Comics // Inchoate Review // Batman Rebirth #1 & #2

Here’s some very quick thoughts on issues 1 & 2 of Tom King’s Batman Rebirth book. I’ve not been a regular bat-reader for quite some time, but after the brilliance of The Omega Men I have been quietly excited about this book since it was announced. And I wasn’t disappointed either, the book is interesting, has some nice characterisation and whilst a little generic in places is certainly compelling enough for me to stick around.

Spoilers follow

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// Alfred the great

Tom King writes a wonderfully acerbic Alfred. And there is a lot of warmth in the mockery he dishes out to Bruce, that katana birthday line is absolutely marvelous! Much like the brilliantly lived in feel of the relationship between Bruce and Alfred was literally, literally, the best thing in BvS, I have a feeling that the relationship will be a funny, touching, heart to this series too.

// Gotham-Man & Gotham-Woman, surely?

OK, so we don’t know the background on these characters, let alone their ages, but it struck me as really odd that the dude is called ‘Gotham’, but the woman is called’Gotham Girl‘. Gotham as the name for a suspicious new super hero is cool, but when you pair him with a woman and then default her to Gotham Girl it just comes across as retrograde tackiness. Maybe this’ll be a thing, part of their relationship dynamic or something (at the very least it is an obvious manifestation of the ‘we get the heroes we deserve’ speech from issue 1), but I suspect we’re ultimately looking at traditional and unfortunately gendered comic book naming conventions that ought to be put away now.

// Save that bum, but don’t help that bum

So Batman takes Mr. Gothman to task for failing to stop Solomon Grundy quick enough to prevent injury to a homeless man in the park. As a result Batman stepped in (in a pretty great smoke-covered entrance) to save the bum from trampling. Except then Batman just swings off into the night. Like, he cares enough that a homeless man shouldn’t get crushed to death, but he’ll be damned if he helps that filthy hippy out with some hot soup or a place to stay for the night or a bloody Bat-blanket to keep warm in the park or whatever. This is a common complaint about Batman, but it rarely feels so starkly illustrated as it is here. Thanks for the assist millionaire Batman.

// Batman takes NZT-48

I must admit, as ridiculous as it ended up being the maths-laden-rocket-seat-surf-a-plane action of issue 1 was a real delight. Even though I am sure it makes no physical sense I love the idea that Batman and his team can parse complex maths in seconds in order to create theoretical plans to save a plane and then carry them out perfectly. This is a Batman I can get behind. Batman is awesome. This is one of the smartest people in the DCU using his formidable mind and his perfect body and his iron will to do whatever it takes to save the people of his city. Batman’s willingness to sacrifice himself was perfect. His final words to Alfred were touching and noble. And, and, and, we get to see an action scene in a superhero book that isn’t just people punching one another! Why is this so rare? Especially when the construction of a scene like this can evoke so much tension and excitement through almost every page of the issue.

// Tim Sale Variants

Super picky and personal one this. Although I picked these up for both issues something felt off to me about Sale’s art. The art is a perfectly fine example of Sale’s work, but unfair as this may seem it comes across a as if he was a little bored whilst drawing them. After thinking about it awhile I think it is because whilst the book itself represents this bold new starting point for Batman’s adventures with a nod to the past (much as Rebirth is the same for the entire DCU), Sale’s art feels like it is literally from the past. Either cover could have come from Long Halloween or Dark Victory, neither cover embraces the content of the issue itself. Sure Solomon Grundy is in #2, but not in this sympathetic sewer man way he was depicted in LH. And the issue #1 cover, that depicts Batman’s rogues in something of a pile-on, well that feels like it is purposefully looking back at all these villains of yore rather than looking forward at the new adventures and stories to come. Maybe this is the point, a bit of Tim Sale/Long Halloween nostalgia whilst you bed in the new book, but it just came across as a uncomfortable juxtaposition for me.

