Monthly Archives: May 2011

Ultimate Avengers: Blade Vs. the Avengers

Taken by itself, Blade Vs. the Avengers was actually a pretty cool story, with mostly logical twists (one unmentionable massive spoiler aside), convenient clearing away of what I at least considered to be a good deal of chaff, solid character interactions (if basically no development), and one hell of a cliffhanger. Where it fails is in context, and I feel bad saying much more, depending on how spoiler-allergic you are. So, now’s your chance to stop.

Okay? Okay.

So, one of my two problems with it is that a vampire invasion (’cause, see, Blade, and his name in the title is why I don’t feel like this is a big enough spoiler to just avoid talking about it entirely) is entirely too much like a zombie invasion, which has been done  too recently (and also better) in Marvel. That it mostly stays clear of the Ultimate universe is really beside my point, here. The other problem is with Captain America. He’s really cool and all, and I like a lot of what they’ve done with him as a character, but I’m getting a little tired of their over-frequent choice to use him as a plot device. Particularly in the Avengers line, when he is explicitly not a member of the Avengers and doesn’t fall under Nick Fury’s purview anymore. Here’s all I’m saying: enough with the deus ex dux, already.

Homeward Bound

The problem with the Deathlands series, which will only grow in scope as I get further into it, is that the formula is already starting to preclude my ability to say anything new. This is not a problem with me reading them, by any means; what most people get in comfort out of re-reading favored books, I’m getting out of these. I’m only five in now, and there are almost certainly over a hundred, with new ones still being published every two or three months right now, but Homeward Bound doesn’t deviate from the formula established by the end of the third book, not a bit. The band of adventurers pops of out a teleportation room sealed up inside an undiscovered government hideaway, emerges into the post-nuclear landscape, runs off to do some good deeds, and then heads back for another teleport.

Sure, this book added a brief trip to an apparent moonbase (which, okay, that was pretty cool, but I wonder if it will turn out to have been flavor text rather than a hint at future adventures) and let the main character, Ryan Cawdor, come face to face with his past[1], but they couldn’t even leave me with the vague hint of doubt as to whether he would try to stick around and rule his ancestral barony instead of running right back to adventuring.[2] Nope, the last two pages are, “Let’s all pile in our car and drive back to the teleport room!” I’m only asking for that to be replaced by maybe 10 or 20 pages at the beginning of the next book, right? Still, better to know what I’m in for now than later, I guess? Enh, “in for”, I say, when the only real problem is the reviews. The books themselves I will continue eating like candy long past the point where my brain is fat and complacent.

I am amused at the contrast between this and Anita Blake, where I’m only tolerating the books for the reviews. If it weren’t for GRRM, that is what I’d have read next! Instead, the next while will be recap city. Sorry about that.

[1] The wrong being righted by Sam Beckett in this episode of Quantum Leap is that of the Cawdor family’s destruction by black sheep middle brother Harvey.
[2] Oh, and to clarify two points, 1) Obviously the title of baron didn’t come to be until, y’know, after the nuclear war. In many senses, his father was exactly the sort of power-grubbing man that the survivors of the Trader’s old crew keep coming up against in each “new” book. Oh, and 2) I just said the series lasts for like a hundred books, so no pretending that the party’s survival and success count as spoilers. (Like you were gonna read them anyway!)

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

You know what there are not a lot of? Documentaries about serial killers. Well, no, that’s the opposite of what is true, there are actually like a ton of those. By literal film-reel weight, I mean. But there aren’t very many documentaries about uncaught serial killers. Well, that might not be true either. Because, like, Unsolved Mysteries, right? I’m pretty sure that show became a genre once there was a Court TV. But, okay, this time I’m going to be right: there are very few documentaries about uncaught serial killers from the perspective of the serial killer. Including, you understand, interviews and other literal documentary footage.

Before yesterday, as it happens, I would have said there were actually no such documentaries. But now I have seen Behind the Mask[1], and I can say that there’s one, anyway. It actually starts off playing for comedy to some extent, both because our slasher[2] is personable and funny in the confines of his soulless psychopathy and also because the very concept of a documentary crew following around a murderer is kind of laughable. But the moment when the horror of what they are witnessing (and, let’s be honest, doing) finally begins to sink through, the movie shifts from comedy to the finest example of post-modern horror I’ve seen since Scream. This is definitely a must-see for genre fans, and I’m sad I had never heard of it until a month ago!

[1] I should note, incidentally, that the mask itself is in fact at the intersection of cool and creepy to such degree that I’m very slightly surprised there hasn’t been a sequel based on that alone.
[2] Oh, right, I lied a little bit. “Serial killer” is the best way to portray the type of person I mean in a documentary setting, but truthfully this guy is a slasher; some famous previous-movie slashers are his heroes, and there’s obviously some nod to the idea of, if not the supernatural, at the very least that these guys work damn hard to appear supernatural.


I’ve been reading old Marvel comics for, well, a few years now. And also the Marvel Ultimate reboot series, for about the same number of years. In that time, I’ve gotten through 10 or so years of the newer version and 13 years now of the older version. Over those “years”, I’ve had characters I’ve liked and characters I’ve disliked, as you do. For instance, I will read as little about the Submariner as humanly possible, and I’ll be glad of it. Anyway, my point is this: I’ve seen a great deal about Thor as an ensemble character, and only a very little of him as a main character in his own stories. Everything I’ve seen of the latter (except for a few Loki-centric stories in the Ultimate version) has led me to be bored at the idea of picking them up, even when virtually every other major Marvel character has eventually won me over.

