Friday, July 29, 2011

Comics Roundup for 7/27/11

Wound up getting a lot more than I intended this week. All of it was good stuff though.

Batman: The Dark Knight #4- The penultimate issue before the relaunch features Jason Fabok filling in for David Finch on the penciling duties. Overall, I'd say he does a pretty good job, and his style is close enough for it to all feel pretty seamless. I'd gladly see him fill in again, or even get work on another book. Anyway, this was another pretty good installment, and the subplot with the Demon is starting to tie into the main story. Hopefully Finch can tie it all together in the next one.

Secret Avengers #14 & 15 - I somehow missed last month's issue, but luckily the comic shop still had a copy of it when I bought the new one. Anyway, these are both basically fill-in issues from a fill-in writer that act as crossovers with the whole Fear Itself event. Number 14 focused on Valkyrie and her experiences with the cost of war (going back to medieval Scandinavia). The following issue focused on The Black Widow dealing with living in a world where people often die and then come back to life. For fill-ins, these were both pretty good, and they managed to get a decent artist for them. I don't know if I'd keep getting this series if it continued this way, but I know that I'm definitely going to get the short Warren Ellis run that follows these issues.

Criminal: The Last of the Innocent #2 - How can I describe this series? Other volumes were pretty much straight-up crime/noir. This one still fits in that category, but there's so much going on beyond that to the point where that description doesn't really do it justice. Brubaker is dealing with a lot of familiar themes here but mixing them up in ways that I sure as heck haven't seen before.

Captain America & Bucky #620 - Instead of getting some fallout from Bucky's death, we get a "Bucky: Year One" treatment here. Luckily, it's a darned good story, and it's cool seeing this character fleshed out. Also, I'm going to say it here - I'm starting to wonder if this "death" of Bucky isn't going to be permanent. In other words, I have a feeling that he just might be coming back sooner rather than later. Hard to imagine considering the way he went out, but all sorts of crazy things can happen when it comes to comics.

Detective Comics #880 - Damn, but I'm glad that I gave Scott Snyder a try. These have been some of my favorite Batman comics, and considering how good they've been lately, that's really saying something. We get the Joker and we get more with Commissioner Gordon's psychotic son. Not only that, but there was a moment where I literally gasped when I turned the page to reveal something horrific that I didn't see coming. That sure as heck doesn't happen very often.

Olympians - Hera: The Goddess and Her Glory - This is the third of George O'Connor's tributes to the Greek Gods, and it just might be his best one yet. That's really saying something, especially considering that I never found Hera all that interesting. The one thing that he manages to do is to make sense of the fact that Heracles means "Hera's Glory". For those who know the original story of "Hercules", you know that she spent a lot of time making his life miserable. However, it was all those awful things she did to him that got him to strive for greatness. Basically, it was the best explanation for the whole "God works in mysterious ways" that I've ever heard, except this time they're actually talking about a real god(dess). Here's an excellent and more thorough review of this book.

Batman: Streets of Gotham - The House of Hush - Even though I loved this series, I stopped reading it and waited for this very trade paperback. Why? Because they were charging $4 a pop, and for some of those issues, the main storyline didn't even comprise the majority of the issue. Even though this reprints a couple of issues that I already have, after doing the math I figured that I was still saving money by getting it this way - and this is a hardcover edition. Anyway, Hush went from being a decent villain to a great villain under Paul Dini. Apparently this concludes his take on the character.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Superhero Movie Roundup for Summer 2011

I like superheroes. I like movies. Here's what I thought of the big four superhero movies that came out this year. I'll write about them in order from my least favorite to my favorite.

Green Lantern - What a disappointment. While I didn't think that it was absolute dreck like some people and reviewers did, it ultimately didn't work. I was really looking forward to this one, and judging by how many hits I got on my old post where I speculated what they should do for this movie, a lot of other superhero fans were probably excited about this one as well.

Basically, it went wrong for two big reasons and a lot of little reasons. The first big reason was that the effects, to put it bluntly, sucked. Every time an effect came on the screen, I was aware that I was looking at CGI. The scenes on the Green Lantern homeworld of Oa were the most egregious. I felt like I was looking at a video game the whole time. Also, shouldn't the homeworld of the Green LANTERNS be a brightly lit place (as it's often depicted in the comics) than something that looks completely devoid of life? I wonder if it was a budgetary issue. If that's the case, they should have scaled back and had one of the other Green Lanterns (like Sinestro) come to Earth to give Hal Jordan his training. That would have cost less, set up an important character for a sequel, and given the audience something to look forward to seeing in another film (as sequels can sometimes have larger budgets).

