Monthly Archives: December 2010

Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness

You know that something has become a bona fide phenomenon[1] when it starts generating its own spin-offs. Not that Marvel wasn’t already a phenomenon, but the Ultimate series and 1602 and Marvel Zombies are the kind of thing I’m talking about here. Or when Cheers spawned Frasier. So, but obviously I’m really talking about comics, and specifically still about Marvel Zombies. Because what I would not have expected was for the important people at Marvel (by whom I guess I mean Joe Quesada, but who can keep track?) to already have spawned yet another alternate earth, just slightly different from the one where the interstellar zombie plague arose in the first place, in which to insert Ash from the Evil Dead series, as portrayed by an extremely young Bruce Campbell, and let him and the Necronomicon take on the ravening heroic hordes. I mean, really?

That said, if you like Marvel Zombies and you like Ash, you will definitely like this book. He fits in surprisingly well, and everyone’s reactions to him (disdain or disgust, for the most part) really felt pitch perfect to me. And yet his charmed existence keeps him going far longer than any mortal human in the Marvel universe has a right to, even before the zombie thing is a factor. But mostly, this is a laugh. Here’s the way I can tell the author knew exactly what book he was writing, in four words: Howard the goddamn Zombie Duck.

[1] I am not endorsing this outcome, only observing it.

Powers: Little Deaths

I am still trying to work my way through my reactions to the third volume in the Powers series. We’ve previously been introduced to the world and its concepts quite well, so by now the interactions between the main cop, his new partner[1], and the superhero-related crimes they investigate are comfortably old hat. And the stories in the book (big hero dies in a way that reveals salacious sexual peccadilloes; smalltime hero and villain conspire to make their comebacks) are quite good. Yet, I found myself really disappointed with it.

And the why? I feel like I’m being unfair, with the massive amount of monthly comics from the early ’70s I’m reading right now that are frequently guilty of this and yet I never give a second thought about it there. But, my problem with Little Deaths is that nothing new happens. Did I learn anything new about the world? Not that I can tell. Was an important new character introduced that I need to keep an eye on? It’s always possible, but I don’t believe it. Detectives Walker and Pilgrim entertained me as always, but no new facet of their characters or relationship was revealed. It seems ridiculous to complain about a comic book being more like cotton candy than steak, but it turns out that I’ve come to expect substantive new material from any given book, and today I simply didn’t get that. Oh well. At least I learned Olympia (who I hadn’t heard of until he died) has a thing for redheads? Useful!

[1] Although I say it that way, I kind of think that Deena Pilgrim is the character best suited as stand-in for the audience and therefore the actual main character of the series. The probably-cancelled The Good Guys on Fox does the same thing, though without superheroes. Still, I’m not sure how to refer to a rookie cop and his experienced partner, since the X and new Y flows so much better.

TRON: Legacy

I saw the Tron sequel (which I know I should be making all caps, yet cannot bring myself to) as a midnight premiere showing, which was… difficult. I can definitely tell I’ve turned some kind of corner, and it makes me sad. Anyway, I definitely liked it, which seems to be a minority opinion on the internet, though I’m not sure why. It is stupidly pretty (although young Jeff Bridges skirts the edge of the uncanny valley when seen in IMAX), it has a lot of coolness, and it has sfnal ideas that, while not very new, are certainly interesting. What’s not to like?

Well… if I had to pick something, it would be that there’s Too Much. I spotted aesthetic elements from The Wizard of Oz and The Empire Strikes Back, story influences from at least three different sources that I’ve since forgotten, and a reach[1] that, just like in the original movie, consistently exceeds its grasp. But I have a hard time grading that harshly, even as I understand why other people might not.

Nutshell: go see it. If you loved the original, this stays true to it while expanding into uncharted vistas, and if you never saw the original[2], this at least gets all of the tech stuff right, which is rare enough in Hollywood to deserve monetary reward.[3] Also, since I spotted a few frames worth of sequel-potential, I’d like to predict that their choice to act on one any time in the next 24 months will result in a terrible outcome. Heed my advice, $Disney_executive!

[1] This again referring to the storyline.
[2] It occurs to me that I’m forced into another one of my footnote plot summaries, since I forgot people might not know much about it, until just now in the editing pass. Both movies contemplate a human-permeable barrier into a computer network called the Grid, in which both full programs and stray lines of code have viable personifications and struggle against stronger programs who have forced them into either servitude or else brutally short lives in a games arena. Whenever a User enters the Grid, plot occurs!
[3] If you think I left out a third possibility, then I am currently glaring at you. For being a bad person.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

If I look at it from outside myself, I am forced to admit that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter sounds exceptionally twee. “Hey, you know what would be zany? If in addition to ending slavery and saving the United States from utter failure as a national concern less than a hundred years in, Abe Lincoln also used to hunt vampires!” So, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I get how that premise lends itself to completely pointless silliness, I do.

But, here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to. And the way I know this is that our author (also notable for his recent release of an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice that I have not yet read) managed to tie together a whole lot of history, pathos, and adventure into what is at the least a semi-believable package. And honestly, it’s not the part with the vampires that leaves me in doubt, it’s the part where vampires could possibly still be a secret today, while having quite as many people know about them in the 1820s-1860s as this biography purports. My point is, the research is (at the least) usually valid, the narrative flows very well, and the outcome has few if any contradictions with the established history as I know it. I just nearly want to read a more traditional Lincoln biography to see what other differences exist, if any. (Particularly potential difference in the cameo appearances of other noteworthy folk.)

