Saturday, September 17, 2011

Signal Watch Watches: Drive

By this time you've likely read a good review or two of the recently released Drive.  Don't expect me to contradict those reviews.  Of our party, I believe four out of four participants (all of varying movie tastes) seemed to agree that Drive was a pretty darn good film.

I make jokes about certain movies being to my taste, and, yes, I am more likely to go see movies about superheroes, etc...  But I also like well thought-out, taught crime movies, and Drive is most certainly one of these.  

The movie doesn't just know exactly what it is, its hyper-aware of its roots both narratively and stylistically in the late-70's, early-80's and works both within and marginally outside the framework of those movies.  Perhaps suggesting there are no new stories, it also reaches back to certain elements that those 70's and 80's movies could trace back to Noir, and crime movies like The Big Heat or 1947's Kiss of Death (edit:  upon reflection, I'd be remiss to not mention This Gun for Hire as a sort of primordial influence), wherein the manipulations of criminals and the needs of those outside their worlds get crossed.

Yeah, the driving in the movie is pretty great, but I think its the storyline and performances that sell it.  Its an oddly understated movie for the first half, actually giving you a reason to care - something movies like Too Fast, Too Furious couldn't begin to wrap their mutton heads around, or that the average Jason Statham vehicle misses by a country mile.  

When the violence does erupt, director Nicolas Winding Refn doesn't shy away from the brutality of what's happening.  There's no romanticized "ballet of violence" as we've become accustomed to in most American movies over the last 15 years (nor the "kids playing guns" approach of the Schwarzenegger era).  It could be said to play for shock value if every act of violence didn't just up the stakes of the story and push our lead, played by Gosling, further and further into a corner.

Refn's vision is complete in a way I don't see out of many younger directors these days, with everything from the color of traffic lights telling part of the story to the choice of titles and musical selections winding throughout the film.

The movie clearly cost nowhere near what a Transformers film or even a Fast & Furious franchise installment would set back the studio.  I'm not naive enough to think studios will take note of the narrative success of the film, or to think the marketers have done enough to get the word out that this isn't a standard actioner.  It likely won't kill at the box office.  But you can hope for the best.

The cast is very good, of course.  Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks, Christina Hendricks, Oscar Isaac, and both Carey Mulligan and Ryan Gosling (whom I'd never seen) were pretty great.

Anyhow, I'm recommending those of you who can deal with some blood in your movies check this one out while its still at the theater. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Signal Watch Reads: Superboy #1 (DC ReLaunch)

Superboy #1
The Clone
writer - Scott Lobdell
penciller - R.B. Silva
inker - Rob Lean
colorists - The Hories
letterer - Carlos M. Managual
editor - Chris Conroy
cover - Eric Canete with Guy Major
this review is of the print edition, standard cover

Right out of the gate I'll be clear, I quite liked this issue of Superboy.  Its got its faults, and its got its problems, but of what I picked up this week, this is the book that actually surpassed my expectations the most.

I don't follow Scott Lobdell, and knew mostly of his association with Marvel from back in the 1990's (and I think its worth noting that DC's current Editor-in-Chief is Bob Harras, who had the job at Marvel back in the 90's).  Here, he manages to de-couple Superboy's origin from the more familiar Death of Superman/ Reign of the Supermen storyline from the early 90's, and instead cleans up the story a bit, and keeping the focus on the fact that from the first panel, we're talking about a clone.

SW Reads DC's New 52, Week 2 - Part 1

Another week of wandering into Austin Books and finding not just a larger-than-usual crowd, but that demand for these New 52 books is pretty darn high.

I picked up a handful of books this week, including non-DC material, including Mark Waid's Daredevil, which I may talk about separately, because, gosh, the first two issues were pretty good.

I also finally brought home a comic I've had on lay-away at Austin Books, an original printing of Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.   Its one of my Holy Grail comics, so its a little weird to have it in the house after looking for it for about 7 or 8 years.

But, The New 52...

Mr. Terrific #1

Written by Eric Wallace, a regular writer for TV's Eureka, and art by Gianluca Gugliotta (someone I'd never heard of), this was a book I'd been looking forward to based almost entirely upon my love for the character during the previous run on JSA under guys like Geoff Johns.  Terrific's role in Rucka's tragically under-read Checkmate really reinforced what a great character Michael Holt can be mixed in with the usual fisticuffs of comics.  I liked that Terrific was a science-guy, but one that seemed to stand at the back of fights to sort them out rather than building a suit of armor and charging in (we've got that in a lot of other tech-savvy characters).  Sure, Terrific is some brawn, but a lot of brains.

if only the art inside were half this cool...

