Friday, March 11, 2011

Our Thoughts are with Japan

As you have no doubt been alerted, Japan has suffered a major earthquake and tsunami.  I did not see the televised footage until about 10:00 AM today while waiting in line for a cup of coffee.  Like you, I was horrified at the sheer loss.

What can you say after seeing the footage except to express concern, wishes for the wellbeing of people you don't know, and to be one of many voices asking that you consider providing some financial assistance to the organizations that will be responding today and in the weeks to come.

CNN ongoing coverage is here.

The Red Cross alert website.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Noir: Crack-Up, Comics: Icon, The Stage: Spidey!

Let this cardboard box say what I cannot
I just have nothing to really say in any coherent fashion (this week).  Last week I was ready to go with a new post every 8 hours, and this week...  nothing.  The good news is that I am not feeling the old kick of negativity that would occasionally get me to begin making proclamations about ending a blog.  There's just not much here at the moment.  

That's how it is sometimes.

Noir Report

Last night I watched a movie entitled Crack-Up from 1946.  It was sort of a weirdly dull and unconvincing noir that relied upon the viewer to buy a pretty cockamamie scheme by a bad-guy to frame an otherwise perfectly rationale person as a lunatic, assumed the audience would be hostile to the work of Salvador Dali (this is '46, when Dali would have been already known, but not yet a fixture of dorm room poster art) and tried to sell the very dad-like Pat O'Brien (of Knute Rockne, All American fame) as our hero, when he feels like he's sort of phoning it in through good chunks of the movie.

That's not even a very good likeness of Ms. Trevor.  Even the poster artist isn't trying.
I stuck with it because I kept thinking something interesting was just about to happen, but...  it did not.  It was mostly middle-aged guys hand-wringing and framing each other for things that, honestly, its not clear anybody would really care about if the whole scam were exposed.


I've also been reading last month's Super-comics (I confess to really liking all this Legion stuff, which 23 year old me would slap me for), Dwayne McDuffie's Icon, and other assorted comics.  I do want to write a brief post on Icon at some point, as I think he'd be useful in the current DCU.

This cover only hints at the 90's-ness that one must adapt to in order to read this volume

I actually quite like what I've read so far, even if its in a sort of 90's-era comic style (bear in mind, I didn't like nor read much in the way of Superheroes from about 1991-1997). Its not really a Superman analog other than a cape and invulnerability of a sort, and its dealing with different issues.


Oh, yes. Also, in case you hadn't heard... Spider-Man, Please Turn off the Dark is closing for a few weeks, that director Julie Taymor has left/ quit/ was fired and when the show reopens, audiences will likely have a different show on their hands. It seems somebody pointed out that Taymor's ideas about Spider-Man were maybe not working.

My suspicion is that Taymor always had a certain level of disdain for the material as a "comic book" and "kid stuff" and missed the part where this is modern American mythology.  Her job was to steward the story, not to "improve" the story, tell her own story over the back-drop of Spider-Man and play to her usual audience.  And in that...  I doubt she was the right person for the job to begin with.  This was just never going to be her bag.  It happens, and it happens in comics, too (see:  Jodi Picoult on Wonder Woman).

Comics are still ghetto-ized, and even when I like to think "oh, if you spend time on it, you'll get it", I'd say that 95% of the population just gawks at you, shrugs, and says "oh, its just a comic book, get over it.  It doesn't matter if we completely do our own thing" (and usually that's exactly the moment where things go off the rails, btw).

Alas, most likely the play will now be a rambunctious, teen-audience friendly re-telling of the Spider-Man movie, which will play well to tourists , but it will be ultimately pretty forgettable, and we'll never have a permanent record of what I am certain must have been an amazing spectacle of hubris, disdain for source material and its audience, and risk-taking heretofore unseen on the Broadway stage.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It's Ash Wednesday!

But here at the Signal Watch, every Wednesday is Ash Wednesday.

The greatest fictional man who ever lived

Let us sample some of Ash's wisdom...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Science! (we get no aliens - this time) and DC Comics' REBELS

Science! and aliens and not science

The other night I saw an article that led me to believe that SCIENCE had found evidence of extraterrestrial life.  I posted about it here, and then set about wondering why this wasn't front page news.

I thank Leaguers Fantomenos and Horus Kemwer for chiming in and helping out a bit in the comments section.

In the past 20 years, America has turned on its scientists as those lab-coated jerks keep (a) telling us things that are personally inconvenient to our butter-soaked, gasoline chugging lifestyles (b) refuse to just say "because of magic" and (c) keep finding new and amazing ways to kill us.  But I'd guess the number one reason we hate science is that it doesn't work in the way we were led to believe by the Professor on Gilligan's Island and cold remedy commercials.

