Monthly Archives: May 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

I mean, it’s Indiana Jones, right? Star Wars was basically imprinted upon my brain from my earliest memories, and the consecutive releases of The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark cemented Harrison Ford as the coolest guy on the planet. What I’m saying is, objectivity is basically impossible. Despite this, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull came out last week, and now I’m forced to try for objectivity anyway. Thanks a lot, Harrison Ford! (And George Lucas and Steven Spielberg!) Which may explain my review delay of almost a full week past having seen it in a midnight premiere showing, although my inclination is to blame my recent vacation instead.

So, it’s been twenty years since Indy was last thwarting supernatural Nazi plots and freeing slave kids and otherwise trotting the globe in pursuit of archaeological treasures. Well, no, since we’ve last seen him doing such things. It’s clear almost immediately that he hasn’t stopped doing them. The only real difference is that 1957 leaves him with slightly tireder muscles at the end of a long day’s adventure and that the jackbooted enemies have a different ideology. The graverobbery and the cool whip use and Indy’s instinctive understanding of and respect for history (both the commonplace and the paranormal), in stark contrast to everyone around him? All of that is the same. And when push comes to shove, that’s what I’m looking for in an Indy (not indie) flick. It can have goofy dialogue and it can have some of the worst effects I’ve ever seen come out of ILM and it can have slightly more pointless moments designed to make the children in the audience giggle than in previous Indiana Jones films. And I’m not saying I’ll like those things; but since it still feels like swashbuckling archaeology, since the core appeal of the film is still there, I’ll accept them.

The real problem I have is knowing that I went into the theater with extremely low expectations, and came out pleasantly surprised. It was about on par with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which is a low bar for Indy, but still pretty great overall. And now I have to think to myself, what if someone reads this and goes into the movie with higher, dashable expectations? That’s a tough responsibility to shoulder. So, if you want to avoid it because it’ll be crap, you shouldn’t, because it isn’t. But you should also bear in mind some terrible effects[1], cheesy dialogue[2], and a hilariously bad refrigerator sequence are there to temper you back down to thinking it will be bad anyway, so you can still like it. It’s a tightrope, I know.

Final thought, to the lady who was sitting next to me in the airport on Tuesday morning: look, I understand that some people have a hard time with science fiction being inserted into anything in the universe world. I can accept that you walked into the theater not expecting [spoilers]. But I also know this is not your first experience in the life of Doctor Jones. The first time you watched one of his movies, the climactic scene showed a lot of Nazis having their faces melted off of their skulls because they had the temerity to open God’s toybox. The second time, some dude pulled some other dude’s heart out of his chest, without breaking the skin. It might be worth your time to admit to yourself that your complaint isn’t really so much about the [spoilers] as it is about your decision to get rid of your imagination sometime in the last 25 years, and now you resent anyone around you who still has one, because they look like they’re having more fun. Just think about it, is all I’m saying.

[1] It’s not just the prairie dogs.[3] There was a punching battle on a couple of side-by-side jeeps that was as obviously green-screened as anything I’ve seen in the past several years in a Sci-Fi Channel original motion picture.
[2] For my part, I really didn’t mind, and was even amused. But it seems a little incestuous to have Indiana Jones “have a bad feeling about this”. I’m pretty sure I should have minded, y’know?
[3] Although it’s possible I’m wrong, I just kind of assume everyone already knows about the prairie dogs, even if they know nothing else. It’s like they were inserted just to remind everyone that George Lucas still had some creative control?

Ultimate Fantastic Four: Doom

I haven’t found any Ultimate X-Men yet, the upshot of which is that I’ve already looped around on these quick reads to volume 2 of something. I don’t mind so much: there’s a goodly pile of things available, and so far they’ve been uniformly entertaining. That is not, as they say, nothing. The second Ultimate Fantastic Four picks up essentially right where the first one left off. Fresh from their first victory, Reed Richards and company[1] are still working to find a way to become normal people again. And the key to that is discovering what happened to the fifth person affected, Victor Van Damme. He, after all, was the one who changed the experiment’s parameters that caused the accident in the first place. The downside to the plan is that he already knows where they are. Being under effective house-arrest courtesy of the United States in the same Baxter Building where all of their schooling and late night studies took place makes this kind of easy, you see.

I’m definitely still liking the series. The comedic timing is improved over an already funny previous run, and the elements of government control over what is not yet a famed superhero group, but just a quartet of college kids? That’s a story with a lot of depth behind it, if they choose that direction to go in. Plus, y’know, Doctor Doom is there now, and we all know he’s a great adversary.