The other problem was that it was too slavish to the source material. When adapting a comic, just like with a novel, the important thing is to figure out the heart of the story and then try and build on as many things from the source that would work in a movie. They tried to fit far too much into this one, and ultimately it wound up feeling rushed. They should have aimed smaller.

As for the little problems, there were plot holes that were too big to ignore. Also, while I was originally pleased with the casting of Ryan Reynolds, I'm just not sure that he has the charisma to carry a movie like this.

X-Men: First Class - I didn't love this one, but I didn't have any major complaints about it either. It worked well as both a prequel to the original series of films and as a film in its own right. While I was skeptical of setting it during the Cold War, the makers of the film really used that to their advantage and made it feel like I was seeing something different from what I had seen in other superhero movies. There was also some pretty snappy dialogue here and there, which always helps a film like this. It also got the lousy taste out of my mouth from X-Men Origins: Wolverine. (How do you mess up a movie about Wolverine, dammit?)

Thor - This one was a lot of fun. While it wasn't the kind of film that I'd recommend to a person who normally wouldn't watch this sort of a thing, I found myself to be entertained from beginning to end. I thought they did a great job with casting the lead character, and there were a lot of fun moments for people who are both comics and Norse Mythology geeks. (But be warned, it's definitely more concerned with the comics mythology than the original Norse myths.) I imagine that this will be one of those movies that I'll watch often during those times I just want to relax and be entertained.

Captain America: The First Avenger - I absolutely loved this one, and I hope to catch it in the theaters at least one more time. For me, it worked in every way that Green Lantern didn't. The folks who made this movie really figured out what works about the character and only made changes when it made sense to do so for the sake of the film.

For starters, and ironically enough when considering my original thoughts about Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern, I had doubts that Chris Evans would be the right guy to pull this off. I suppose he was okay in the Fantastic Four movies. At least, he wasn't the reason why they sucked. (They sucked for many reasons, the main one being that they ruined one of the greatest villains of all time - Dr. Doom.) When I started to see the previews, I began to think differently though.

The reason why Evans worked so well is that he was able to convincingly pull off the lines that only a guy like Steve Rogers would say. He's idealistic and without an ounce of cynicism, and not just anybody can do lines like that. (Christopher Reeve sure did a hell of a job in the original Superman movies.) When he said that his main reason for wanting to fight in World War II was because he didn't like "bullies", it was completely believable.

Also, in contrast to Green Lantern yet again, the effects were great. I never thought for a moment that I was looking at a special effect when they made Chris Evans look short and scrawny - and CGI was how they pulled it off. Basically, CGI was used only when practical effects weren't able to get the job done, just as it should be.

Were there a lot of changes to the original comics? Yes. The biggest involves his sidekick, Bucky. But the change made for a better film, and the audience could care more about their relationship than if they tried to remain true to the source. Also, the whole bit about how he starts off simply being a propaganda tool for selling war bonds was never in the comics. It works though, and when they retell Cap's origin yet again, I think that they should include that part into the comics mythology.

Is the movie on a par with the Christopher Nolan Batman films, or even the first Iron Man? Not quite. Should people who normally don't care for superhero films check this one out? I'm not so sure. The ones who appreciate idealism and can turn off their cynicism for a couple of hours certainly should give it a try.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Comics Roundup for 7/20/11

The Rocketeer Adventures #3 - Whenever you have an anthology series like this, they tend to start off with the top creators, and then it tends to go downhill from there. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case with this one as well. Ryan Sook's lead-in is pretty good, but everything else is a disappointment. Even the Bruce Timm contribution disappoints because all he does is provide illustrations to a text piece. (And I really couldn't get into the text piece.) As for Tommy Lee Edwards, his style might be more suited to something else, but anybody who draws this character needs to be able to draw an attractive Betty - and he doesn't. Let's all be honest, half of the appeal to Dave Stevens' original creation was the cheesecake, and anybody attempting to fill those shoes needs to be able to handle that.

