Sunday, September 30, 2012

Comics Roundup for 9/26/12

The Amazing Spider-Man #694 - The internets is all a buzzin' about how horrible this "Alpha" story is.  Once again, I find myself liking a Spider-Man story that's hated by fans all over.  Don't get me wrong.  I don't love it, but it has been a perfectly serviceable story, and it has the potential to be revisited and get more interesting.  It seems to me that a lot of the complaints are based on the fact that Alpha is such an unlikeable character.  Umm...isn't that kinda the point?  He's the opposite of Peter Parker.  He's not good at heart, and he didn't have a "great responsibility" moment.  Anyway, I'm more excited that the real Hobgoblin is back next issue though.

Winter Soldier #11 - Honestly, I don't remember Hawkeye being in the last issue.  Guess I'll have to read some of the back issues.  Even with that in mind, I still was entertained by all of this spy stuff.  Too bad that it's all ending soon.  Well, at least Edward Brubaker's writing of the title, anyway.

Wolverine and the X-Men #17 - I've mentioned before how this book defies expectations.  If you're looking for something darker, well, you just ain't gonna find it.  Who knew that Wolverine could lend himself to stories that are just plain fun?  And while I don't know much about this Doop character, but I was pretty amused by his inclusion in this issue.  Oh, and getting Mike Allred to draw this issue was a definite plus.

Aquaman #0 - I sure hope that whomever they get to write this title after Geoff Johns leaves will be able to pick up the ball and continue with a lot of these big ideas that continue to be introduced.  With this issue, we get some of Arthur's past, and I think that it could be explored even more.

Batman Incorporated #0 - Let's ignore the fact that this title doesn't make much sense in the current continuity.  Aside from that, it's a pretty fun and wacky title, although I feel like Grant Morrison has covered some of this ground already.

Hit Girl #3 - Some more fun Mark Millar stuff.  I like his books, but I hate writing about them because I just don't have much to say.

CalShakes - Hamlet - Too Much in the Sun

My first year teaching seniors, I had a class that was filled with a few particularly negative nellies.  Upon finishing Hamlet, I had to hear how it was "pointless".  I was also informed by one particularly bright individual that even he could "write a story where everybody dies in the end".  Now, I didn't think that there was something wrong with the writing of William Shakespeare.  I'm the kind of person who blames himself for everything, so my assumption was that I must have somehow did something wrong.

Imagine my surprise at the end of the year when I asked the class to write down what their favorite things we did all year.  More than half the class picked Hamlet and if you counted Macbeth, the works of William Shakespeare counted for about 2/3 of what my students liked best.  I'm on my 9th year teaching seniors, and this is a pretty standard result.  Even last year, when I had a lot of kids not like much of anything, the enthusiasm for Hamlet was noticeable.  Basically the lesson I learned is to never listen to the one or two kids who think that their opinions represent the class as a whole.

Anyway, over the years I have found myself liking the play more and more, and while it doesn't strike me in quite such a personal way as Cyrano de Bergerac does, it definitely is something that provokes an emotional reaction out of me.  I've written my thoughts on various movie versions, but I have never had a chance to see the play live.  That's why I was especially excited about the last play for the CalShakes season when my wife bought us the tickets.

I'll start off with my biggest complaint.  It was frikken' hot, and I felt like I should have brought a change of shirt with me.  Where we were sitting, the sun was blaring right down on us for about 2/3 of the play.  My body tends to have only two settings when it comes to sweat, and those are "not at all" and "full blast".  So, I was slightly distracted by the heat which threatened to dry up my brains.

My second complaint is that the stage decoration made no sense.  It was a swimming pool that looked like the water had been drained from it months ago.  This really distracted Kirsti.  I got over it pretty quickly.  I know the play pretty well by now, but I don't even have a good guess as to why they may have gone for this.    It just strikes me as being random.  I completely understand why everything is dingy.  That makes sense, as while Denmark is "rotten", everybody (but Hamlet) pretends like everything is just fine and dandy.  But a swimming pool?  If anybody out there can figure it out, I'd be interested in hearing it.