[1] My historical knowledge of the group, predating any actual reading, leaves me with only his name at the tip of my tongue. So my instinct is to assume that the other names wouldn’t mean a lot to most people. However, I feel compelled to come out in praise of how Sue Storm has been handled thusfar. She’s a modern love interest, in that he seems as much like her prize as she seems like his. And on top of that, she’s a gifted biologist in her own right, every bit as skilled in her field as Reed is in his. It’s a very pleasant contrast with the 1960s version; and make no mistake, even then she was a pretty strong female character for her genre and time!

Ultimate Spider-Man: Power and Responsibility

A thing that is rapidly striking me as odd about the Ultimate Marvel universe is how unrelated the stories are, compared to 1960s Marvel. I mean, I’ve read three origin stories now, and all of them refer to events that are mutually exclusive of each other. As though they’re all actually set in mildly disparate realities from one another. This is not something that troubles me particularly, just an oddity. I mention it in part because it struck me last time and I never said, but also because it’s one of the many aspects informing my reading of the first Ultimate Spider-Man.

Other aspects include the initial Spider-Man movie, which appears to have been heavily influenced by this volume, my readings of the first 31 issues of the Amazing Spider-Man comic[1], and my expectations relative to the other Ultimate series in which I’ve dabbled that this one would be the most kid-oriented. And indeed, our Peter Parker is a mere 15 years old, with a fair bit of modern angst to him. So, on the whole, it really feels like I should be feeling a little meh about the whole thing. Instead, I enjoyed myself a lot. My guesses about this are that I’m even more of a sucker for high school angst than I thought (and, come on, get over it already, man), or that lowered expectations were just right for the book, or that the original story Stan Lee put together in 1963 has such a heaping helping of mythic resonance that any given retelling will affect me just as much as the first time I saw it. I think there’s a pretty good chance it’s that last one.

[1] I’ll be reading #32 pretty immediately after this review posts, in point of fact. Mary Jane Watson has been the elephant in the corner for at least 25 issues now, which is kind of hilarious to me, given my knowledge of what the future holds. I have to believe that Stan Lee had her in mind as the real deal all along; the set-up is too perfect to be coincidence.

Y: The Last Man – Kimono Dragons

For the first time in a really long span, I’ve broken the rotation of my graphic novels reading. It’s very much not my fault, though. See, the current Walking Dead book was supposed to have been out in January, and then April, and now in a few days. But “in a few days” pushes well beyond the time I was supposed to read another one, you see. So I had to skip ahead to the nearly concluded Y series. Well, okay, not very near, since I’ve got two books to go after this one, and one of those doesn’t release until June. But it feels pretty near, right now.

Kimono Dragons, by title, is about a bunch of Yakuza chicks in Japan. (I mean, they would be chicks, right, since every warm-blooded male on the planet died years ago. Aside from Yorick and his monkey, obviously. I mean, are you even reading these things? Come on!) But by plot or theme, I’m not really seeing much in the title to interpret. In short, Yorick and company continue their hot pursuit of Ampersand the capuchin monkey who holds the key to humanity’s survival, Israeli super-soldier Alter continues her hot and frequently deadly pursuit of Yorick, cold though the trail has grown, and Doctor Allison Mann continues her hot pursuit of the truth behind mankind’s extinction. (Well, and of some choice Australian tail. A woman has needs.)

Along the way, all of the usual cultural and gender explorations take place, the plot is shifted one step closer to what still feels like a solid resolution, and a few remaining characters have their backgrounds explored. The series has reached a point where (as most long-running series do) the individual pieces no longer feel quite as profound as they did early on; like I said, if there’s a central theme to book 8 here, I missed it. But the quality remains consistently high, the story engrossing, and the artwork by turns exotic, sexy, and visceral. I can’t ask for more that that out of anything that isn’t Sandman.


So, I finished my Star Wars series! Yay! I mean, I look forward to future books, but mostly I’d been a little concerned for the previous several books of this series that it was running off the rails, and now that can no longer be an issue. Plus, it mostly didn’t, which is even better. Invincible documents the finale of yet another galactic civil war in which some people from the Skywalker family face off against each other on opposite sides, Jedi vs. Sith, and… well, probably the good guys prevail? History does have a way of repeating itself, I guess.

But I really did like a lot of it. It had more of a swashbuckling, John-Williams-scored Star Wars feel than most books in the series have had, for one thing. For another, there was finally a pay-off to all the Boba Fett devotion from earlier in the series, that made it look in this book like he wasn’t only included as a sop to the fans. (It didn’t retroactively fix previous books with the same problem, but those mostly skated by because he and his people are interesting, at least.)