The comic retains some of the basics of Michael Holt's origin, that he's a genius along the lines of Bruce Wayne or Lex Luthor, but without the (same) baggage.  He lost his wife to a random accident and emerged seeking to make the world better with SCIENCE.  In this version he still likes to build cool gadgets, mostly into his T-spheres. 

Wallace adds several new ideas to the technology and origin that takes Terrific in a slightly different direction (stuff I can support), and gives him a technology company under his belt, which makes sense, but it seems the DCNu is comprised of the Steve Jobs, Larry Pages and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world dressing up in weird outfits and punching each other.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

We3 Deluxe Edition Arrived in August (Morrison and Quitely)

I get nervous when I come home and Lucy, Scout and Jeff are all sitting around in their armor.
If you were to tell me that I would one day read a very Rated-R comic book about cyborg house pets armed to the teeth and on the run, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frank Quitely (the team behind All Star Superman and Flex Mentallo), I would start wondering exactly how long you'd been scanning my brain while I slept to learns all my hopes and dreams.

But after Morrison fled Marvel back in the mid-00's, he returned to DC/ Vertigo where he went into a creative tornado, spinning out stuff I absolutely loved like Vimanamara.  But more importantly, he and Quitely created We3, likely one of my top ten or so favorite comics.  

August saw the release of a new, Deluxe Edition of We3, which I recently read.  It has more pages than the original collection or issues, fills in a bit more of the story, and it made me cry a little bit again, even if this is at least the 12th time I've read that comic.

Not only is the story terribly heartbreaking, but to me, Quitely is one of the brilliant artists working in any medium right now.  We're just lucky to get him working in comics.  I don't know who designs these pages, but... man.

For such a great package, the We3 book is very reasonably priced.

 U R a Gud Dog

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Our Own Nathan C interviews Michael Uslan! Uber-Batman Fan and Bat-Film Producer

Longtime Pal and Signal Corps Founding Member NathanC is at Texas Public Radio in San Antonio. In addition to his regular duties making radio happen, he covers cinema and programs the Summer Cinema series for TPR.

He also does a lot of interviews with film-related folk.  Now Nathan has landed an interview with Michael Uslan!

Uslan is a former comics writer, and is now a producer of Batman movies going back to the 1980's and running up to the upcoming Dark Knight Rises.  Uslan's memoir, The Boy Who Loved Batman, has just arrived, and I'd heard about it via the buzz its gotten on the comics interwebs (people were pretty happy Uslan, who is such a champion for comics and Batman, was chatting a bit).

Its a great interview!  Listen here.

Guest Post: CanadianSimon Takes on The New 52 - Week 2

Its week TWO of DC Comics' relaunch, and CanadianSimon is back with another round-up of reviews!

Simon and I picked up some of the same books, and I'll be talking about some of my goods later this week, but I thought it'd be fun to start off with Simon's $0.02.

I won't bother re-introducing our reviewer, but I would point you to his reviews as offered up last week for more official Trusted Signal Corps Opinions.*

Take it away, Simon!

I'm back again picking up another three of the thirteen books available in the DCnU.

Batwoman #1
written by J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman
pencils by J.H. Williams III

Easily the most beautiful book I've read in awhile. This shows that J.H. Williams has lost none of the magic he showed when he and Greg Rucka worked on the Elegy storyline on Detective Comics. I'm always impressed by how J.H. can shift so effortlessly between art styles using one approach for Batwoman scenes and another for her alter ego Kate Kante. Many of the action scenes have the inspired layouts and panel border designs that you would expect from a J.H. book. As well the colorist Dave Stewart continues his stellar efforts on this title.

Hmmm...looking back on what I just typed "on this title" hits upon my only nitpick of this book. It really reads like the next issue of that aforementioned Detective Comics run. The follow up to that seminal run had been oft delayed until finally they had it line up with the release of DC's New 52. For me, it's not a big deal as I've read what comes before so I wasn't lost but I wonder what it is like for new readers. That's not to say that there aren't a few wonderfully designed info dump pages that try and catch the reader up on things.

Anyway, this is a gorgeous book and a good story and I'll be back again to pick this up next month. Although at some point I might just stop getting this titles as I'll want to own art this beautiful in hard cover format and I don't have the budget to start double dipping.