While The News would lead you to believe that all scientists are equal, and that if they can find two scientists to disagree on front of cameras that it must mean that we just don't know, that's not really true either.  It means that they managed to find a scientist who disagreed, but that may be one scientist in a field of thousands.  Which is why SCIENCE relies upon peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, which basically give a few experts in the field a chance to review conclusions of a study before a scientist has a chance to make a jerk of himself and confuse the public.

This isn't to say that everyone who ignores the usual scientific channels is wrong, but its worth looking long and hard at the credentials of both the author and published journal before saying "these are facts".

Now, as Joe Public, I generally guess that when the usual news outlets report on "studies" in "research journals", they mean that they're looking at journals with a reputable peer-review and an actual research institute backing the journal.  I do not assume that the news is just looking at some dude's website and declaring "Science!".  However, that appears to be exactly what happened with the "hey, aliens!" story from the weekend.

It does occur to me that if we DID know of alien life, it might also be true that shadowy forces would try to cover up our knowledge of aliens.

they're making another one of these dumb movies, btw
So its not entirely outside the scope of possibility that President Obama spent Saturday afternoon being debriefed about some Omega Protocol being put into play to discredit the "alien bacteria" story.  But, until someone produces an actual alien, I'm going to go with the fact that the journal carrying the alien bacteria story looks about as professional as the average Office Admin's first attempts with DreamWeaver (download Open Journal System, Cosmology) and has an agenda to prove the existence of aliens.  So, there you go.


I only read the trade collections, and the series just got canceled, but you know what book I loved from DC Comics?  REBELS.

I think in this issue are heroes are more "running away" than "saving the day"
The basic premise of the series is that Vril Dox is a clone of Superman mainstay-baddy Brainiac, and using the intellectual might at his disposal, Dox set up an interplanetary PAX-for-hire.  Unfortunately, his use of robot drones as enforcers means that his forces are co-opted and used to subjugate the very planets they were intended to protect.  On top of this, the droids are used to keep the population docile while an interplanetary parasite known as Starro invades whole sectors of the galaxy.

Our man Vril joins with a ragtag band of pirates and thugs (and Vril is no Dudley Do-right himself) in order to take back the galaxy and get back to making gobs of money.

Its a really well written and well-paced story, even to the point that a two-issue diversion tied in with Blackest Night fits neatly into the plot.  It also manages to explore DC's oft-neglected outerspace cultures and characters in a away that feels natural, even if the interplanetary jumping feels a bit like people moving from town to town inside of a single state.

And as far as amoral anti-heroes go (who might still have some tiny, on-life-support bit of conscience left), Vril Dox makes for a pretty great central figure.  The writers have to remain two or three steps ahead of the readership and the other characters.  And, in fact, they manage to pull off pretty definite characterization for most characters, which is no small feat with a sprawling cast like you see in REBELS.

No matter who he's dealing with, Vril is always one step a-head
Sadly, REBELS did not feature any DC staple characters, and no comic company seems to be able to deal with the mass conversion of its readership to trades and illegal scans.  Just last week, the series was canceled.

I have to say - I think DC would do well to get on the same printing schedule as Boom! and others, printing the trade collections of an arc within weeks of the release of the most recent issue (ex:  issues 1-6 finish in March, the trade arrives in April).  Frankly, they seemed to be on that schedule but recently backed off for reasons I can't begin to fathom.

The REBELS books read very well as trades, and the first three trades will actually bring you through a very satisfying story arc.  I'm on the 4th trade right now, and I'm a little sad that I can only expect a couple more collections before we call it a day.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Signal Watch watches: "The Losers".

This movie was kind of like "we have only the vaguest notion we're unintentionally remaking The A-Team".  Well, maybe not exactly the A-Team, but it certainly isn't not the the A-Team or every wacky action series you've previously seen. 

Someone got rich making an adaptation of DC Comics/ Vertigo's beloved series The Losers. That person was not me, and it wasn't you, but somebody was able to buy dinner and a car off the fact that this movie got made, and, its hard to believe that if this is all it takes, why am I (or you) not able to make a whole lot of money selling retreads of A-Team episodes to Hollywood and calling it a day?

Full explanation and disclosure

1)  The Losers is based upon a comic, or we wouldn't be talking about it here, of course were nit not based on a comic, it likely would not exist at all.  Of course Hollywood is in convulsions at the moment as it realizes "hey, not all comics are guaranteed blockbusters".  Also - way to @#$%-up Jonah Hex.  Thanks.

2)  This version of The Losers isn't actually the classic version, which was a group of US Soldiers constantly trying to avoid trouble, which usually lands them in even greater trouble than what they started with.  I've only read the Kirby penned issues, but the original series is much beloved by war-book aficionados.  Given how most war comics appeared, I also have always assumed that this idea was lifted from a TV show or movie I've never seen. 

