medieval World, and things gets loopy, strange and fun again. I'm just sorry I never had the guts to run something like this in my Dream Park role-playing sessions.

In Johnnie To's Running Out of Time, Andy Lau is a gentleman thief with 3 days to live who undertakes a game with a maverick hostage negotiator/cop who's been knocked down to clerical work (Lau Ching Wan). What follows is a gritty-but-slick entertainment with lots of laughter and an ambiguously tragic ending. Andy Lau won an award for this early acting work (the year was 1999), and he's great as the thief always one step ahead of his competition, but it's Wan that's a real revelation here, as he's an actor I recognize, but not one that's left much of an impression on me in the past. His Inspector Ho is sharp and funny, cool and opportunistic, and has finally found his match. I'll be glad to follow him on another case in Running Out of Time 2, which I've scheduled for two weeks from now. The DVD includes a commentary track with the two (French!) screenwriters, who are fairly insightful compared to the Hong Kong cinema expert interviewing them and throwing out platitudes, and a few trailers of interest.

Zines: Finished issue 10 of the Diary of the Doctor Who Role-Playing Games, a UNIT Special that, before the recent UNIT sourcebook for DWAITAS came out, was the final word on UNIT gaming, and still has plenty to offer even with that competition. There's a huge article on your UNIT campaign, going into detail about the types of missions the United Nations Intelligence Task Force would get involved in and everything from uniforms and HQs to military traditions and equipment. It's supported by articles on how to play military characters, how to run action scenes (a bit 101 this last one, I would have liked more innovation), relevant resources from other games, the military phonetic alphabet, an article on ranks and promotions (several Diarists have served, so they know what they're talking about), another about life after UNIT, and adventures featuring UNIT in different eras (70s, 90s and 00s), which can be run with or without a Time Lord present. For FASA fans, there's a critical success table for diplomacy rolls, and the Diarists re-stat the companions that were given short shrift in the published game, starting with UNIT personnel (so Liz, Yates, Benton, Captain Munro and the typical UNIT soldier). Even the featured miniatures review follows the UNIT theme. Has this issue's worth gone down now that DWAITAS has done a UNIT book? A bit, but I dare say there's still a lot that issue 10 can offer UNITeers.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.iv. The Closet Scene - Fodor (2007)

Your Daily Splash Page this week features a splash from every DC title, alphabetically, from Damage to Day of Judgment.

4 comments:

Tim Knight said...

Thanks for the review of the Marvel Comics book, you've helped make me decide to add it to my Christmas list ;-)

De said...

Ever see the sequel to Westworld, Futureworld? Or the short-lived TV show, Beyond Westworld? Neither were very good but are interesting examples of "striking while the iron was hot."

Jonathan Sargeant said...

I'm reading that book at the moment. I do agree its a great read but i have my frustrations.

There's been some decision not to mention any of the issue numbers when they refer to comic books. Why!? It's annoying because they refer to so many.

And they rarely mention what year they're referring to when they describe shenanigans. Because the action skips around a bit to cover the stories of so many people, it sometimes becomes confusing when they're talking about. I see these as editorial problems, though.

Still other that this the book is top notch!

Siskoid said...

De: I know they exist, but I don't think I have, no.

Jonathan: True, though like I said, its focus is on telling the story, as opposed to turning in a more scholarly treatise. I didn't look at the end notes very closely... no issue numbers there, eh? I don't have it close, but I could check later.