Aside from that, the play was pretty good.  LeRoy McClain did a good job as the title character, which is pretty important.  One thing that I've always found important with the character is that you need an actor who can show a range of emotions.  It's not just important that you have a guy who can brood, but you need somebody who can elicit some genuine laughter during the scenes with Polonius.  McClain did a pretty good job of that.  I probably didn't like him as much as I liked the David Tennant in the BBC version, but he held my attention just fine.  Oh, I do think that he goofed up a line though, as he said "Farewell dear father" to Claudius when it's supposed to be "dear mother".  The joke afterward doesn't make much sense if you don't get that bit right.

The rest of the cast was pretty good as well.  Two standouts are Zainab Jah as Ophelia and Dan Hiatt as both Polonius and the Gravedigger.  With Polonius, he didn't go the doddering, senile old man route.  Instead he went with the full-of-his-own importance interpretation.  One part that I found amusing was when he was giving his long preamble about Hamlet's madness.  He was searching for a phrase (I believe it was "outward flourishes").  He had his hand out to the audience like was looking for help in finding the right word.  I didn't shout it out, but I bet that my lips probably moved as I certainly wanted to feed him the line.

As for the overall direction, I thought that they made some good choices.  A lot was cut out, including the whole Fortinbras subplot, but that's to be expected unless you want to sit there for another hour.  Aside from that, I like that they had Hamlet do the "To be or not to be" speech not as a soliloquy but as him talking to Ophelia.  That's a nice touch, and it makes her fate make more sense.  Also, usually Hamlet is speaking to Laertes when he says "What is the reason that you use me thus?  I loved you ever."  I think it's pretty clear that's what Shakespeare intended, because the line starts with "Hear you, sir".  However, in this version, Hamlet jumps into the grave with Ophelia and says it to her, sans the "sir" part.  I liked that, and it adds to the idea that one of Hamlet's problems might be that he's a bit self-absorbed.

Other than that, I only caught some minor changes, like changing words for clarity.  For instance "bodkin" became "dagger" and "fardel" became "burden" in the "To be or not to be" speech.

Overall, I had a good time, and it really went by rather quickly.  I hope to see another production or two of this play before I shuffle off this mortal coil, as it's always great when something so familiar can continue to surprise you.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Comics Roundup for 9/19/12

Justice League #0 - No Justice League in this one, as the Captain Marvel backup feature takes center-stage and fills the entire issue.  If I really hated Captain Marvel, I might be upset.  I'm not really a fan, but I've really been enjoying the backups, so I had no problem.  I liked this one, and unlike Superman, who's been rebooted to death, I think that this retinkered origin works pretty well for the World's Mightiest Mortal.

Batwoman #0 - The art looks nice, like always, but I couldn't even finish reading this one.  Exposition... weighing... me... down... Ugh.  Seriously, is there anything worse than a comic where the entire thing is told in the style of a plot summary?

Daredevil #18 - Oh yeah, Daredevil had a wife.  Nice to see that she's not entirely forgotten.  Plus, the mystery of who's trying to make Matt Murdock out to be a nutcase deepens.  Fun stuff, like usual.  The art's pretty good as well.

Wonder Woman #0 - Great stuff, like usual.  Brian Azarello takes a bit of an old-school approach with the narration, but this feels much more modern than a Silver Age story.  Revamping Diana's story was probably one of the best things to come out of this entire "New 52" and I hope that this origin sticks for a while.

Spider-Men #5 (of 5) - I've actually read the first trade of the new Ultimate Comics:  Spider-Man since reading the last issue, so I'm a little bit more invested in the Miles Morales character.  I've decided that I really like him, and I think that this series was a great way to establish that he's a legitimate addition to the mythology.  I also like the fact that the door is completely sealed, and there are ways that this series will continue to impact the lives of both Spider-Men.