If you are me, Wikipedia will only mildly surprise you when they inform you that the concept was originally Kanigher's.

3)  The version of The Losers adapated to the big screen retained the title, and that's about it. Although they did take the name of the dog, Pooch, and apply it to the chauffeur of the team. 

4)  I actually read the first issue of this version of The Losers, and didn't like it all that much and never read a second issue. 

Its shooting fish in a barrel to point out that when American comics decide to do stories usually reserved for the big screen, they tend not to come from any place of experience or research, but from the writers and artists having had seen a whole bunch of movies not unlike what they've decided to turn into a comic.  That's okay, most movies and TV shows long ago spun off into just referencing the rules set up in prior movies and TV series (which is why I look forward to all vampires in future vampire movies sparkling like a glitter-clad Gloria Gaynor).

The writers, director, producer and actors are clearly having fun making The Losers, but its hard to have fun actually watching the flick.  Its set up to be the fun sort of action movie where rules of physics don't apply except when they do, and our heroes trade witty remarks under heavy fire, etc...  And I don't think there's inherently anything wrong with that kind of movie.  I am, after all, a huge fan of movies like Big Trouble in Little China

The problem that The Losers runs into is that someone made the mistake of thinking that if the movie is funny and fun, it doesn't need to make sense or be very well written, directed or thought out.

The set-up:  our heroes are set up to take out an all-purpose Central American Badguy Superboss, but realize someone is pulling the strings when they can't call off an airstrike after a literal busload of kids is delivered to the Evil Compound (was this meant to be hilarious?, because it kind of was), and our heroes must dash in to rescue the kids.  They succeed, the Evil badguy gets blown up, and they make it to their extraction point.  Their extraction helicopter, then loaded with kids (which means they can't get aboard), is blown up as a devious Rogue Government Agent with His Own Agenda/ puppetmaster tries to cover his tracks.

At this point, the plot becomes nothing but holes and miscalculations.

We're to understand that this (ie - The Losers) is a top-flight CIA team of some sort.  And they don't have a secondary contact they can call to say "hey, this operation went a little jenky and we were co-opted"?  The only course of action these guys think to take is to hide out for the remainders of their lives?

And, seriously, Zoe Saldana has the charisma of a grocery store lobster in this movie.  I know she's Hollywood's current golden girl, but...  man.  (Not that any of the actors blew me away).

Our leader meets a mysterious (and, of course, sexy) woman who basically tries to kill him, but when the fights is over and she says "meet me in this open field and bring your whole team" - they all show up (including the sniper).  They just...  hang out in a graveyard, with no idea who this person is.  And even after she offers to help, its never clear who she's supposedly working for, etc...  and our heroes willingly allow themselves to be trapped in coffins? Its just a total mess.

The movie just sort of ambles along this way, hoping that the quick edits and the supposed rapier wit of Chris Evans will distract the audience.  But the rest of the team is never given an opportunity to define itself or have personalities other than a sort of cheerful, "I love it when a plan comes together" sort of vibe.

Jason Patric plays the sort of gleefully/ cartoonishly homicidal bad guy who tends to pick off his own minions at whim (a la The Joker) but outside the hyperbolic world where people dress as bats, you're just left wondering why someone would ever go work for this guy, and at what point would you quietly kill him (after all, you're a merc) or sell him out, just to increase your own likelihood of survival?

And, of course, our villain has bought a "green doomsday weapon" with which he plans to make a better America through some Rube Goldberg train of logic.  I think we were supposed to laugh about the scene where the weapon is demonstrated and explained, but I wasn't honestly sure.

Its a movie where villains ask for a billion dollars in cash AND a Ducati as payment for delivery of their doomsday weapons (because once you have a billion dollars, why not, right?), and the guys selling the weapons and collecting $1 billion in cash don't stop to think about providing their own small army to make sure all goes smoothly.  I also want to know where one gets $1 billion in cash, but it made for a nice visual.

I feel like I should start keeping track of fights in movies where a person 1/3rd the size of their sparring partner goes toe-to-toe because of the movie rules surrounding "karate" in movies. The "wow!" factor of seeing a 95 pound woman fight a guy 3 times their size wore off decades ago.*  I guess its the standard issue "oh, they hate each other so they're going to sleep together!" staple of TV and movies, but it just feels incredibly tired.


When one of our merry band of adventurers turns traitor, its almost the only logical bit of the movie.  His superiors have failed him, AND seemingly sold him out for some hanky-panky with the one woman in the movie with speaking lines who any of these guys would have had absolutely all the reason in the world to put in a shallow grave from the minute she shows up...  You absolutely can't blame the guy for thinking that jumping in with the badguys looked like a much better deal, because by this point none of our leads has been shown to be able to illicit a whiff of sympathy.

