Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Idiot Abroad

yes, yes... I know that's Paris, but look what he left behind across The Channel
This site will go dark for a few days while I head off to London in the company of The Admiral and Steanso.

My understanding of London comes mostly from movies and TV.  At that, it comes mostly from sci-fi, Bond and other genre movies and TV, so while I am prepared for a Dalek invasion or hitting on Miss Moneypenny, I am less ready for, say, finding a public restroom or a solid cup of coffee.

Just a couple dudes in England.  What could go wrong?
For some reason I had processed I was going on a trip, but not really the destination of the trip until last weekend.  London, unlike Austin, is an absolutely ancient city by American standards, and especially by Texas standards.  London was old and lived in before Columbus landed in the West Indies, and Austin was more or less a seasonal camping ground for Native Americans until the 1820's.  So I'm looking forward to my first trip to see streets trod upon by my fellow humanity for countless ages.

Today, of course, London is an extremely cosmopolitan sort of berg, so I don;t exactly expect quaint old British customs, nor for my Jane Austen fantasies to come true.  I expect Starbucks and BP gas stations.  And Justin Bieber (a star whose talent knows no boundaries).

We hope to partake in fine dining with charming locals
It occurs to me that all sorts of things could happen to me while I'm overseas.  Pirates.  Squid attack.  Hurled into The Land of the Lost.  So wish me, Steanso and The Admiral lots of luck as we embark on this whirlwind adventure.

Wish us luck.

Slight Policy Change: Superman titles

I am going to start reviewing Superman and Action Comics here on a regular basis and in a semi-timely fashion.  I may also begin reviewing Superboy and Supergirl.

For those of you who do not care for or about these comics, I hope you'll keep coming by for whatever it was you were getting out of this site before this minor change.  As a site that is ostensibly largely focused on Superman media, I'd like to try to get a little more coverage of the actual comic books.  We'll alert you if we also pick up any additional Super-titles for review.

I am not likely to talk about other series at this time, including Legion titles or JLA.

Signal Watch Reads: Jimmy Olsen One-Shot #1

A long while back, DC announced that Action Comics would go to $3.99 per issue, adding 8 pages to the page count which would be a Jimmy Olsen backup. Your humble blogger was, of course, thrilled.

You may have noticed from the image above up there in the banner, we're Olsen fans at this site from way back. And if you know the slightest bit of Super-trivia, the name of this site should alert you to our commitment to Olsen-Mania.

I theorize that one cannot achieve Olsen fandom until one has passed through a few phases of comic fandom, including "comics are not as dumb as I thought", "superheroes are tortured souls and the only good ones are grim'n'gritty", "comics are literature", "hey, this old school superhero stuff is really pretty neat" and then one winds up at "oh, my God. You have to read this story where Jimmy Olsen is woo'd by a vindictive alien princess. These guys were geniuses or crazy.  Ha ha ha.  Sweetie?  Where did you go?"

Now, I came to appreciate Olsen a while back, and I confess that I have spent some time and money building a collection of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen comics that will make sense to few mortals. I have asked Jamie to include them in the Viking Funeral Pyre that I intend to have on the banks of Lady Bird Lake here in Austin when the pirates finally get me.

However, late last year, DC called an audible and reduced the price of all their mainline comics to $2.99 and reduced page counts.  Action Comics was as mainline as one was likely to find at DC, and suddenly, mid-story, the Jimmy Olsen story got shelved.  Briefly.

Writer Nick Spencer already had his script done, and while I'm not clear why it took this long to collect the existing chapters and add the complete rest of the story, this week the comic turned up at my local comic shop.  And its really good stuff.

Jimmy Olsen One Shot, 2011
Semi-harmless alien invasions, 5th-Dimensional Pixies, diabolical plots, Jimmy getting promoted from Pal to a loftier role, the return of the Daily Planet Flying Newsroom...  In just a few pages, the thing covers a lot of new territory while making call-backs to the sort of bizarre adventures Jimmy had in his own title from the 1950's to the early 70's.  In short, we here at The Signal Watch recommend this comic, and give it our official stamp of approval.