The one flaw I did find was just how short and quick of a book it was. After praising the stately, thoughtful pacing of the first half of the series, and then being a little annoyed by how things seemed to go nowhere in the last few books, this one was like a bucket of ice water in the face. Fun, exciting things happened, but in especially the last third of the book, they happened way too quickly, without any time to pause and incorporate the new circumstances. I feel like either the last few books could have been plotted more tightly, this one could have been longer, or both. It was really only the overwhelming speed that kept this from being an entirely satisfying novel that resolved the series neatly and left me ready for what’s next. Instead, I’m left with a combination of gradually draining adrenaline, a sense of ‘Well, that happened’, and a sense of “Huh? That happened?’ Which, okay, sounds pretty unsatisfactory on the page. What you have to account for is that the Star Wars adrenaline rush, when performed correctly, is a thing of great influence over one’s mood.

The Ultimates: Super-Human

Did I mention I bought a stack of these? I mean, I know I’m still far behind, but seriously, a stack. And despite being so good, they read easy. So, y’know, probably expect more, is what I’m getting at. The Ultimates is the least transparent title in this new Marvel Universe, so I will specify that it’s a retelling of the Avengers storyline. As the first volume, Super-Human, is an origin story, this means that through various and occasionally familiar twists of fate, Iron Man, Captain American, Giant Man and the Wasp, Thor, and the Hulk will be brought together for the first time and form a team of (not so whimsically as in the original telling, from what I can predict so far) ever-changing heroes tasked with defending America and the planet from the self-acknowledgedly sporadic threat that super-villains pose in the modern age of Bush, terrorism, and of course mutants. (I mean, it’s still a comic book world.)

The thing is, though, wow was this awesome. Broken and unhealthy relationships litter the landscape, the Norse god of thunder is doubling as a hippie who leads demonstration marches against the World Trade Committee, and Tony Stark… well, okay, he’s pretty much the same as in every other medium I’ve seen, but since that translates to a distilled essence of debonair awesomeness, I can dig it. Also I’m pretty sure that, reading between the lines, his butler is gay. Sure, there was eventually a climactic battle in which they came together against a terrifying threat, but it was almost an afterthought, I guess because the story of the characters was holding its writer as enthralled as it held me. Ultimate Fantastic Four that I read yesterday was cool, but still quite kiddish. The Ultimates, however (if the trend holds), is very adult-oriented in all kinds of good ways. I’m going to have to work at holding off on skipping straight to the second volume, thanks to a pulse-stopping cliffhanger.

Ultimate Fantastic Four: The Fantastic

As I believe I have mentioned from time to time, I’ve been reading a lot of Marvel Comics from the 1960s. The Ultimate series of Marvel Comics (a reimagining of the best-known characters from that period as though they had never been created and only appeared in the last 5 years or so instead) is not, alas, on DVD. However, I can find large swathes of the serieses in graphic novel form at my local used bookstore, and hey, why not? I’ve read enough of the original titles to know that I like the characters and the world, and enough to catch at least a substantial number of the references. Plus, I could conceivably catch up on this some day and read it sort of live, which is something that will never happen with the regular Marvel universe and its 45 years of bloat. That’s pretty cool, I guess.

So, anyway, The Fantastic provides the origin story and first major enemy faced by the Fantastic Four, who you’ve possibly heard of before, here if nowhere else. In this version of the story, the team is formed largely of precocious students who have been gathered together at a magnet school with government funding to invent the future, and the accident that provides their powers is the result of a teleportation experiment rather than flying through cosmic rays in space. In fact, my one complaint about the story is that the ‘What caused this?’ subplot was left unresolved in an unsatisfying way. I’m assuming they’ll make up for it by continuing to search for answers in future volumes. But the problems and personalities are spot on, the Moleman is far better realized than he ever was in the original comics (at least as far forward as I’ve read), the in-jokes were occasionally hysterical, and the art…

Well, I know it’s probably heresy, but I’m a lot more fond of the current art than the original stuff, and for a couple of reasons. The really heretical part is that I’m just not that big a fan of Jack Kirby. His backgrounds are great, yes, but his people have always left me cold. The other part is that the big, full-page art is very nice. It admittedly slows the story way down, explaining why what took FF #1 in 1962 about 20 pages to tell took the modern people 100 or more; but I don’t mind that the story slows down a bit, as continuity between issues is far tighter even than it was then. (And one of my most consistent praises of old era Marvel is how continuity-minded they were, and how high above my expectations the writing has been as a result.)

My point in all of this, I guess, is that I certainly liked what they’ve done with the reboot, and anticipate liking the other Ultimate titles as well. But since in a roundabout way I’ve been reviewing the old comics and the reboot concept more than this particular story, it’s probably fair to say that any future Ultimate reviews will be shorter than this. I mean, if that’s the kind of thing that worries you. (Which it probably would me; it’s a short graphic novel in the scheme of things, and not chock full of symbolism and enigma like most of the non-superhero comics I tend to read more often.)