The Avengers #30 - Walt Simonson's definitely bringing his A-game to this series with this issue.  I don't know how the heck it's an AvX crossover, but it was still enjoyable.  Basically we get Hawkeye and Spider-Woman teaming up and bickering about their relationship.  It could have been lame, but I was entertained.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

(Judge) Dredd

The original plan for the day was to go see Hamlet at CalShakes.  That plan fell through though when my wife realized that the tickets are actually for next weekend.  So, instead of that story about the Denmark's rottenness, the wifey and I saw a movie about the rottenness of Mega City One.  That's right, we went and saw Dredd.  (And no, not in 3D.)  It's somewhat fitting, because the character of Dredd is a lot like Hamlet in the sense that he's about as opposite of Hamlet as a character can possibly be.  While the prince is indecisive, the judge is always certain of exactly what he's doing.

I'm not the world's biggest Judge Dredd fan, but I've read a fair amount of comics.  I read the DC Comics series that came out some time ago.  I also read a lot of reprints of stories from 2000 A.D. when they were reprinted by Eagle Comics.  So, while not the biggest fan, I've got some drokkin' credentials.

I remember being enthusiastic about the Stallone film when it came out.  I remember liking it okay, but I also remember being disappointed that they didn't quite seem to get the spirit of the comic in the movie.  But hey, that was the same year that Batman Forever came out, so standards were pretty low.  There certainly were some things in there from the comics.  There was Mega City One.  There was the Cursed Earth.  There were traces of the nuttiness and over-the-top characters from the comics.  (The Mean Machine was in it, after all!)  I think that I saw it again on TV some time later, and it seemed worse than I had remembered it.

So, I was excited for the new film, especially when I heard that they got one important detail correct - DREDD NEVER TAKES OFF HIS HELMET.  That sounds like a small thing to non-fans, I'm sure, but it's just one of those things that helps to define the character.  One of the negative reviews that I read of the film complained about the "lack of character development".  Well, yeah, if you give Dredd too much character development, then you've somehow screwed him up as far as I'm concerned.  Keeping that mask on helps to symbolize his rigid, unyielding devotion to the law.

So, what about the new movie?  Did they get it right?  Well, for the most part, yes.  Dredd was most definitely Dredd.  He doesn't crack jokes, and when he says something funny, he's not trying to be funny.  He's unstoppable.  He's uncorruptable.  He's THE LAW.  Also, it was nice to see Judge Anderson, the psychic judge, play the role of the rookie.  She was there so the audience could have somebody with whom to identify.

Now, it's been a while, but I remember the comics as sometimes focusing heavily on satire and sometimes being downright kooky.  There was absolutely no trace of that whatsoever.  Basically, this film took all the dark elements of the comic and focused solely on that.  I must admit that I was a bit disappointed that they didn't even toss in a "Drokk!" or a "Stomm!" or even a "Grudd!" anywhere in there, instead just sticking with curse words that people actually use in the real world.  But still, it felt like Mega City One, just a no-holds barred, R-rated version of it that the comics only hinted at.

As for the story, it almost felt more like an episode of a TV series, and not even the pilot episode.  I thought that was an interesting approach.  It gave just enough information for the audience to follow along, and then it jumped into really minimalist story focusing on Dredd and Anderson fighting their way through a ridiculously high building in order to get to the drug dealer at the top.

So, this is hardly high-art, and it doesn't transcend the genre like Christopher Nolan's Batman films.  It's probably not even as good a film as a Judge Dredd film can possibly be.  However, it's entertaining as hell - provided that you can handle some pretty gruesome violence.  (My wife said that she felt like throwing up quite a few times.)  It also gives the audience a completely uncompromising vision.  The makers of this film knew exactly what they wanted to make, and they got it.  There's no forced love story.  There's no moment where you discover that deep down inside, Dredd's just a big softie.  There's no sense that Mega City is going to be a better place and the future's only going to get better.  All you know is that Dredd took down another perp, and he's probably going to have to do the same thing again tomorrow.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Continuity Shmontinuity

I've written my thoughts about DC's relaunch about a month ago, and one thing that I didn't really address was the new continuity.  This has been the discussion on some of the comics related websites lately, with the major bit of news being that Tim Drake was never the third Robin.  In fact, he was never Robin, and the only superhero identity that he's ever had is his current one of Red Robin.

