Friday, May 09, 2008

Reviews of the week

Saw the Iron Man movie last week.

You know, I really enjoyed it. It had a great balance of fun, humor and action. There's character growth for Tony Stark. And it works better here than in the comics. Read the original comics, and Tony Stark is not an unlikeable character. At the time, it wasn't politically incorrect for someone to make weapons or to be a playboy. Stark starts off as a man living the American Dream and he's not a bad guy for doing so. Then when he's captured, critically injured and forced to develop weapons for the enemy, he puts his ingenuity to work and finds a way to overcome his PHYSICAL not MORAL handicap to become a hero. And he continues to do so as he realizes that he could keep helping people before his injured heart eventually catches up to him and kills him. The plot of the boozing, egotistical brilliant man that is injured and discovers enlightenment is basically the plot to Doctor Strange not Iron Man. In recent years, that has changed in the comics. The end result is that Iron Man is pretty much the bastard of the Marvel Universe these days.

It works in the film though. Now, a big part of that is that like Doctor Strange's original origin story, the movie is a single entity, a single story and the needed character growth to make him into a hero is the central story and is resolved in one sitting. In today's serial comics, that type of story is one long, drawn out process. Unless you buy a collected trade, it can take months to get that resolution. Nowadays, such character flaws seem to be actually required in the comics, so you may never get that resolution or you can be sure there will be plenty of back-sliding and bringing it up again every time a writer runs out of ideas. Sorta like poor Henry Pym, where his character flaws have been allowed to grow and over-shadow everything that once made the characters actual heroes. But, movies are different entities from comics and one should expect there to be differences, just as there should be some reasonable faithfulness as well. Plus, extra leeway has to be given when adapting something like Spider-man, Iron Man or X-men to film as you're dealing with characters and stories that are 40 plus years old with hundreds of stories, creators and little revisions here and there over the years. It's a lot of continuity to have to shuffle through to choose what to put up on the screen.

So, it's cool that we see a take on the original gray armor, but the red and gold armor reflects his current armor and none of the dozen or so changes in between. We have Happy Hogan, but he's downplayed in favor of the Jim Rhodes and the possible romance of Pepper Potts. We have SHIELD agents, how cool is that? So, they changed the race of Nick Fury, so what? It's neither here nor there. Personally, as much as I like Samuel L. Jackson, him as Fury is about the same as hiring DeNiro to play a tough guy gangster, or Jack Nicholson to play someone on the edge of being a complete whacko. I don't see the character Nick Fury, I just see a standard variation of Jackson. It is one of those changes that irks a little, because there's no reason an actor of the proper race couldn't have been found to play Fury. Or to call Jackson's character Bridge, Gabriel Jones, or someone new. After all Fury didn't start off as head of SHIELD, he was and really would be best as the ultimate kicking butt agent.

Robert Downey, Jr does a great job as the conflicted Stark. He makes the character that should be an unredeeming jerk come off as being quite affable in many regards. All the little necessary tidbits from the comics are there. Guess it would have been just a little too cutesy to name the SHIELD agent Sitwell. I'm hoping that in the next one, maybe we'll get the Mandarin. There seemed to be quite a few little references. The group the Warlord was part of was called Ten Rings and both he and Stane did wear predominant rings. It'd be cool to see there was a further mastermind behind it all.


American Dream: Basically a female Captain America from Tom Defalco's MC2 universe. I liked it a lot. I couldn't have told you much about the character as she's at best been a sporadic supporting character, serving mostly as backdrop to Spider-Girl for the last several years. Yet DeFalco totally delivers on a 1st issue comic. You're introduced to the characters and told as much as you're needed as you go along. The story is retro in that it's a hero who seems to have everything together as a superhero, but whose personal life has taken a backseat to the heroic one too often. As a superhero, she actually fights crime and isn't above investigating something more street-level such as the disappearance of some immigrants. While there are a pair of criminals that are targeting her because she's part of this world's Avengers, her focus isn't fighting criminals that happen to be targeting her. The writing does have one flaw. Defalco's weakness is dialogue and there's a bit here that too often happened in the past. In a sequence of panels and pages, the action clearly takes only a couple of seconds, but American Dream is able to give a running commentary in those seconds that clearly would take a couple of minutes

Todd Nauck's art actually works for me here. In the past, he always seemed a bit too much of a caricature artist style. He's more straight-forward here, deliving on solid action and character moments. He draws an attractive super-heroine without resorting to cheese-cake shots.