Demon Knights #1
written by Paul Cornell
pencils by Oclair Albert

I will confess, I'm a sucker for Arthurian mythology. One of the first grown up books I read was Le Morte d'Arthur that my Aunt picked up for me at her job as a university librarian. I've been hooked on Arthur ever since. That said Cornell's Demon Knights is right up my alley and it doesn't disappoint.

The first issue is very much a team assembling piece. We get to see the origin of The Demon/Jason Blood shortly after the death of King Arthur and not long after that we see that Madam Xanadu/Nimue are travelling together. At this point I have to mention the amazing Vertigo series Madame Xanadu by Matt Wagner and Amy Reeder Hadley. 

They stop in a small village which, unknown to them, is about to be over-run by a horde of marauders. At the village they run into the immortal barbarian Vandal Savage and the Shining Knight. One doesn't need to know anything else about these characters but for long time readers it's a neat nod to past continuity. As well we meet 3 other characters, although we only get to see two of their faces.

This is all pointing towards the team having seven members which is not only a magic number but is the right number to draw an analogy to The Seven Soldiers teams of yore of which the Shining Knight was a part of. Again, go get the four volume Seven Soldiers trades written by Grant Morrison.

Anyway, the heroes(?) are assembling and the villains are amassing and I just want to know what happens next!

Frankenstein Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1
written by Jeff Lemire
pencils by Alberto Ponticelli

Once again Jeff Lemire shows that he knows how to write a first issue. There's enough information in here to introduce you to the main and supporting characters but not too much to get in the way of the action. Personally I love the one off reference to a vacation on Mars that Frankenstein talks about which in itself is an oblique reference to the Frankenstein Seven Soldiers stories written by Grant Morrison that I've already mentioned.

But I have a problem with this issue and it's the art. After being treated to a great cover by JG Jones we get interiors by Alberto Ponticelli. I'm not at all familiar with Mr. Ponticelli's previous comic work but I find these pencils to be rough, too rough in fact. I keep thinking that maybe a different inker could have cleaned them up a bit more but what do I know. I mostly read comics for the stories these days but bad art can take me out of my happy place and while I wouldn't want to call this bad it certainly knocked me out of the zone.

I've checked the solicits and Ponticelli is down as penciller for issues 2 and 3. That's going to make my decision very difficult if I keep up with this book as I love Lemire and I love this concept but I just don't love this art.

*If you're interested in offering up your own reviews, don't hesitate to contact us and let us know!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Small Post Wednesday

It's been a long day capped off by a lovely evening out.  We went to Austin's The Highball (a restaurant/ bar/ bowling alley/ performance space) to see a live production/ reinterpretation of an episode of the WB show Felicity.  I was more aware of Felicity as a sort of demographic-pleasing phenomenon than anything and, never actually ever saw it while it was on TV.  But, my pal CarlaBeth (who I've been pals with since small times), had directed the show for the Institution Theater, and it turns out...  it was really, really funny.

The cast was great, and I was familiar enough with the show via cultural osmosis (Jamie had subscription to Entertainment Weekly) that I knew exactly what was happening.  It was kind of odd to realize how much I knew about a show I'd never seen.

Prior to the show we met up with Hilary (whom I have known since even smaller times.  4th grade, people.) of The Flyin' A's for dinner at The Highball (one stop shopping, people.  Dinner and show.) and her lovely friend, Laura.  

Add in my trip to College Station today, and I am beat like a kickdrum.

So, as this almost a "No Post" day, here's Julie Adams menaced by our fishy friend, The Creature from The Black Lagoon.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Working Man Superman or Hipster Superman?

Young people these days... respect for history.

I've now read a few articles wherein reviewers or the reader described Superman as a "hipster" in the new Action Comics #1.  Apparently the wardrobe of jeans, t-shirt and work-shoes is being taken by younger readers than myself as intentional code for Superman having been into saving the day since before that went mainstream and got lame.

Here and here for a couple of examples.*

look at this F'ing hipster
This is, of course, the third or fourth or fifth go-round in a year where folks freaked the heck out over Superman not appearing as the regular old Superman they're used to (and which had become a party pinata of derision).