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Year-End // A Handful of Amazing Things I Discovered in 2015

It’s been a while since we lived in the year 2015 and most ‘best of’ lists have long since been and gone. Alas, given my recent blogging hiatus I hadn’t gotten around to putting together any thoughts on the year. Until now!

The following is a pretty random selection of media that I really enjoyed over the year; there were plenty of other films, comics, and movies that I enjoyed too, but these are the ones that had that little extra personal impact. It’s not ordered by preference, or category, or chronology, and some of it predates 2015 and I just happened to encounter it then. Simply put, all of this stuff left a real impression on me and gave me a lot of pleasure; it’s likely it’ll be with me for a long time.

// The DC Comics of Brendan Fletcher w/ Becky Cloonan, Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr, Karl Kerschal and Annie Wu

It’s wrong to single out the work of writer Brendan Fletcher alone over his many highly talented collaborators, especially given that it’s impossible to know who contributes what, but the various works Fletcher has been involved in this year managed to do something that few other books have done in almost a decade: get me excited about DC comics again. Batgirl and Gotham Academy have delivered some great characters and moments over the year as have the more recent travails of Black Canary. These are superhero books that have found a way to be refreshing, often through stories that feel like wonderfully spontaneous adventures with a bunch of good friends. At their best these are some of the most fun reads on my pull list.

// The Art of Babs Tarr

Batgirl #37 Pixtagraph (Babs Tarr)

It seems like I’ve spent a lot of 2015 discovering incredible new talent, and the ‘list’ of my favourite artists is markedly different at the end of the year compared to what it was at the start. Chief amongst those changes is probably my quick and all encompassing infatuation with the art of Babs Tarr. Every issue of Batgirl has been an absolute joy to look at and the variant covers and prints that Tarr has produced have all been just as wonderful. Characters look fun, wear modern fashion, and live in a relatable world; these are people I want to be and hang out with, even when they’re fighting tigers or super-villains, or each other. There is a playful and inviting warmth and a contemporary feel to Tarr’s art that captures a welcome shift in the way superhero comics are written and drawn.

// Elementary

Elementary Still 1

Although I am a fan of Holmesian stories I took a pass on this show when I first heard about it due in no small part to my memories of Johnny Lee Miller as Crash Overide in Hackers. My surprise was significant then when I finally did watch the first episode and it was a top notch procedural with a tremendous interpretation of, and performance of, the great detective. The show leans heavily into the drug addiction elements of the Holmes cannon and finds a great deal of compelling pathos in it. The weekly cases can suffer some of the problems typical of procedural shows (the most famous guest actor usually did it, the plots tend to swerve at the same time each episode, etc.), but the ever engaging performances by Miller and Liu, and the character dynamics at the heart of the show keep it very enjoyable throughout. When I finally started watching this show I just couldn’t stop; I ended up watching 3 seasons in about 3 weeks. I even gave dvds of the show as more than one Christmas gift. Plus the New York brownstone set is a place I would love to live in!

// The Steve Jobs Script

'Steve Jobs' film - 2015

The direction was perfunctory and the performances were excellent, but it was the script for Steve Jobs that elevated the film to incredible status. I’ve long been a fan of Sorkin’s work, and for all his problems he can still write dialogue like few others ever have. The fact that the structure of the movie essentially creates 5 ongoing conversations that take turns for 90 minutes means that there is sparkling dialogue everywhere; it is non-stop brilliance, full of smart, funny, piercing, and endlessly quotable lines. There’s a fair argument that it is more of a play than a film,but for me that is absolutely what makes the experience so amazing.

// They’re Not Like Us

They're Not Like Us #3 Panel

I stumbled upon this comic mostly because the striking cover featured the intriguing opening panel of the story, and I am so grateful I picked it up. This book has been the most interesting, compelling, and thrilling ongoing I have read all year – building up from a simple troubled teens with powers origin to a broader, darker rumination on society’s response to a youth culture it does not understand. The slower pace has allowed characters to organically reveal themselves and the sense of paranoia and oppression to really take hold. All the while the tremendous art/colouring from Simon Gane  and Jordie Bellaire has helped to drive the story and provide memorable & innovative demonstrations of superpowers in use. I’ve been lamenting the lack of a good mutant outcast X-book for years, and then secretly this book answered my prayers.