This is somewhat disappointing to me.  Why?  It's probably because I was there for the beginning of Tim Drake's turn as Robin.  I bought the comics, including his solo series, which started back when I was still in high school.  Some of my favorite comics in my collection, which have survived multiple purges of the collection, are those comics.  In other words, I've been with this character since the beginning, and now I'm being told that all this stuff has never happened.

What really confuses me though isn't so much this but how all of this stuff ties together with the greater DC Universe.  Okay, I get it that they're now saying that Superman has only been doing his thing for about five years now.  Apparently Batman has been doing his thing a bit longer, but he's only been public for about the same amount of time.  So, it makes things a bit hard to squeeze in four Robins in that short amount of time.  I'm not even sure what the Batgirl situation is.  Apparently it was Barbara Gordon at first, just like before, but as for what happened when she was in the wheelchair hasn't been fully revealed.  Was Stephanie Brown ever Batgirl?  What about that silent Batgirl whose name I can't remember and never gave a crap about in the first place?  And was Barbara ever Oracle?  That one may have been answered, but I'm not sure.

If they have to get rid of stuff, then that's fine, but then how the heck does the Green Lantern stuff still work? How can you have four different ones in such a short period of time?  Was Hal Jordan ever possessed by Parallax?  Did the green/yellow war ever happen?  Blackest Night seems to be part of continuity, so it follows that all the rest of that stuff still counts too, right?  (Although any and all parts with the Golden Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott, must be altered at least somewhat.)

Okay, so when you think about it too much, it all really doesn't make that much sense.  Want to know a little trick though?


Stop thinking about it?  Why?


Here's the thing, you currently have 52 monthly books from DC Comics that comprise a single universe.  With this, you don't have just one guy coming up with all of these stories.  You don't even have a single editor.  Sure, DC has Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, and Dan Didio (not sure who does what now) overseeing the whole operation, but the point is that there are far too many books out there to be guided by one single creative vision.  Even if all of those editors focused solely on making sure the continuity made sense, you'd still have problems, and you'd have creators who are shackled by an arbitrary timeline.

I just can't bring myself to care about these kinds of details anymore.  Some of these characters have been around for over 70 years now, and even if you do a complete and total reboot, you're not going to get that many titles to all fit together.  If you want some continuity that makes sense, you have to buy the out-of-continuity books like the Superman and Batman Earth One books or the All Star line of comics.  As for Marvel, you have to get the MAX books or maybe even the Ultimate line of comics (but I imagine even those start to fall apart after some time).

Now I'm not saying that I want the major publishers to abandon continuity all together.  I don't want to find out that Hal Jordon was the first Green Lantern of Earth one month and then the next month it was Kyle Rayner.  But what I don't want is an exact timeline of how the rich, complex history of the Earth's Green Lantern Corps suddenly fits into a meager five year timeline.  Crap, stop using the term "five years" entirely.  How long ago was it?  Not long ago.  That's good enough.  The more precise they try to be with this stuff, the less sense it's going to make.

Personally, I think that one of the best bits of fixing continuity occurred within the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man several years ago.  There was an awful story that revealed that Norman Osborn knocked up Gwen Stacy back when she was dating Peter Parker.  That's horrible.  But guess what?  Instead of telling a story that revisits that mistake and tries to "undo" it, the writers have just been ignoring it.  It's been several years now.  If anybody liked it, they can read those comics and pretend like they happened.  As far as I'm concerned, it was all one giant typo.

So, all those problems I mentioned up at the top?  This was the first time I ever actually thought about them.  As far as I'm concerned, Tim Drake was Robin, and I have the comics to prove it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Comics Roundup for 9/12/12

Got a lot, gonna keep these short:

Avengers Versus X-Men #11 (of 12) - A good issue, and it's pretty much just The Marvel Universe Versus a Cyclops-Phoenix right now.  Thanks a lot, online media, for ruining who dies in this one (on the morning it came out).  But does anybody ever really stay dead?  I believe Marvel when they say that there are no plans to bring Xavier back anytime soon, but it would be silly to think that he'll never be back.