1)  Superman: Earth One - remember the "hoodie controversy"?  Wherein it was suggested that the young Clark Kent (was he even 21?) wearing a hoodie was clearly emulating Edward from Twilight and had gone "emo"?  Le sigh.
2)  The image above, revealing Superman's new look for the start of Action Comics, which nobody at the time referred to as "hipster" but as "whut?"  Truthfully, I thought the image was symbolic and was surprised when it became the actual look for issue #1.
3)  When DC revealed the new costume for upcoming issues of Superman without the red underwear and kids looking at the image fixated on the fact that the costume design had detail around the knee and proceeded to freak out that Superman supposedly had knee pads (he doesn't.  They literally saw it wrong.).
4)  The new movie costume, which is a significant departure from the comics.
5)  And now... Superman: Hipster

Its a curious bit of what I am inclined to believe are different readings by different generations looking at the same totems.  Absolutely nothing about jeans, t-shirt and durable work shoes says "hipster" to me (if Superman had an ironic mustache and Kanye sunglasses, we could have that discussion).  Instead, I see "working class joe" or "the worker", which is what I assume anyone of my generation or older would conclude, and something that, it occurs to me, younger readers may have few media-created images or references to draw upon.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

More of the New 52 - First Week - First Impressions (Swamp Thing, Static, Men of War, OMAC)

We've already covered some of the New 52 in a previous post, and discussed Action Comics #1 at length.

In this installment, we'll discuss OMAC, Men of War, Static and Swamp Thing.

OMAC - written by Dan Didio and Keith Giffen, this title resurrects the Kirby creation from Kirby's reunion with DC and DC's decision to let Kirby pretty much do whatever the hell he wanted to do.  Like a lot of Kirby's work post-1960, its almost impossible to ignore the sheer energy of that series and to want to capture some of the residual energy of that era that's still rippling through the DCU 30-odd years later.  

I was not going to pick up this comic as what little I've read by Dan Didio hasn't been my cup of tea, and I wasn't really sure I needed another swing at OMAC, after reading the painfully bad Bruce Jones OMAC series circa 2006.  And I'm not entirely sold on this series yet.  Didio and Giffen are trying very hard to summon the spirit of Kirby in pacing, dialog and design...  but in 20 pages, pretty much nothing happens and I know less about this OMAC than I knew going into the issue.  I suppose there's supposed to be a mystery here, but much like Justice League #1, it feels like the first few minutes of a movie intended to draw you in, but in this case, its not fan-favorite characters like Batman and Green Lantern, its a new, blue OMAC just tearing up Cadmus.  

What's most puzzling is that, no doubt, Didio is the primary architect behind the DC Relaunch and has the most to gain and lose based upon the success of the effort.  And yet...  I have no idea what a "new" reader would think about this issue.  Unlike the original OMAC, we don't meet the face behind the mohawk until the end of the issue, and then, its a blank slate.  I just don't know if this was a particularly compelling first issue.

9/11 post - 10th anniversary

It would be remiss not to acknowledge the events of September 11th, 2001.

But I don't know what to write about it.

Like all of you, I can tell a long story about where I was, and how it affected me personally.  I think these stories are important.  They're how we know the event happened as something other than images on a TV screen or in a headline.

I've told the story before, and I'll likely tell it again sometime, but not here or today.  Its just what happened to me and to Jamie.  It is not what happened in New York or at The Pentagon or in Pennsylvania.  And its not what happened in the days following, with candlelight vigils, American flags hanging from housefronts, and calm unity and certainty in the face of not just tragedy but of absolute and frightening change to how we thought about the world.

This is where I stop, because in reviewing the timeline, I'll start rambling on, and I strongly suspect that our visions of the world will differ, and I don't want to have that conversation.

The world didn't begin or end on 9/11/2001.  It changed.  And like a lot of changes (something we aren't very well equipped at dealing with in a single generation), the world changed enough that we had a chance to reveal ourselves, and for a short while, we were okay, and we got through it.  We remembered that emergency personnel are true heroes, that soldiers go to war for us, and that the civilization we've built will always have some on the outside who will crash against the walls.  That was for a while, and like all changes, this one showed new sides to us that we've not yet reconciled.

This isn't the place for anything else to write on the topic.  No doubt, you'll have skipped this or breezed through it, along with a thousand other 9/11 memorials and tributes that will pass by you today.

I don't know what to think about.  The victims, most certainly.  The first responders, absolutely.  The hi-jackers?  Why they were there and a half-century of policy most of us think about once or twice a year?  A strange man in a cave that we've finally killed a decade later?  The line from there to now and the thousand things I never guessed I'd see?

The fact that in 100 years this date may well be forgotten?  Or that this date in 2111 may well be remembered just enough to be used by mattress stores to discount their wares?

I don't know.  I know we'll see a hell of a lot of replays of footage I watched over and over 10 years ago, and I'll be able to remember sitting in a hotel room on the bed, uncertain of what was live and what was replay and watching the still aircraft on the tarmac for days, wanting to see them move and not wanting to see a solitary plane in the sky.