I will also say, in case it matters to any of my readers, that I didn’t feel that the adding of blame to vampires for slavery (particularly as it related to the Civil War, but also in general) seemed in any way to shift blame away from the humans in the South. But then, blame hasn’t ever really been a zero-sum game, so that’s not too surprising. I’m just glad to have not found apologism anywhere in here, as my experience would’ve been lessened greatly.

Hack/Slash: Super Sidekick Sleepover Slaughter

An interesting thing about the Hack/Slash series is that is has ongoing arcs, but not one overall arc; and in that way it is quite similar to all the old superhero comics I’ve been reading these last few years. The most recent volume, Super Sidekick Sleepover Slaughter, consists mostly of a side arc in which a tangential but still minimally related aspect of the current main arc (a decades-old secret society that may be behind all supernatural slashers) takes the driver’s seat. In this case, that arc revolves around a group of teens who have found a way to give themselves superpowers. It is fair I think to say that the title has NO SPOILERS WHATSOEVER indicating the outcome of their experimentation.

Meanwhile, dark portents are afoot back at Hack/Slash, Inc. headquarters. And then, for some reason, there’s a crossover with some alternate earth half-zombie guy and a rip-off of the Marvel Zombies. So, that happened? But the rest was pretty cool. I just wish the last crossover thing had a slightly more cheese-cakey aesthetic, to make up for my being otherwise bored.

Ex Machina: Term Limits

Having reached the finale of Ex Machina’s comic run, I can safely say that there was a pretty decent superhero comic in it, and a very good political comic in it as well, and they fought like cats in a sack for the spotlight on a non-stop basis that precluded any kind of rational pacing of either of those major storyline aspects. Which is unfortunate, since it colors my opinion negatively on what otherwise might have been two differently good things. I admit to having no way to be sure whether the pacing would work better if read in a chunk, and perhaps that is relevant?

Term Limits describes the end of the ongoing storyline that explains how Mitchell Hundred got his powers in the first place as well as the looming threat to humanity that is so intricately tied into those powers, and it simultaneously describes the end of his mayoral life in New York City, and then just for fun, it follows through the next three or four years to see how he and everyone else turned out. Y’know, pretty much exactly what you would expect the conclusion of a story to do. So yay for structure. There is something about the transparency of the political and historical wish-fulfillment of the overall plot that doesn’t sit that well for me, just as it always has not, but it really is just the transparency aspect; if wish-fulfillment bothered me on its own merits, I couldn’t have sat through the first episode of The West Wing, much less the entire series. But all in all, these complaints are minor, and I’m glad I read the series.

…except for the part where I can’t help looking back on Y: The Last Man with a more critical eye now and being skeptical of its own pacing issues that I hadn’t really considered the first time. Oh, well.

Crater Lake

Y’know, it’s hard to add much about the Deathlands books, at least anytime soon. I’ve already specified that they’re post-apocalyptic gun porn with implausibly equitable gender politics, right? Then yeah, at that point, there’s not yet a lot to add per book. In this specific book, our heroes are teleported[1] to Crater Lake, where they discover the first gender-inequitable civilization in the series, which is notable both for being populated by obvious bad guys and for not having occurred during any of the previous three books. They also discover, as I got distracted by all the (admittedly non-Bechdelian, but the book is from 1987 and aimed toward teenage boys and gun enthusiasts) non-sexism from pointing out already, the evils of government-funded weapons research and a great deal more about the mysterious Doctor Theophilus. (Which, to be clear, is pretty cool.)

[1] Which you would know if you also remembered that this particular post-apocalyptia has a sci-fi theme, which I know I’ve also mentioned.

Faster (2010)

Remember when there used to be tons of action stars? I mean, there still are, but there are no longer tons of young action stars. Really all you’ve got is Jason Statham and The Rock.[1][2] Anyway, the next one has Jason Statham, so necessarily Faster has The Rock. And while I think he’s really quite a good actor, most of the awesomeness in this movie happened when he wasn’t speaking at all. But I’m ahead of myself. What you should ought to know is that said Rock has just been released from prison and is on a mission of revenge against the people who murdered his brother right before he went to prison. And, man, what a mission. His first victim is felled within maybe an hour of his release, which I “spoil” only to make it clear (as the previews did identically before me) that this is a movie that is not fucking around.

Everything from there forward is a race between our anti-hero, an assassin hired by one of his impending victims, and a broken down cop at the end of his career, to see which of the three missions will be completed first. The Rock really is the star of the show, and not just because the script dictates it. The first shot shows him pacing across his tiny prison cell, waiting for the moment of release, and it’s easy to believe that, like a shark in a goldfish bowl, he’s been pacing those same steps all ten years. And after release, he never really seems to stop moving, not to emote, hardly ever even to speak, and that’s what I meant earlier. The only really deep theme of the movie is that (again, like a shark) motion equals life, and any time spent away from that, the character is diminished.

It’s a spare movie with almost monomaniacal focus, but what it is doing, it does very well. It’s not that important or anything, but it’s quite good. My only real complaint is with the assassin character, and it’s a weird one. He was over-developed, which of course you want character development, right? But he’s really an outsider to the plot, and to the extent that you care about the plot, every scene that delves into his backstory is fingernail-on-chalkboard levels of out of place. As a foil to The Rock’s non-stop brutality, his careful planning and finesse would work really well. As an alternative main character, and that really is the amount of development he receives, it feels like he wandered into the wrong movie by mistake. Which is too bad, as either movie might have been decent (though I’m sure this one was the better of the two options); but both of them suffer by being crammed together like this.

[1] Vin Diesel kinda disappeared; I can only assume he is in the middle of a really excellent D&D campaign and will rejoin us by 2012.
[2] Shia LaBeouf? Seriously? I can end you, you know.