Wolverine and the X-Men #16 - No Wolvie or X-Men in this one, but we learn more about the new Hellfire Club, and it's pretty entertaining.  I sure hope that this series continues post-AvX.

Captain America #17 - Nothing too great here, but a solid installment of a decent story.  Glad to see that Baron Zemo is in this.

Batgirl #0 - This was disappointing only in the sense that I was hoping that it would go more into how Barbara became Batgirl again after being in the wheelchair.  Aside from that, I like her new origin, which is basically what this was.

The New Avengers #30 - Luke Cage is quitting the Avengers?  At least some things surprised me.  I wonder if he'll be out once Bendis leaves the titles.  It would make sense, considering he almost defines the Bendis era of the team.

Batman #0 - We get a pretty entertaining of a pre-Batman Bruce Wayne and his war on crime with this one, and it sets things up for future stories.  I'm intrigued.

Batman and Robin #0 - This one focuses on Damien Wayne, which isn't a surprise. Good stuff, like usual.

Avenging Spider-Man #12 - It's a pretty fun team-up with Deadpool in the series that is better than it has any right to be.  I was definitely entertained, but I'm still hoping for the original writer to come back to the title.

Avengers Assemble #7 - This was kind of a blah issue.  I'm starting to notice a pattern with Bendis's stories.  In one story arc, there will be issues that I really dig and then a chapter or two that leaves me cold.  I guess it all reads better when you sit down and read them all back to back.

Rocketeer:  Cargo of Doom #2 (of 4) - I couldn't remember what happened last issue, so I just flipped through this one.  I'll read the whole story when the last issue comes out.  Looks good and fun though.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Comics Roundup for 9/5/12

The Amazing Spider-Man #693 - I've read a few things online, and while it seems that some Spidey fans aren't happy with this current storyline, I'm enjoying it.  Yeah, the new character and "sidekick" Alpha is a jerk and annoying, but that's the whole point.  I like the dilemma that it creates for Peter, and I like how this issue concluded and set things up for the next one.  My only complaint is that I want some more Hobgoblin, dammit!  (I realize that's coming up though, but still...)

Green Lantern #0 - The new, Arab American Green Lantern is introduced.  Does Glen Beck know about this?  I bet he's mad.  Anyway, he's an interesting character, and I hope that they continue to do something interesting with him when they bring back Hal Jordan, which they'll obviously eventually do.  I like that they kept it topical and didn't make him out to be some sort of a saint.  He's flawed, but very human and sympathetic.  I wonder what's up with the gun though?  Why would a Green Lantern need one?  Hope that gets explained.

Hawkeye #2 - This was a pretty fun issue, and I really like the art of David Aja on this title.  It's a good fit, and he's good at storytelling.  I've never read any of the previous attempts at giving Clint Barton his own title, but I'm liking this, and it's different enough from his adventures with The Avengers to make it interesting.  Plus, his circus background is put to good use in this issue.

The Phantom Stranger #0 - Picked this up because my local comics shop owner picked it as his recommended book for the week, and there wasn't too much out.  I enjoyed it.  I suppose it's a good starting point for somebody like me who knows little about the character.  The Specter was in this story as well, and I don't know if he was so closely attached to this character before or not.  Also, it seems like they're tying it into some bigger crossover with DC.  Will I get the next issue?  Perhaps.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Calshakes - Blithe Spirit

Today my wife and I got a chance to see Blithe Spirit performed at CalShakes.  It's the third of four plays, the first two being The Tempest and Spunk and the final one being Hamlet.  As I've stated in my review for Spunk, not all of the plays at CalShakes are Shakespeare plays.  Seems to me that the standard procedure are to do two by Bill S. and two other ones.  This particular play was written by Noel Coward.  I've heard of him, but I haven't read any of his works or seen any of his plays, so that alone was a treat for me.