All of this to explain that I had pretty low expectations when I heard that they had a Thor movie in the works as part of the build-up to the Avengers franchise. Often, of course, correctly lowered expectations are the key to enjoying something that you otherwise might have rolled your eyes at or even actively hated. But the thing is, I don’t think that’s the deal here. The opening narration doesn’t give the slightest amount of delay in explaining that these aren’t really Norse gods, they’re just really advanced aliens who happened to choose Earth as a battleground, naturally confusing the natives. (Arthur C. Clarke is referenced so many times you’d think he got royalties.) And once that’s out of the way and we’re caught up to modern times, the story they’re telling is pretty much exactly the story I wanted to hear, without any of Thor’s old-school enemies who bore me so, without more than a smattering of his over the top formality that bores me even more; instead, it’s a sibling squabble between Thor and Loki, of exactly the type that has so enthralled me in all the new Ultimate stories. Except, you know, with cosmic implications and a few interesting earth people involved.

But other than the Loki thing, and I have decided over the past couple of years that in the hands of a capable writer, I could happily read or watch him doing just about anything, the main draw versus the comics that I was so leery of is that they took an overly formal prig with a stick wedged so solidly up his ass that it made Mjollnir look about as unmovable as an empty plastic bag in an independent film about existentialism and turned him into a jovial, likable, and best of all, overly rash hero among men. If someone tries to convince me that the Thor in the (non-Ultimate) comics eventually turns into that guy, I’d probably be willing to pick up his stories. Not until then, mind you, because I just don’t care enough about the backstory. Not this time.

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall

The title is so obvious in retrospect, and yet I really didn’t anticipate the Arabian flavor of 1001 Nights of Snowfall until I read the first page of the book. After that, of course, I got to sit back and enjoy several stories of the history of the Fables before and during the War with the Adversary, even if not four (or, okay, even three) figures’ worth. And there’s not a whole lot more to say after that, though I found the secret histories of Snow White and Frau Tottenkinder[1] to be very entertaining and fully worth the price of admission. That there were in fact several other good stories, well, that’s good news too.

[1] That may not be her right name,and you may not know who I mean anyway, but she was once a witch who lived in a gingerbread house, if that helps.

New Ultimates: Thor Reborn

A thing I have noticed about the Ultimate series in the wake of their big climax a couple of years ago is that most everyone has seemed adrift. Sure, Nick Fury put together a new black ops team, but that dude always lands on his feet. Everyone else, though… mutants are outlawed and being hunted to extinction, the Fantastic Four broke up, the Ultimates are in an unsatisfying holding pattern, and Peter Parker, well, he’s doing okay I guess, but his personal life has been teetering on the brink of shambles for a little while now, and since his stories have always been strongest on the personal side, I think he gets to be included in the general malaise of the series after all.

My prediction is that Thor Reborn, nominally about a new plot by trickster god Loki (and with a sideline into a truly horrible version of the Defenders that I really just wish had never been involved in the plot at all), is really positioned to be the start of returning the Ultimate universe to some kind of status quo, where things can seem appropriately light-hearted and/or epic[1]. I mean, without discussing anything that happens in the book at all, just look at the title! Once dead characters start coming back, there’s no surer sign in comic booklandia that things are getting back to normal.

[1] Those sound contradictory, I know, but for comic books, they just aren’t. And the whole run has felt, well, pretty heavy for a good long time.

The Alienist

On recommendation of one of my graphic-novel-sharing friends, I picked up a turn of the 20th Century mystery book, The Alienist. (And, seriously, it was recommended several times, and has been mentioned several times more while I’ve owned it unread. Which is not a complaint about my pushy, pushy friend, it’s a wry nod to my massively overflowing bookshelf.) But the point is, I got to it, only to find (unsurprisingly) that everything I heard was true! It is in fact a pretty darn good fiction about the genesis of modern police procedure set against the trashy, immigrant-filled slums of New York City’s 1896. It occasionally bordered on feeling too modern, but never quite got there, all while managing to have a shockingly strong female protagonist in the cast, an occasionally Holmesian feel, and special guest appearances by Theodore Roosevelt and Charles Ranhofer. Oh, and “the first” serial killer. That may not actually be something for everyone, but it’s something for just about everyone I want to know.

Source Code

I knew Source Code was a sci-fi movie, but I think if I had known that it really was full-on science fiction, instead of just with the trappings, you understand, I would have pushed myself to see it sooner. As it is, there’s hardly any time left to recommend it to people, what with the summer movie season having started yesterday. And that’s downright unfortunate, because it’s the kind of workmanlike, personal sci-fi story that people should ought to see, and that really should ought to be made more often in the first place.

Jake Gyllenhal plays his affable everyman self, military edition, attached to a top-secret project called the Source Code.[1] Using the brain patterns of a train-bombing victim, the project coordinators are able to place him into the last eight minutes of that man’s life, again and again, to determine the identity of the bomber before he can strike again. All of which is enough by itself to make for a rollicking good sci-fi / action movie, but then they went and focused on Captain Stevens’ experience in the virtual reality: his growing attachment to his fellows[2], the physical and mental agony of each failure, and his rapidly growing disillusionment with… ah, but that would be telling too much.

The important thing is, they’re telling a much deeper story than the one that might have fit in an hour of zippy television in the Seven Days, or, yes, Quantum Leap vein (and if you manage to catch Scott Bakula’s cameo, you’re a better person than I was). It doesn’t strike me as being among the very best genre movies of the (well, previous, now) decade, and here I’m thinking of Children of Men. But this is a new decade, and it’s the best one so far, plus also it’s every bit as good as another recent example of the personal sci-fi genre I’ve seen (which I shall avoid mentioning here because the comparison could be spoilery to either film), even if it didn’t manage to live up to a global-scale story that is among my favorite movies ever.

[1] Caps implied every time the name of the project-slash-device is mentioned.
[2] Especially, it must be admitted, the pretty one sitting across from him.