// The Art of Mike Del Mundo

Elektra #11 Panel

Elektra was a book that ultimately felt more like a dramatic rendering of the main characters psyche than a straightforward narrative and that was thanks to the spectacular art by Mike Del Mundo. Del Mundo manages to somehow create art that is both dream like and grittily detailed, and his worlds are both epic and intimate. Every book I’ve read that he has drawn has undoubtedly been elevated by his incredible artwork. It’s also worth noting that the various covers that Del Mundo has worked on have been ingenious and marvelous without exception. I’ve spent endless hours staring deep into Del Mundo’s art; each panel offers a wealth of beauty and detail that reward your attention.

// All New X-Men #37

All-New X-Men #37 Panel

I’ve been quite vocal about my disappointment with the recently concluded X-Men run from Brian Micheal Bendis, but this issue was an exception that genuinely blew me away. Telling an incredibly simple story, Emma Frost takes young Jean Grey on a training mission to Madripoor, this book managed to deliver deeper character, world building, action, and drama than the entirety of the rest of Bendis’ run. Featuring cinematic art from Mike Del Mundo the book has it all: outstanding action, fun moments, funny lines, sharply observed characterisation, and a hidden but palpably warm heart in Emma’s secret devotion to keeping Jean safe. X-Men comics have been in a sorry state for years (and continue to be so), but this issue really shows what you can do when you combine those merry mutants with tremendous art and on point writing.

// Killjoys

Killjoys Team Still 1

This series marked the start of the Syfy channel’s return to making actual sci-fi, and what a return it was. Killjoys is pure fun, a breathless action adventure that follows three good-guy-bounty-hunters as they work on ostensibly unrelated warrants, but it all becomes entwined in both the personal histories of our heroes and the fate of this particular corner of the galaxy. The show puts together a rewarding blend of character- and plot-led drama, comedy, spectacle, and action, all along side some very effective world building. There are plenty of cliche breaking twists and some really smart done-in-one stories, and by the time the season finale rolled around I was entirely hooked by the questions at the heart of the show’s universe and charmed by its likable characters.

// The Age of Adaline

Film Review The Age of Adaline

I’m a bit of a soppy romantic at heart and also a fan of magical-realism-meets-star-crossed-lovers stories (a surprisingly common genre!) so this movie is pretty much made for me. The story and style of the film seem to take their lead from the underated Fincher classic The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, even down to the lighting and framing of many scenes, but the elegance of the execution here ensures that Adaline never comes off as being derivative. Much has been made of Harrison Ford’s return to actual acting with this film, and he is good, but the film’s real secret weapon is Ellen Burstyn how manages to convey a lifetime of love and regret in her scenes with her mother Blake Lively. It also has to be said that Lively herself does an excellent job holding the film, and her performance as the stoic Adaline is full of masterfully delivered small moments of introspection and aching. Although the script could probably have done with a little more oomph at times, this is a beautifully shot, wonderfully acte, modern fairy tale that left me positively aglow with all kinds of emotions by the end. Also the costume design was absolutely on point!

// Master of None

 

Master of None Still 1

Aziz Ansari’s Netflix sitcom took me completely by surprise, both in it suddenly existing at all and in how good it was. I like Ansari from PNR and his live shows, but he can sometimes lose me when he gets deep into a celebrity story or Randy performance. Fortunately Master of None is brilliantly funny and Ansari is an excellent lead. The real strength, though, lies in how it consistently offers a smart, incisive alternative view on ubiquitous sitcom material. The second episode takes time out of the comedy to tell a wonderfully touching story of immigrant family life without ever becoming saccharine, and the way the show positions modern dilemma’s like wanting to spend time with the family that you love but also wanting your own life in a sympathetic relatable way whilst still finding the funny aspects of the situation. Over the 10 episodes there are some touching moments, some profound moments, and many many funny moments.

