Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Television Shows

Human Target: About as much to do with the DC Comics character as the show “Bones” has to do with the characters of Kathy Reich’s novels. Makes you wonder why they bother to pay money for the licensing. They are not keeping the core concept and the character is not popular enough to have resonance outside of a subset of comic fans. Just call him Target and save the money.

I understand the premise of the comic is dicey for the show, that Chance disguises himself as the target. It would mean either having guest-stars would be starring as Chance other than a few scenes and the plots centering around characters that are similar to the main actor’s build. But, that is the whole point of the character’s concept. Otherwise, he’s just a bodyguard. Plus, the show didn’t bother to have him disguise himself at all. Three different missions are shown (though only the middle one is the main story) which translates to three different undercover roles. Not only does he not disguise himself, he does not even bother to change his persona. Look at shows like “Leverage”, “Burn Notice”, "Dollhouse" and “Hustle” where you at least have the leads taking on various personas slipping in and out of their established characters with ease. Or Val Kilmer as “The Saint” at how to handle disguising. But, it requires a strong and convincing actor. John Noble does a wonderful bit of it on a recent episode of "Fringe". Playing the normally mentally unstable Walter Bishop with a childlike glee, he briefly gets all of his mental facilities back and his face and voice undergo a subtle hardening transformation and moments later he shifts back again.

There were a few other missteps The music for the opening was flat, didn’t really match the animation or feel. After all the build-up of the tension of the parachuting out the back of the train (and shown in half the commercials) the actual effect is over so fast, if you blink you’d miss it. I did. The scene with the icecubes was just done in one of the last episodes of “Monk” and what was the deal of leaving a drink suspected of being poison behind for someone else to drink? Lastly, the final extra scene felt flat and waste of a great actor in a small cameo.

What’s left is actually a decent action television show and is at least fun to watch. Mark Valley as Christopher Chance fits comfortably as an action hero and pulls off his scenes competently. He plays the role with a bit of roguish charm. Meanwhile, Jackie Earle Haley steals every scene he’s in as Guerrero, a slight and unassuming character but with an undercurrent of being the most dangerous man in the room. Chi McBride does decent with what little he’s given, but it’s so little, his character and that of Guerrero could have easily been combined into one. If they are cutting costs with production, at least quality actors and guest-stars are gotten. Looking forward to seeing the beautiful Moon Bloodgood in an upcoming episode.

The second episode was a bit more outlandish. The pilot was a train about to crash, now it's a plane. Chi McBride is given more to do than just being a foil for the other characters.

Many series start off a bit weak, taking a couple of episodes, sometimes a season to gel. So, I have hopes for it. Just please change that opening music.

Sanctuary: Late coming to this series, I’ve only seen a handful of episodes. Luckily, one of those was an episode the season finale builds off of. Having been to Mumbai, India, the finale had an added draw. It took me a while to figure what was off with the depiction of the slums. They and the inhabitants were just too clean. Even new and kept-up buildings have grime and soot and litter is everywhere. I loved when Zimmerman broke out in a Bollywood influenced dance to communicate with Kali. A wonderful and fun touch. Needed an actual song though. Callum Blue who has been playing General Zod over in “Smallville” does a great job as a villain here as well. The only thing that really bothered me was just how easy the bad guys are able to track Zimmerman down. We’re not talking a small town. Yet the slums and all the action are apparently within walking distance of the India equivalent of the Sanctuary.

Dollhouse: I tried to get into this show but never could. Doesn’t really surprise me it was cancelled. It suffered from a similar problem that afflicted “My Own Worst Enemy”. Neither show really explains the advantages and whys of all the hoops the mysterious Agency jumps through to mentally warp the main characters. To have mysterious goals and agendas is fine. However, the viewer should still be able to grasp some idea of the payoff, why it’s more beneficial than just hiring the right people for the job. Both shows highlighted the pitfalls but not the gains. With “Dollhouse” it seemed like a lot of effort to create what was used for the most part as an upscale escort agency. Another good example of a show that allowed the main characters to step into different personas each week and making it work though.

BBC has a new show, “Demons”. Sort of a serious English version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”. Entertaining way to fill in the time until “Primeval” and “Being Human” return.