Daredevil #1 - Unlike a lot of comics fans, I missed out on Brian Michael Bendis's lengthy run on this character, but I did pick up the entire run that Ed Brubaker did. Those are some of my favorite comics, and I also thoroughly enjoyed some of the early issues by Andy Diggle. However, I kind of lost interest during the whole Shadowland story, as it was all getting just too far away from what I liked about the character in the first place. Now, when I heard about the creative team for this one - Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera (who alternates with the even-better Marcos Martin) I knew I had to check it out. This first issue definitely doesn't disappoint. Waid is taking the character a bit further away from how dark the stories were getting, but he doesn't turn DD into Spider-Man either. It's a good mix of everything that Daredevil fan wants.

Avengers #15 - This told what felt like more of a complete story than the last couple of issues have been doing, but I'm still looking forward to the end of these crossover stories. Chris Bachalo does a nice job on the art chores though.

War of the Green Lanterns Aftermath #1 (of 2) - I almost skipped this one, but I'm glad that I didn't. I was worried that it would just be some shelf-filler, but Tony Bedard does a nice job of handling some of the fallout after the last issue of Green Lantern that probably won't get dealt with once the series reboots.

Hellboy: The Fury #2 (of 3) - We're back on track with the main storyline that deals with Hellboy's destiny, and that's a good thing. This issue is another solid installment of a character whose adventures are more compelling than ever.

Walt Disney Treasury: Donald Duck, Volume 2 - I haven't read this one yet, as I'm a bit behind on my trade paperback reading (still need to read the latest Incognito). However, if I like this one as much as I enjoyed the first volume of Duck stories by Don Rosa, then I'm sure I'll be quite happy with my purchase. The one thing that astounds me is that this stuff all came out originally in the early 1990s! Why the hell wasn't I buying it then? I know that I certainly wasn't adverse to buying this kind of thing then, but I guess I was too caught up with superhero stuff - just as I am today. Oh well, it's nice having them in these collected volumes. Also, maybe they were harder to find here? I know that they found most of their audience in Europe.

Friday, July 15, 2011

History is gay

I have mixed feelings about California Governor Jerry Brown signing the bill that would make lessons about gays and lesbians a part of the social studies curriculum in public schools. The reason why I'm worried about it is because if kids learn that there were gay people in the past, then they might conclude that there will be gay people in the present and possibly even the future. Plus, if they think that the past is full of gay people, they're going to say to themselves, "Ya know what? I think I'll be gay too!" Then everybody is going to be gay, and I'm going to have to watch Glee. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I think that Glee is a bad show. I've even watched and enjoyed it a few times with my wife. However, I really resent the idea that the government is going to come into my house and REQUIRE that I watch it lest I have to sit down before a Death Panel.

Okay, in all seriousness, the only concern that I have about this comes from the point of view of a teacher - just exactly how are the teachers going to have to alter their lessons for this new law? History teachers have a lot of ground to cover as it is, and in my opinion, they're not given enough freedom to create their curriculum as it is. Is it just going to be a matter of the textbooks dropping in references here and there? Will the bio on Alexander the Great read: "Alexander the Great was a king of Macedon , a state in the north eastern region of Greece, and by the age of thirty was the creator of one of the largest empires in ancient history, and he was totally gay." I don't have a problem with that. Will it involve including Harvey Milk when it comes to learning about Civil Rights struggles? I'm all for that, as he's an important person whether you think that gays have the same rights as everybody else or you think that DA JEEBUS hates them.

I just hope that the teachers can just mainstream it into the lessons that they already do. I'd rather that they not have to do some kind of special "Gay Week" or something that makes it stand out and twists the collective panties of every parent who thinks that if they don't ever mention gay people around their kids, their kids will never be gay. Gays are a part of history, and it's time we stopped being afraid to acknowledge that. Besides, that will just make it easier for them to pull their kids out of school so they can miss those important lessons.

Of course, the ridiculous thing about all of this is how damned upset the "Won't somebody think of the children?" crowd are getting about this. Apparently, it's "sexual brainwashing". That's a fair point, because I'm sure that if I was told in first grade that T.E. Lawrence preferred dudes to chicks, I'd be like, "Hey, I want to be with a dude too! That guy's totally cool, and they even made a movie out of his life story! I can't wait to marry a man and make passionate love to him!"