Film // Idle Thoughts // The Promethean Tyranny of Ridley Scott

In a recent interview once-excellent director Ridley Scott spoke about his plans for the Alien franchise. Inexplicably this upset me to a frankly unreasonable degree, in part because Scott used to be great but now just peddles in unnecessary/bad prequels, but mostly because the interview makes clear that Ridley Scott has no idea why his early movies were good or what people (meaning me) want out of a new Alien picture. It should be noted that my frustrations with the Prometheus/Alien franchise and Scott himself are entirely trivial so only read on if you can handle half-formed thoughts, circular logic, and self-indulgence.

The interview covered a lot of shilling for The Martian, and went on to explore Scott’s approach to the next movie in the Alien franchise, a direct continuation of Prometheus that still predates the events of Alien. What this interview failed to touch on was the absolute awfulness of Prometheus and its inherently redundant story. The movie featured characters without arcs (Charlize Theron’s wasted Meredith Vickers), events without reason (the idiot-brothers cradling a terrifying alien phallus monster), horror without purpose (the admittedly powerful alien abortion scene that then has no effect on the main character at all), and answers without questions (here’s an alien ship identical to the one from that Alien movie but completely unrelated to it!) And why exactly would the Prometheans put a map back to their world in an ancient Earth cave, except it wasn’t their world it was just a random factory planet, and it wasn’t an invitation it was a trap, but they had all already left the trap unattended because reasons, but actually there’s a Promethean right there, but oh no there’s a weird alien-hybrid that’s basically an alien but is completely unrelated to the alien from Alien because this movie takes place on a different planet to that movie even though it has basically the same name for no reason other than to confuse people?

Unfortunately it seems like Scott hasn’t acknowledged any of the problems with the Prometheus movie and it’s relationship to the Alien universe – he speaks of wanting to answer the big question at the heart of the Alien movies, “who would make such a terrible thing?“. Wait, what? Who made the alien? That has literally never been a big question of the franchise! The origin of the alien is ambiguous yes, as are that space jockey and its ship, but this forms the basis of the terrifying atmosphere of the first two movies – we don’t need to see the birth place of this species or the factory it was cooked up in or whatever as that just undermines the horror of it all. Besides which, it never really struck me whilst watching these movies that these creatures were anything other than just plain old aliens, literally. Just random things that exist in the universe, a deadly wild parasitic species that it is best to avoid. The space jockey is a good case in point here; it looked truly alien in Alien, a creature that was physically different to humans, with an unknowable and tragic backstory of how it came to encounter/die to a bunch of other aliens. Prometheus spends a good amount of screen time demystifying the space jockey, and instead of it being an imaginative creature that is different in form and thought to humanity, it just turns out that they are really tall blokes who are also idiots. I’m really not sure where Scott is coming from here – the origin of the alien isn’t a story that needs to be told.

The positioning of the alien always seemed to me to be one of a natural entities – the aliens are just creatures in space, driven only by a natural urge to eat, survive, and procreate. This is highlighted in the film Aliens by Burke’s (and by extension Weyland-Yuanti’s) plan to capture an alien for use as a biological weapon. By trying to subvert the natural order of things Burke essentially kills everyone on LV-426; from Newt’s parents through to the colonial marines they are all dead because the company tried to take a wild thing and bottle it up for nefarious uses later. Alien features a similar sub-plot wherein the company sends the Nostromo to investigate the Space Jockey’s signal in the first place (and also instructs Ash that the crew are expendable in pursuit of this goal). Both of these movies (still the only two in the entire franchise worth a damn) specifically deal with themes of the limitations of human technology/innovation in the terrifying face of nature; so many scenes in these movies show technology catastrophically failing to save the day (think androids). But now we’re being told that the alien actually is a piece of technology.