The comic hits at a curious time.  I'd not say that the "grim'n'gritty" era of comics is over.  That sort of thing sells well, and I enjoy it in a good number of titles I read.  But it does seem like superhero comic fans are beginning to make room for the weird/ zany side of comics which was considered verboten during the post DKR years and, frankly, right up until the past three years or so.  I can understand that comic fans wishing to identify their reading material as "for adults" could see anything whimsical or silly as "for kids" and therefore suspect.  Superman having a dog, for instance, still gets a good number of comic fans fairly roiled (fans who would never pick up a Superman comic because of all the ideas they have about Superman as "bad for comics").

But with the victory securely had, and the ability to put as much violence, crime and werewolves or whatever else used to upset the Comics Code Authority into the most mainstream of comics, its okay to also look at what made comics fun before the audience self-selected itself down to 15-30 year old males in search of power fantasies (something I didn't used to subscribe to, but these days...).  Certainly an aging readership that has seen the limits of grim'n'gritty is going to welcome both faux-nostalgia for comics they couldn't have been there to read the first time (that's me) and for modern interpretations of what made the old stuff work, rather than writers deciding to "update" or "get X character retro-fitted for Insert Current Year Here".  Ie - go back to the well on some of that old stuff that sold like gangbusters once upon a time.

Its been interesting to see online reaction to the comic as generally very good.  And the 20-something female clerk at Austin Books was more excited to see I was buying Jimmy Olsen than that I was also buying Godzilla comics on Godzilla Day.  It didn't seem like she'd read any old-school Olsen, so here's to hoping we get another Olsen-Acolyte.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Some Super Clips and a Plan for 2012

This year, Cartoon Network is debuting a new Bugs & Daffy cartoon.  I think the pacing and characterization is a little off, but its early days.  They'll sort it out.

Anyhow, this is kind of cute:

This summer the UK is getting a Superman movie anthology on Blu-Ray. Its expected a US release date is coming. The anthology sounds like it includes theatrical cuts AND Donner's cuts of Superman and Superman II. And, really, having Superman IV in Blu-Ray just seals the hell out of this deal for me.

I am going to need this as I have already sworn to a Super-Marathon of all theatrical releases (yes, in one sitting) prior to the release of Snyder's version of Superman. I will likely be checking Jamie into a hotel during the Kirk Alyn serials and Superman and the Mole Men portion of the marathon.

Oh yes, we're doing it ALL, people.

Wonder Woman pics show updated costume, running WW

Apparently the producers of the Wonder Woman TV show are looking at the internets and have made adjustments to the TV costume for Wonder Woman. Video and pictures started making the rounds about 12:00 Central time last night with pics from the set. Whether planted or not, it does show that the blue boots are gone and the pants are now less shiny, resolving two major costume complaints when pics of the costume hit the net just a week or so ago.

Fortunately, for professionals, the internet is always there with suggestions.

As WB will want to get fans behind the show (and not give them any reason to complain before it airs), perhaps the studio heads asked for the changes after doing a spot of Googling?

Palicki looks pretty good, I think. 

Those pants are pretty awesome

And Bleeding Cool is carrying a whole bunch more pics.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Noir Watch - Force of Evil

Before Force of Evil, I'd not had the pleasure of seeing John Garfield in a movie before. Garfield passed back around 1952, and didn't join the field of actors for whom a premature passing ends up placing them in a romantic pantheon of stars who were taken too soon (Bogart, Monroe, etc...).  I have to say, I thought Garfield was very good.  One wonders what else he might have done.

This is my first viewing, but Force of Evil is an interesting movie in several respects, in that its a very well shot movie, using (I believe) New York as a backdrop, and a mix of sets and on-location shots in the streets.  The plot is a bit complicated, relying on what I assume was semi-common knowledge regarding numbers rackets back in the day, gangsters seeking semi-legitimacy through "combinations", and a refusal to let any particular character appear as the white knight of the film. 