Green Hornet: Kevin Smith gives an interview concerning how he came to be doing the Green Hornet. The interviewer didn’t bother to clean up any of his language, if this was on television, the buzzer they use for expletives would have been worn out. He doesn’t even try to come off sounding like a professional but just a fanboy with a mouth. This isn’t the first time that comicbook resources has posted something with strong language without the least bit of warning or advisory. It’s the type of thing that could one day bite them in the posterior regions. No excuse for it, except it shows the same type of unprofessional mentality that Smith is portraying. It also has the opposite effect on me concerning the title that he is supposed to be promoting. Instead of exciting me, it turns me off the whole project. I would like to see someone tackle the Green Hornet that just forgets the Bruce Lee as Kato and remember that it’s the Green Hornet who is the hero, he should be the equivalent of Batman or the Shadow with Kato being his helper and friend. Kato shouldn’t overshadow the Hornet. And, the whole revision of Kato as a woman, just covering the same ground in the decent Now Comics version.

Liberty Company: Started writing creatively again. Liberty Company chronicles the public domain heroes in World War II, least ways starting off. Who knows where it’ll take me.

Gnome Chronicles:
Also started a Fantasy Novel. The beginnings of it are here.

It's nice to exercise those mental muscles again.

Friday, January 08, 2010

New Year, new musings, a War of the Gods?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Been a busy one for me. Driving to and from Greensboro for extended weekends. A little writing. A little job searching. Some reading. Due to unemployment, mostly agreed to not really exchange monetary gifts this year. For my girlfriend, I wrote a poem, and took some photos of us from different trips and events with friends and family over the last 3 years including trips to the beach, the mountains and to India and placed them in a scrapbook. Some were serious and some were silly and some a little bittersweet such as my cat Fred who I had to put to sleep this past year.

I got three great comic related gifts. From my gal, a large Peanuts hardback "Celebrating 60 Years". It doesn't contain every Peanuts strip but does have thousands of them. Included are also quotes as to what Sparky thought about when he created different characters and concepts, what fueled the variety of stories such as why Snoopy fights the Red Baron and why Schroeder idolizes Beethoven. And, there are strips I remember from childhood books but not seen since such as the time Snoopy's doghouse burns down. Did you know he had a Van Gogh? Also from her, a collection of "Mutts" strips. "Mutts" and "Get Fuzzy" are probably my two favorite modern day strips and pretty much what I miss most from not seeing the daily newspaper although I do get to read "Get Fuzzy" from time to time when visiting and I pick up "The Rhinoceros Times". From her nephew a signed collection of Chad Carpenter's Tundra comic strip. Her sister's family lives in Alaska where Chad is from and his strip is set. So, for the last two years, he goes to a book signing and picks up the latest book for me. It's funny stuff though she claims it's very guy humor. She might be right. My brother and I laugh out loud at the same strips and she just rolls her eyes. You can check it out online at

Going into the new year and Steven Grant has done his last Permanent Damage column while Erik Larsen has started a column over at comicbookresources. I'm going to miss Grant's column. I didn't always agree with him, but he often made you think. And, he had some unique insight into comics and the business. He chooses to end with his last few columns on the one subject that we are in absolute agreement: Gil Kane's wonderful art and especially his Western covers. It's not the first time that he broached the subject and I think it was Grant that pointed out the first time why Kane's covers (and much of his splash pages and climactic scenes inside) work to such a degree. Kane uses all three planes of the page: the background, midground and foreground. All artists do to a degree, but Kane had the panes communicate with each other, action crossed the various panes. The background wasn't merely scenery, the action didn't just take place in the midground, the foreground often was so much at the surface of the plane that it involved the reader as if he was part of the scene. He also turned the camera 90 degrees. Instead of looking at a scene of action perpendicular that read from left to right, his action moved from back to front and back again, the action coming towards the reader as if everything was for a 3-D comic. It's what gives his covers and art power. Kane also mined other tricks to show emotion or to transcend just the three planes such as the "up the nose" shots of heads often looking omniscently from the air above a scene. It's not meant as a literal depiction of the scene but a way of presenting several sides of a scene in one panel and to heighten the emotional response. I won't say Kane was the perfect comicbook artist. I think there's a reason why he rarely did team books or ones that contained heroes with the sole power of superspeed. And, the few times he drew the FF, it seemed an uncomfortable fit. But, when it came to drawing cosmic and sci-fi heroes and Westerns, he was the tops. There are times I wonder about the companies and creators. Kane was a name that had enough of a draw that one would think to just have centered a book around him. Separate him from the mainstream ongoing continuity and just have him work with writers on various characters from their vast history as well as creating new characters. Get him to draw the Shining Knight one month, the Western Johnny Thunder, and the JSA Johnny Thunder another, then Space Ranger, the Simon & Kirby Manhunter and the Demon after that.