I’m not sure if it’s literally true, but WordPress claims that this is my 400th post here. That’s a nice round number, and for people who care about such things it is fitting that said post be dedicated to one of my favorite authors having written a new book in one of my favorite series. Sure, he wrote it a goodly while ago, and sure, I’ve never reviewed any of the other books in the series (besides a highly allegorical one set in the same world but otherwise wholly unrelated, at least that I’ve been able to detect via my apparently useless English Lit degree), but regardless of all that, Dzur is in my possession [again] and thusly, here am I.

The real problem here is that I’m trying to review the 11th book of a series without a) any previous body of work here to rely upon and b) without having read most of the other books in the series in the past 7 years, and not even any of the books in the related series in 4 or more, else there’d be a review of them here. So you see. But it’s cool, because one thing that Vlad Taltos is reliable about is presenting his stories in such a way that you don’t need to have read the previous books. It would be nice to have, both because they’re uniformly awesome and to have a little better idea of how his mind works, but it’s not required. And… although the way the books are written make my summary background more than spoilers, I still feel obligated to put a cut at this point, mostly for people who might be in the middle of the series.

Continue reading

Hack/Slash: First Cut

Last fall during a period when I was buying two or three graphic novels per week, Amazon was quite insistent about recommending me all sorts of additional such novels outside the serieses I’d been focusing on, many of which looked either terribly uninteresting or not quite interesting enough to roll with sans recommendation by actual people. And then there were the three volumes of Hack/Slash, in which a scantily clad chick is taking on an assembled mass of movie murderers. That, I could get behind sight-unseen.

And now, a goodly long time later, I’ve read the one I bought, First Cut. And, well, there’s no denying that it suffered from my unreasonable expectations. The backstory felt both rushed and a little bit shoddy, and the initial storyline took a while for me to warm up to. But as the second and third issues unfolded (there are only three in this first volume, plus a short illustrated Christmas poem and a wealth of sketches and other source material), I was won over.

The biggest part of that conversion, aside from the gratuitous sexuality and violence, was due to the growth of partners Cassie Hack and Vlad. In a world where a teenaged girl and a hulking, slightly deformed guy in a gas mask can wander the country in search of serial killers (that is, folks who murder a lot of people) and slashers (who are basically the same, only they’re a lot more unkillable, and often dead in the first place; the kind you’d expect to see in a horror movie), it’s hard to credit that real character development could occur over the course of three brief stories. And yet, they managed it pretty handily. Credit where it’s due, this could possibly turn into a pretty good series. Downside: I’m not sure where to find the second volume, so it may be a while before I return to this.

Red Seas under Red Skies

There was a point somewhere toward the end of Red Seas under Red Skies where I proclaimed by fiat that the Gentlemen Bastards sequence is my new favorite ongoing series. It might be that I’ll get back to Erikson’s series[1] or Martin’s series[2] and my loyalties will shift all around again, but I kind of doubt it. Because while all three series have comedy, tragedy, high drama, and empathetic characters to spare, only Scott Lynch’s series is this damn fun.

The continuing adventures of Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen see them plotting an extraordinary casino heist, dabbling in politics that are really well above their comfort zone, enduring the attentions of old enemies, and taking to piracy on the high seas. And, as is quickly seeming to be the norm, almost none of it was something they saw coming.

What the book loses in sense of wonder from its predecessor and unadulterated glee over the coolness of the characters, it quickly gains back via the reader’s growing investment in the world and the changeable fortunes of the Gentlemen Bastards. The characters are (except when obviously intended otherwise, and sometimes even (a little bit) then) eminently likable, and Locke and Jean are guided by an intense and even laudable, if perhaps non-traditional, moral code. I felt equally involved in every success, no matter how minor or spectacular, and in every setback, no matter how fleeting or tragic; and there were a number of points were I perked up with certain foreknowledge of what was coming (not always correctly, mind you) and was a fair bit sad not to have someone with whom to discuss it excitedly. This is a book that just cries out to be read, from the first page to the last. And now that Lynch has done it twice, I think it’s fair to say that neither time was a fluke. I look forward with great excitement to the third book[3].

[1] which next book has been sitting on my couch for a number of months now, filling me with dread that I don’t really remember enough of the series to proceed and with equal or greater dread at the thought of re-reading the previous four or five giantastic doorstops of books. So you see.
[2] which next book is due out at the end of the summer, I hear, and that’s kind of an amusing coincidence. isn’t it?
[3] which is due out in January. I am now sad.