When they do my biopic, I hope the actor playing me gets portrayed as a disembodied head staring out from the poster
Its rare you see a movie from this era in which everyone involved is playing fast and loose with law and order, even the attractive young love interest of our male lead (the lovely Beatrice Pearson, who only made a very few films before returning to the stage). 

The movie contains a few scenes that were frankly a bit revelatory, including a scene in a diner which just worked liked gangbusters (including the score).  While the characters motivations don't all exactly click, and it seems the script could have been tightened a bit, I have to give credit to George Barnes, the movie's cinematographer and David Raksin, who scored the film.

Aside from John Garfield, the cast seemed like they were actually quite good, but I also think that this film must have been well above a "B Picture" in budget.  The aforementioned Ms. Pearson turns in a good job, but several actors in smaller roles took their parts to heart, especially Thomas Gomez as Leo Morse. 

And, even Jamie looked up from her computer and exclaimed "Oh, man!  What isn't she in?" when Marie Windsor vamped her way onto the screen.*

The movie is black and white, but Windsor spells trouble in any color scheme
Likely your mileage will vary on this one, but I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.  While it took me a bit to get how the numbers rackets worked in the movie (actually very important to the plot), I did catch on, and I liked how all of the characters became slowly and almost unwittingly embroiled in deeper plots than anything they'd set out to do.  Very clever stuff.

*I actually had no idea Windsor was in this one until the credits rolled at the opening

Tomorrow: Godzilla Smashes Down on Your Local Comic Shop! (Austin Books is DOOMED)

I know for a fact that we have a whole bunch of Godzilla fans here at The Signal Watch.  So, first things first...  Tomorrow, IDW premiers a new Godzilla series which should be arriving at your local comic book store.  Its called Godzilla:  Kingdom of Monsters, and you should accept no substitute.

So, go to your local shop and pick it up!  If your local shop joined in the promo, they may have a cover featuring Godzilla stomping down on the roof of your shop.  Here in Austin, I know that we've got Godzilla stomping down on my shop, Austin Books and Comics, and artist Matt Frank will be in store to sign copies.

And the hairdresser next door went unscathed

The local CBS affiliate did a neat story on the release of the issue, inviting the artist in and ABC's own Brandon Z (who is a bit of a Godzilla aficionado).  Watch the story here.

I have seen some of the Godzilla-related merchandise Brandon has added to the store, and, man, it is going to be a good day to be a Godzilla fan in Austin.

Of course the the wake of Japan's recent disasters, IDW has struggled with whether or not to go ahead with the comic, and ultimately chose to keep with the printing schedule. 

Godzilla heads cross-country to get to his LCS to buy the comic with him in it
I may hate disasters in real life, but I love me some Godzilla in, uh...  well, what I really hope is a parallel universe where Monster Island really exists.

Oh, hell... here's a Godzilla trailer

Monday, March 28, 2011

The final (open) letter from Joanne Siegel to Warner Bros.

Ms. Joanne Siegel was the wife of Jerry Siegel, the writer who, with artist Joe Shuster, first brought Superman to the world.  Ms. Siegel recently passed, leaving her daughter to complete the drawn-out lawsuit between the Siegels and Warner Bros. as the Siegels attempt to reclaim legal rights to the Superman property.

The subject of Siegel & Shuster's ownership vs. National/DC/WB has dragged on and off since the 1950's, seemingly finding some conclusion for a while in the 1970's.  Its a thorny issue, and moral arguments could actually be made for both sides (despite the fact that WB is, of course, a big, scary coporation).  Siegel and Shuster did sell the property to National in the late 1930's, and (at the time) that meant perpetual ownership by National and any subsequent owners of National.

When Siegel and Shuster challenged this idea in court (in the 1950's, I think), they lost and they lost their jobs as work-for-hire employees.  Siegel would return to DC where he "created" Superboy* as a work-for-hire.  Of late, laws have changed, and the Siegel estate took WB (who bought National decades ago) to court.  In the mid-00's, the Siegels won back a lot of rights to at least the subjects shown in Action Comics #1 - such as Superman, Clark Kent and Lois Lane.  And, I'd wager, guy freaking out in the corner.