And let's be honest about this - if you're adamantly against this, you can hem and haw all you want, but you are, in fact, homophobic. After all, what's so scary about information? What do you think the teachers are going to do? Make the kids draw diagrams of Alexander the Great and Hephaestion doin' it? I mean, we've been learning about straight people and straight couples for a long time, and I don't ever recall the teachers saying, "And don't forget, kids, not only did Teddy Roosevelt fight in the Battle of San Juan Hill, but he preferred to put his penis into a vagina."

The real bottom line is this - no matter what the public schools teach, if you're a parent and you're not the primary influence when it comes to morals on your children, then YOU'VE got a serious problem. Don't worry, your kids can learn all about famous gay people in the past and STILL believe that they're all burning in hell if you just teach 'em right.

Comics Roundup for 7/13/11

Captain America #1 - This issue is definitely a great jumping-on point for new readers, especially those who might have heard about what a cool character Cap is under writer Ed Brubaker. Long-time readers might be a little disappointed though. Why? Because Bucky isn't even mentioned in it. Personally, I don't mind so long as we'll eventually get around to Steve Rogers dealing with the loss of his sidekick. Perhaps that will happen in the other series, now re-titled Captain America and Bucky. Anyway, this is still a solid read, and having Steve McNiven on board, who drew some of the coolest Cap action sequences back in Civil War, is definitely a plus. It has everything that makes a Captain America book great - action, intrigue, connections to the past, and the return of an old villain.

Batman: The Dark Knight #3 - Seems silly that they're going to have one more issue of this series and then reboot it, but I guess the folks at DC thought it would be even more silly to reboot the entire line except for one title. Anyway, this series has been so delayed that I forgot a lot of what happened beforehand. Still, it's a plus when I find myself enjoying it anyway, and I still think that David Finch's strengths are still well-suited to drawing Batman. I also think he does a pretty awesome Demon, and I wouldn't mind seeing him do a series with that character.

Green Lantern #67 - While "War of the Green Lanterns" was merely a decent storyline, it definitely ends on a strong note here, and it also sets things up for the reboot of the series. I had read that Sinestro was going to be a Green Lantern again, and this issue explains how - and it has the appropriate amount of incredulity amongst the characters. Also, the Guardians make a decision that reveals exactly why they're so concerned about Hal Jordan - they are quite literally afraid of him.

The New Avengers #14 - This Fear Itself crossover is handled much better than the ones in the main Avengers title, as it moves forward with the book's main storyline along with tying it into the overall crossover story. There's definitely a lot of interesting stuff going on with this one, as Spider-Man quits, but then Wolverine and Luke Cage have a talk with him - but we don't get to hear any part of it. What does that mean? He quits because he doesn't trust the team's liaison to the government, but maybe he's not alone in that mistrust? We'll see.

Wolverine #12 - More revelations as to exactly who's behind putting Wolverine through the ringer in this issue. Apparently, he's pissed off a lot of people in his lifetime. I'm looking forward to the inevitable showdown.

The Amazing Spider-Man #665 - This is a pretty good stand-alone story. I think that what I'm liking the most about Dan Slott's writing is that I really feel like I get a lot with each issue. Considering that so many writers are writing for the trade paperbacks nowadays, it's nice to get such a satisfying read in every issue with this series.

Batman: Detective Comics #879 - Seriously, if you want to read a Batman comic and you only want to read one, read this one - and that's saying a lot considering that Batman himself doesn't even appear in this issue. Of course, once the reboot happens, you want to follow writer Scott Snyder over to Batman, but it's his work on this title that's made me a fan. All sorts of creepy stuff going on in this issue, and there's some great emotional investment on the part of the characters.

Incognito: Bad Influences - This is the second volume of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips's superhero/crime/noir title. I really liked the first, and I think that I want to reread it before sitting down to read this one. I expect to like it, as this creative team rarely lets me down.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Christian nation and freedom from religion

Just recently I got into a Facebook debate that started with an article about how the United States is not a Christian nation. This is the sort of statement that gets a lot of people all stirred up, and I'm starting to realize that before anybody debates this, they need to define some terms.