Also, a sequel?  Seriously?  You thought this thing as written warranted more parts?  Good lord.


The most frustrating part of The Losers was not that its critical and commercial tailspin helped kick non-superhero comics in the teeth both at the movies and on the spinner rack.  Its that there were some genuinely clever bits in the movie (for example, I like a bit that ties in with children's soccer matches), but the people working on the movie just phoned it in and seem perfectly aware that they're spending millions on a movie but don't care if it makes any sense and had absolutely no yardstick to use to decide "is the movie we're making any good"?

Admittedly, I never read the comic, so its possible this movie is simply a reflection of a trainwreck of a book.  I am not a fan of comic writer Andy Diggle, and don't seek out his work.**  Basically, every time I read his work it just feels like a collection of cliches and stuff you've seen elsewhere done better, but with the sort of "look, I'm extreme!" vibe that permeates writers trying to work in more adult genres.  (I may not love Azzarello's work, either, but he generally at least seems to find new angles).

Director Sylvain White was helming his first Hollywood flick, and its possible the $25 million budget handicapped much of what they had planned.  I have no idea what happened, but it doesn't even feel like a missed opportunity.  It just feels like a big, dumb action retread on a budget.

*This will sound cruel, but these days it would be a total shocker to see that fight go down with something resembling physics involved (although the word "empowering" would likely not appear, nor would it be very pretty for either side), and at least something would feel like it was at stake.

** I felt like he just totally fumbled Green Arrow: Year One.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Spring, Birthdays, Rodeo, Aquarium, Dogs and Home

This weekend we went to Spring, TX, the place I lived from grades 1-3 and then 10-12 (I lived in Austin for grades 4-9). 

In many ways, the Spring area has changed since my days of cruising the streets in a red 83' Honda Accord with a mildly embarrassing array of music available from the tapes scattered on the floor of my car.  It was the edge of Houston at the time, with cow pastures in several directions from my house.  Where people in movies fear urban toughs, I was always much more concerned about getting cross-ways with someone in "Rocky Mountain" jeans and a hideously ugly cowboy shirt with a shotgun rack in his pickup. 

Now, I lived in a fairly standard-issue suburban home in a fairly standard neighborhood, and while it would have been cool to have been raised under more exotic circumstances, I don't begrudge it.  Heck, I grew up in a school that competed with the same school and same neighborhoods that inspired Win Butler and Arcade Fire's Grammy Winning album, The Suburbs (I hear ya, Win).

Those cowfields have long ago been sold to developers and turned into tract homes, been replaced with odd corrugated metal buildings housing everything from antique shops to a wide variety of churches to a place I watched an ex-flame get married. 

We were in Spring to celebrate the KareBear's special birthday, and so I was delighted just to be along for the ride.  For the first time since I was six years old, I attended a rodeo (along with my folks, their pals, Jamie, Jason and Amy), and despite my reservations, I confess its an interesting sport and I have to admit that those cowboys have guts that I do not.  Also saw singer Billy Currington play a set. 

your author reacts to figuring out how they get the bulls to jump around like that
Somewhat like any trip I've made to Cabela's sporting goods just south of Austin, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a bit of a reminder that people come in all different stripes, including the un-ironic Rodeo and Country & Western enthusiast. Out there are many folks who know all the words to Country's version of Top 40, have a wardrobe full of western wear, and who spent their youth in the FFA.

I was also impressed that the rodeo focused on kids and academic scholarships.  While my school didn't have much of an agriculture department, our colleagues down the road at Texas A&M are a global power in all-things ag related, as are the good folks at Texas Tech University northward in Lubbock.  So, there was no small amount of Red Raider and A&M Aggie pride on display, as well as a sort of calf-herding competition for scholarships (which is a heck of a way to get a scholarship, but I am not here to judge).

Almost two-decades since the grand old days of yesteryear, now those same folks that used to make me a little twitchy in Spring just seems like folks in hats and different musical preferences, and I like to think that means I'm less of a judgey jerk than I was circa 1993.

Afterward, we had a lovely dinner at Houston's novelty restaurant The Aquarium.  I know the place isn't exactly a foodie's paradise, but if sea life is interesting to you on both the plate and in a tank, then its worth visiting at least once. 

Jamie is the Jacques Cousteau of touristy dining
The place houses fish as large as Grouper and contains sharks in this enormous aquarium right in the middle of the dining room.

All in all, it was a good time.

Dogs stayed at the Austin Pet Ranch, an absolutely great pet resort on 1826 on the way out to Driftwood.  They have been retrieved, but after two days of running around in the big pens they have at the ranch, Scout and Lucy are now both crashed out on the sofas, where I hope they will remain until tomorrow morning.

Let us all wish a happy birthday to The KareBear, and we'll do something similar next year. 

Happy B-day, Ma!