I think Ridley Scott is trying to tie into this theme by exploring the origins of the alien as a biological weapon, but this actually undermines the theme in both of those movies. The moral of Alien and Aliens is that messing with a dangerous natural organism and trying to use it’s power for yourself will just get innocent people killed. Except the proposed plot for Prometheus 2 is that the alien always was an artificial weapon of war, so does that mean that Burke was right? We should be trying to capture the alien and use it as a biological weapon because that was always the intent. I guess it doesn’t instantly justify Burke’s actions, but it certainly does cast a shadow over the idea of the alien as an unstoppable force of nature.

Also, Scott laments that he let “those movies get away from me”, which is understandable I suppose. Except to say that James Cameron’s Aliens is probably one of the best sequels ever made whilst Ridley Scott’s second entry in the franchise is abysmal so…maybe it was better that Scott walked away. The last thing to say in this probably unnecessary bit of soapbox nonsense is that I was sorry to see that Scott making Prometheus 2 has resulted in Neil Blomkamp’s Alien 5 being shelved. Whilst Blomkamp’s record is a little patchy, his movies do at least consistently offer some interesting concepts and some excellent robots (I really would love to see a bunch of Colonial Marine robots fighting a horde of aliens); I’m far more interested in seeing a new take on this franchise than Scott having a third bite of the apple when his second already caused the tree to rot.

Comics // Weekly Pull List // 11/11/2015

Here we are again, new comics! It’s a quiet-ish week though with a few books that I possibly/maybe/might pick up.

Captain America: White #4 – So I will definitely be buying this book because it features more lovely Tim Sale artwork, but I must admit to being a little underwhelmed by the series as a whole. Whether it is the result of being on the shelf gathering dust for a few years, or that it so closely resembles other books in the Loeb/Sale Marvel Spectrum series isn’t clear, but for whatever reason I’m just not that excited by anything in this mini-series.

Captain America White #4 Cover

Descender #7 – I’m excited to see this book is back after a brief hiatus. This year has seen plenty of new indie sci-fi books, most of them very good, yet this is probably one of the best (alongside Bitch Planet). It’s an interesting universe, beautifully drawn, and compellingly written.

Descender #7 Cover

Secret Wars #7 – The event to end all events (at least for another year) continues it’s late running story. It really has been a terrific book so far and I’ve no doubt it will be equally strong as we go into the final 3 issues.

Secret Wars #7 Cover

Spider-Gwen #2 – This remains a solid book even if the magic from it’s first few issues seems to have dissipated a little (I’m not sure why that is, maybe because the narrative doesn’t seem to be moving forward very much?)

Spider-Gwen #2 Cover

Thought Bubble 2015 AnthologyThought Bubble is one of the UK’s best sequential art festivals/cons (that I will be attending again this year) and their annual comic book always offers a great selection of artists and writers. Besides the awesome Babs Tarr cover this has a Tim Sale short (as did last years) so I am all in! Also the profits from the book go to charity so what’s not to love!

Thought Bubble Anthology 2015 Cover

Possibles

All-New Wolverine #1 – I want this book to be good; I’m a fan of X-23 and it would be cool to have an exciting new Wolverine on the block. Unfortunately the brief preview that I have seen is chock full of stupidness and bland writing. I’m a sucker for mutant-led books though so it’s a maybe!

All- New Wolverine #1 Cover

DC Bombshells #4 – Marguerite Bennett’s writing is really strong on this book, but some of the art doesn’t sit well with me (purely on grounds of personal taste). When Marguerite Sauvage is drawing it, it is a really great book, but the rest of the time it doesn’t work for me, and this issue looks like it is sans-Sauvage so I probably won’t pick it up.

DC Bombshells #4 Cover

Diesel #3 – I love Tyson Hesse’s art on this book, but the writing is super choppy. The main character is really quite annoying and there isn’t a strong enough narrative core pulling all of the characters/happenings together for it to be compelling. This one will depend on mood – the art could pull me in, but it might not.

Diesel #3 Cover