When somebody says that it's a Christian nation, you need to ask them exactly what they mean by that. If the answer is that the population is predominantly Christian, and has always been so, then that's pretty hard to argue. If the answer is that many of our values are founded upon the Christian religion, then that's something that bears more of a discussion than an argument. For instance, which values that we have are specifically Christian? You can't say that our laws against murder and theft are specifically Christian, for instance, because I'm not aware of any society that allows for that sort of a thing. Honestly, I can't think of anything about our society that IS specifically Christian and/or has its roots in The Bible, but I'm willing to concede that there are some, and I hope some people could point them out to me.

Now, if somebody tries to tell you that this is a Christian nation in the same sense that Saudi Arabia is a Muslim nation, then they're wrong. I could go into several reasons for why this is wrong, but the easiest one is that all you have to do is look through our founding document, The Constitution. Jesus doesn't even get a mention, and it specifically states that there is "no religious test" for anybody who wants to serve this country.

Another thing that I've heard where I'm not entirely sure what's meant by it is the accusation that some people don't just want freedom OF religion, but freedom FROM religion. As an atheist, when I hear that, my first reaction is to think that they're saying that there's something wrong with a person who wants to be free of religion. I mean, are they claiming that everybody HAS to have some sort of religion in their life? I would certainly hope not.

Perhaps what they fear is that there are those who want to ban religion outright. Now, I don't actually know of anybody like that, but I suppose that there must be some. Personally, I would like to see a day when religion goes away, but I don't believe in forcing people to abandon it, and if the government started to shut down churches, I'd be amongst the first to protest it. After all, history shows us that when governments ban religion, they tend to create a new, far worse religion in its place (I'm thinking Stalin's Soviet Union, for starters). So, should the individual have the right to freedom from religion? Absolutely, and I think that even some of the most religious people in this country would agree with that. Should we work to abolish religion entirely? Absolutely not, and you'll find some of the most outspoken atheists against that idea (you know, like me).

I guess some people feel that there's an effort to abolish religion when people speak out against intrusions of religion in public life. For instance, there was the hoopla over a public prayer at the graduation ceremony of Medina Valley High School in Texas. A lot of the Christians were acting like their rights were somehow being infringed upon because they were told that the graduation at a public high school was not appropriate to have a public prayer. (It should be noted, though, that there are some religious leaders who also thought it was wrong for the prayer to be made.)

Honestly, I don't think that it's a HUGE deal that this prayer happened anyway, but it also shouldn't have been a HUGE deal for these people to not have one. Just because somebody tells you that you can't have a public prayer, that's not exactly the same as them saying that you have to take your crucifix off the wall. I think that the problem is that when people are in the majority, and when they have the kind of certainty that only religion can provide, they can't possibly comprehend how what they're doing might be offensive - and they ultimately don't care if the minority feels like their rights are being ignored.

Maybe what needs to happen is more discussion and asking people exactly what they mean instead of just simple talking-point arguments. You might be surprised as to how much common ground there is.

Comics Roundup for 7/7/11

Just a few this week:

Fear Itself #4 (of 7) - Not as much happened in this issue, but at least now I have a better sense for what this whole story is all about. The whole point of what the bad guys are doing is to simply create as much chaos and havoc as possible, as the main villain feeds off of fear. That's not too original, but the story is compelling enough. I would have liked to have seen Steve Rogers deal with the death of Bucky a little bit more, but hopefully that will be dealt with in his own series.

Flashpoint #3 (of 5) - This comic gives me hope that if I get struck by lightning while standing in front of a bunch of chemicals enough times, EVENTUALLY I will gain super speed. Aside from that, this was another interesting installment, and we can see how Geoff Johns is setting things up for the new status quo once this series is over - namely having Cyborg as a major character and having the Wildstorm characters being a part of the mainstream DC continuity. Kind of weird seeing Grifter in a DC crossover, but I'm sure that's how people felt when Captain Marvel and the Charlton characters had the same thing happen to them.

Flashpoint: Batman - Knight of Vengeance #2 (of 3) - I'm basically holding off on all of these alternate reality titles, since they probably won't make much of a difference in the long run. However, I got this one for the creative team, and it has a pretty interesting twist. An entertaining read, most definitely.

Batman and Robin #25 - This was much better than the last issue, and I'm glad that I picked it up. It had some good banter between Jason Todd, Dick Grayson, and Damien Wayne. I'm just wondering what the deal will be with Jason Todd after Flashpoint concludes.