Overall, the comic is what most mainstream superhero comics really should be and Defalco delivers each month with Spider-Girl. It's exciting and suitable for all ages without dumbing down artwork or story for the kids.

Abe Sapian: The artwork is nice and moody, but the story just kinda sits there. I think it's because Abe is great as a supporting character, but he's so introspective that the story only plods along. Maybe it's one that would read better once it's all done. With upcoming budget changes, I may change to getting these in trade format only.

The War that Time Forgot: We're introduced to some old familiar characers and new ones, least I didn't recognize them. And an interesting set-up. The comic ends just when it really gets going. I think I would have liked a little more definition of just who and what the other group on the island are. Just some clue as to the enemy. There are some great bits between the characters as well. Tomahawk has always been a favorite of minor DC characters and I would have loved to have seen a few others: the Golden Gladiator, Silent Knight, Shining Knight, Arak, Star Hawkins, cowboy Johnny Thunder, etc. Mini-series like this are great for re-aquainting some of the lesser seen characters of the DCU and seeing them actually interact inside of continuity. And dinosaurs make great foils. It could be interesting to see how the different characters might view each other as being from different time-periods. A WWII pilot won't necessarily get along with a German from WWI. Meanwhile, he wouldn't bat an eye with a British ally but the Revolutionary War natives on the other hand... I look forward to future issues as some of these characters and the plot get fleshed out.

The Atom: Sad to hear this title is coming to a close as it's consistantly interesting with a likeable hero who is able to be a genius and yet still come across as bit of an everyman. Although, I found this issue confusing almost to the point of non-sensical. Assuming that the next issue with Chronos will actually explain some things. The covers have been wonderful. This one by Ladronn reminds me of 60s-70s science-fiction paperback covers.

Avengers/Invaders: I almost didn't pick this up because I don't really care for Marvel's current status quo or the Avengers. But the art and the Invaders ultimately won me over. Loved the depiction of the Sub-Mariner, looking like someone who relishes his power and ability. The musculature and all echoes a bit of Kane or BWS to me, and really gives him a powerful and noble look. Not as enamored with the Human Torch, looked a little more like lava than flame and it was hard to tell him apart from Toro whereas traditionally, their flaming bodies are not drawn alike. Classically, there's always been differences between Hammond and his latter day namesake Johnny Storm as well. Most of my other quibbles had to do with the story. The title of the book IS Avengers/Invaders, yet the Avengers are not a presence other than cameos. As much as I liked seeing the current Thunderbolts get a smack-down and I'm not a fan of the current Avengers, no combination of Avengers could have been trotted out? Sure, the Avengers' absence helped influence me to actually pick it up, but that's me. I can be objective enough to realize that it's a little misleading, especially to those picking it up and expecting said team.

Unless there is a story-point proving these aren't this Marvel Universe's INVADERS, neither writer nor editor could apparently be bothered to actually refresh themselves on Roy Thomas' series and actually get the basic history of Union Jack and Spitfire correct? 1: Union Jack has powers. He received a variation of the super-soldier serum thus he's no more normal than Captain America. He also had some electrical powers thanks to an encounter with Thor. 2: Spitfire did not need a blood transfusion
because she was shot. She was bit by Baron Blood, her family's hereditary enemy. This isn't like even 20 years ago when getting fine details to a character would mean hunting up an obscure book, one that might be even a little expensive being 30 years old. I was able to verify the Spitfire info by googling and the first website I clicked. WHICH HAPPENS TO BE MARVEL'S SITE! 3 minutes of research tops to check facts. Getting characters' basic origins wrong is completely unprofessional on the part of both writer and editor. This kind of information is increasingly at a writer's fingertips. And a superhero's origin story is hardly nitpicking the details as to whether so and so's eyes are blue or brown, it's the type of stuff you expect a creator to look up first when approaching the job of writing a superhero book.

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