One of the interesting things about it is that it was written while London was being blitzed by Germany during World War II.  Essentially, it was an amusing distraction from the morbid situation that was going on, and while it does touch on some darker issues, it's primarily an amusing comedy.  The basic setup is that the main character, Charles, invites a medium over to his house to perform a seance.  He's a complete skeptic, and he's only doing it to learn the "tricks of the trade" for a book he's writing.  Unfortunately for him, he invites a ghost to his home, and unfortunately for his wife, it's the ghost of his former (and attractive) wife.

Both Kirsti and I really enjoyed this one.  As I've mentioned with the Shakespeare plays, it's always best going into those knowing at least something about the story before watching.  This one, being more modern, didn't require any background information.  You could have just walked in not knowing what to expect and have enjoyed every moment of it.

The actors were definitely doing a great job, and for me the most impressive was the lead, Anthony Fusco.  He had some really great comic timing, and the biggest laughs came from him.  Of course, there were also a lot of laughs every time that Rebekah Brockman, who played Edith the maid, came on the stage.  She didn't have a lot to do, but she was really funny.  The opening gag was that she was always hurrying, and she had been ordered to slow down a bit.  Ms. Brockman did a good job with the physical humor of a hyper person trying desperately to move about in a calm and deliberate manner.

Some older folks sitting near us were talking about how they liked the Shakespeare stuff better.  (I'm guessing they were season ticket holders.)  I do too, to be honest with you.  Still, what I really like is that there has been such a good variety of plays.  Does this one have the same deeper meanings that you can find in Hamlet?  No.  (Although it quoted from that play, not to mention a phrase from Macbeth and another from Romeo and Juliet by my reckoning.)  Still, not everything has to be Shakespeare.  I was thoroughly entertained throughout the whole thing, and I hope that CalShakes does some more fun stuff like this in the future, as Kirsti and I were talking about getting season tickets again for next year.

Comics Roundup for 8/29/12

You know I'm back to work when it takes this long to get the Comics Roundup online.

Winter Soldier #9 - Turns out that Ed Brubaker's run on this title is numbered as well.  I'm not sure if I'll stick around after he leaves, as this is really his character as far as I'm concerned.  Sure, he's based on a Golden Age character, but Brubaker made him what he is.  It's like somebody other than Alan Davis writing Clan Destine.  Anyway, this was a fun issue, and I really hope that Michael Lark winds up doing something that I'll be reading once this is over.

Green Lantern Annual #1 - This is the beginning of the next Green Lantern epic, and I'm guessing that the Guardians of the Universe are now pretty much bad guys.  Also, we see that Hal Jordan "dies" (doubt it will be for long) and that's no doubt how we'll wind up with the new Arab American GL.  Anyway, I just hope that I don't need to buy every GL book out there, but I'll do it if it's the only way to get it to all make sense.  I did that the last time and didn't regret it.

Wolverine and the X-Men #15 - Fun stuff, like usual, with a lot of great character interaction.  Is this title going to continue after AvX is over?  I hope so.

Aquaman #12 - Speaking of writers who aren't going to stay around forever, it looks like Geoff Johns will only be doing this series for a few more issues.  That's pretty disappointing, as I thought that he was going to create something big with all this. I'm curious as to who's going to take over, but I have this feeling that I'll be dropping this book as well in the near future.

The Avenging Spider-Man #11 - Oh, how lame.  It's a story where Peter deals with the death of his Uncle Ben for the thousandth time, and it's all basically a long conversation with Aunt May.  Feels like I've seen this before.  But guess what?  It works.  I liked this issue a lot, and while I don't think that Steve Dillon, who's great on some stuff, is a good fit for superheroes, he was the perfect choice because he's great at doing page after page of conversations.  Also, the first two pages had me laughing out loud.

Justice League #12 - I wish the comics-related media didn't make such a big deal out of Superman and Wonder Woman kissing in this issue, and I also wish that it wasn't there on the front page.  Yeah, I get it, it sells comics, but I would have preferred to have been surprised.  Still, I was pleased to see that it made sense in context of the story.  Also, I got a chance to re-read all the issues of this title, and I'm finding it a bit more enjoyable than I had before.  I'm also thinking that the addition of Cyborg to the team is a good one, as he's definitely different from all the other heroes on the team.