Aside from that, I find the case completely confusing.  And I understand the frustration on both sides, I guess.

Its, of course, easy to pin this on DC and WB as a big, scary corporation, especially versus Joanne Siegel and her daughter, both of whom suffered from health issues the past few years.  But its also easy to point to the work done by the corporations who've managed the Superman property for 70-odd years and point to everything they've done to keep Superman from becoming a fad that disappeared like Hopalong Cassidy and pet rocks.  The law has, in fact, changed.  Its not a moral issue so much as a legalistic quagmire that actual attorneys and not fanboys like myself should really believe we can properly argue.

Today an open letter from Joanne Siegel made the rounds of the comics interwebs, and its a bit heartbreaking.  The letter reads a bit like someone trying to find common ground with estranged family, which...  in a way, that's exactly what's happened.  Its family fighting over an estate of sorts.

At the same time... its hard to ignore Ms. Siegel's threats embedded in the letter.  Clearly she expects the court of public opinion to wind up on her side, even as she also seems aware DC is holding out legally, waiting to see if she and her daughter might simply pass away before anything is resolved.

And, while I've only heard things third hand, rumors swirl that the attorney representing the Siegels is a bit of a shady character, but that maybe if those grapefruit baskets had kept coming from Time Warner, maybe this whole affair would never have resurfaced...

I don't know. 

What I have never felt entirely comfortable with is how copyright passes.  Until the 1990's, copyright expired after about 75 years.  But then thing thing happened that had never happened before...  huge companies had been formed around things like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.  Disney did some lobbying and found legislators more than accomodating, and that aspect of copyright was more or less extended in perpetuity.  This enrages some, and in some small way, I can see why.  Some great works have been passed from generation to generation due to a lack of copyright. 

But I'm also not sure letting squatters move in the minute a copyright lifts and ride on 75 years of someone else's hard work and management is necessarily the right thing to do, either.  Walt Disney may be dead, but the engine created under his watchful eye is still in motion.  Just because we can no longer shake the hand of the man who created Mickey Mouse, does that mean we open the door for anyone to use the character or copy the works and make a dime off Disney?  Or Superman?  or Batman?  or Spider-Man? 

I guess I like the idea of responsible stewardship, even if by corporations.  I tend to think of it as "what's the difference between a national park and the rolling green hills that suddenly were covered in chintzy looking condos?"  Basically, I trust someone with a financial interest in Mickey Mouse's longevity, all others are suspect.  I strongly suspect this same notion is not shared by the younger generation of comic fans for whom co-option and re-use of anything one can find on the internet is an entitlement.  Call me old school.

Fortunately, both the Siegels and WB seem to have a vested interest in the multi-million dollar Superman business, and so I don't see either side wishing to let anything lapse into public domain, except, possibly, out of spite.

*for reasons that escape me, Superboy is legally considered a separate character from Superman.  Which tells me that judges and juries are not about to suffer through a lengthy discussion of continuity.  That said, its a bit like saying "oh, the Arthur that pulls the sword from the stone is a totally different character from the one who gets killed by Mordred."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Amy Adams lands "Lois Lane" as Zack Snyder's star continues to descend in Hollywood

I don't know much about actress Amy Adams.  I haven't seen much of her work, but as I understand it, she's one of those "gets nominated for Oscars" kind of actresses, already at the age of 36.

I have seen her in The Fighter, part of Enchanted (which was kind of cute, by the way), Talladega Nights, and an episode of Smallville.  She's kind of wee, which should help make actor Henry Cavill appear to be a bit taller.

Look, I like Superman Returns.  It strays wildly from the comics, but it at least understood the character of Superman fairly well as a strange visitor from another world wanting to be a part of the world he protects.  A sequel could have been a lot of fun.  But I never got behind the casting of the very-young Kate Bosworth (she was only 23 when the movie arrived).  Bosworth might have been fine had the movie been starting Superman from scratch, but with at least 6 years of shared history between the characters, casting an up and coming ingénue ended up hurting the movie and Bosworth's career more than was necessary.  And, I'm afraid, too often it seemed like Bosworth felt more like babysitter to the child playing her son and less like a mother, which I was never sure if that was the actor or the script...

If you look at the kind of character Lois is supposed to be, her status as an ace reporter, able to make demands of Perry White, etc... before Superman shows up, I've always felt Lois should have a few years on our Man of Steel.  She's a person who has seen it all, she's been disappointed so many times that its less important that Superman can bend steel and fly that wows her, as that he's actually serious about this "I'm an honest guy" business when he could be out exploiting anyone he likes.  A younger person can appreciate that, but to have one's well-earned cynicism repealed?  That's something different.

By the way, part of what Superman sees in Lois is supposed to be that she's a driven, accomplished person who may be jaded and cynical but who still follows a functioning moral compass (and closet belief in social justice).  That's something you can play younger, but it always seemed that Superman would appreciate Lois' habitual fearlessness (all of this is deeply complicated by the diversion in the 1950 and 60's as Lois gains her own title which often features marriage-mad plots, but that's a matter for another day).

Anyhow, in the abstract, Adams seems like a good choice.  Throw some black dye in her hair, put her in a smart suit, get her a digital recorder and a memo pad, and she could be our misspelling Pulitzer-winner.


It seems that Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch came in at #2 behind the debut of the second Diary of a Wimpy Kid flick.  Notable as Snyder if the currently-named director lined up for the upcoming Superman film.

The movie pulled in about $19 million its opening weekend and had about an $82 million budget.  I would expect that it will do well overseas (our international friends only expect plot out of local movies, not from American explosion-fests).

Further, Snyder's movie is tracking at 20% critic rating at, with a 10% rating with Top Critics and just 62% with the audience (and the RT audiences tend to skew pretty highly with anything that's genre porn in the first week or so).

As far along as the Superman movie might be, I can only wonder if DCE and WB are currently looking at the showing on Suckerpunch and having second thoughts about their choice to revitalize Superman during what seems like a curious upswing in the Man of Steel's pop-culture cache.

Back in 2002 or so, WB very publicly gave Brett Ratner Superman to develop, and after Red Dragon had one good week and then one of the most infamous second weeks in box office history, they took Superman away again.  A George Miller directed Justice League was cast and in the works when WB pulled the plug realizing Miller was about to make a terrible movie (it sounds like the usual "oh, dark and gritty is awesome" hoo-hah), and was, I think, about the JLA turning on itself.  Which makes a great origin story... (sigh)

Leading up to the release of Suckerpunch, preview screenings had gone so poorly, rumors were beginning to trickle that Snyder might be pulled off Superman (and that the Superman script was just plain bad).  Now, with an opening just $3 million better than the Owls of Ga'Hoole and $35 million less than Watchmen on only about 600 fewer theaters, man (or, about $9000 less per screen).  Surely somebody other than me at WB is running the numbers...

Frankly, if it tanks, that's fine with me.  Snyder's 300 and Watchmen both showed a lack of an ability to tell a story.  He's never helmed a movie that wasn't written down, page by page for him until Suckerpunch.  As excited as I am about Amy Adams as Lois (in the abstract), I just don't see what he's going to be able to do with the movie that won't be a trainwreck.  The man seems to believe "directing" is the same things as production design, and he couldn't look at still images on a page of Watchmen and understand the emotional beats of the characters expect in a ham-fisted, seventh grade book report sort of delivery.

So, we'll see.  The biggest problem is that the WB has until end of year 2012 to release a Superman movie or rights revert to the Siegels (or something).  The important thing is that WB HAS to have a Superman movie by 12/31/2012, and for whatever reason, WB decided to put its faith in Snyder.

I tell you what, Hollywood, I can't tell you how to make sure something is going to work, but at almost no cost, I am willing to tell you when you're about to screw up a Superman movie.  That is likely about to happen.

But, sigh, who knows?  Superman could be where Snyder surprises me by turning it around and making a movie I don't think plays like an emotionally stunted high schooler aping better stuff he once read and sort of remembers.