Larsen seems to be a little more in line with what I think but I think he suffers a bit of diarrhea of the mouth, he often says or presents things in ways guaranteed to get some kind of response and often causing people to really miss the point of what he's saying. Especially, this week's column judging from most of the responses. As it has come down to people defending their buying the monthlies vs. the trades when what he was talking about was the need for the monthlies to get back to the point that they can stand on their own. How many titles have you dropped just because there wasn't enough there in the monthly comic? Even when telling a multi-part story, each issue also has to carry enough to make it a satisfying read on its own. But, as more and more writers write for the trade, the stories have become so long and stretched out, there's not enough meat in a single issue. No beginning, middle or end. In other words, to wait for the trades should be a financial decision but not because the story is written in such a way that it's read better that way. I recently read in one forum about a disgruntled Captain America reader, that he kept trying Brubaker's Cap in the monthly format but kept turning away. He lately became a fan because he got a whole bunch of the comics at one time in a deal. When he was able to read a large chunk of them at one time, it made him appreciate what Brubaker was doing. I couldn't help but think that was a bit of a backhanded compliment, though. Because it meant that on a month-to-month basis, Brubaker was failing him as a creator because the story that was being told was not being properly told, delivering enough story to really draw him in and care in short installments. I know it was one of the factors for me. It is also one of the factors that have lead me to stop getting BPRD and Hellboy books that Mignola doesn't have a direct hand in. The stories drag on too long and ramble a bit too much. I often feel that they would be best read in one sitting and if that's the case, why get the monthlies?

Larsen also nails why anthologies should work yet often don't (and why Wednesday Comics didn't work for me, by the way). Again, it's about making sure there's enough story in there to warrant getting the book, to not just rely on the lead story or lead character. Make sure that you're delivering a satisfying read for the money each and every issue. An anthology needs more than just one story to draw the reader in, he should want to read about half or two thirds of the stories in it, all of which need not be a complete story but it should be a complete narrative and not just a bite. You can make Detective an anthology, with the lead story being twice as long as the others, usually complete or a two-three parter while backed up by various other stories by top creators, such as Gotham Central, Batgirl, Man-bat. Some of which would be done in one short stories and some longer serialized features over 6 to 12 months. The model I'm thinking of is the old 100 Page Giants the books used to be as well as Batman Family and Superman Family. Ever try to find those at affordable prices these days? The Goodwin-Simonson Manhunter storyline from those days has been a gold-mine for DC not only in reprints but in how many storylines and characters have drawn inspiration from it. And, it was just a measly little back-up strip by two barely known creators with a forgotten character.

Comic Reviews

One of the dangers of not blogging in a while, comics get forgotten about and not talked about. You know, one of my favorite things to rant and rave about.
Black Coat: The mini has come to an end and America is on the precipice of war with England. Black Coat has to come up with a cure for his immortality since it carries with it a curse of madness as well as defeat the agent of a secret mystical brotherhood that is engineering the war. It's wonderful stuff! Set against the historical backdrop of the American Revolution, it lends a certain inevitability/fatality to the story. While certain people don't want war and others are fighting against being manipulated though they recognize the war as necessary, on some level you know that the war is going to happen regardless of their actions. The best they can hope for is that the wrong people don't profit from it. The story mines Mignola territory but there's more subtlety to it. There is intrigue and action. Likewise, it mines Captain America and Batman territory, but the story moves at a more brisk pace with plenty of action and the hero more engaging than either of those have been in ages. If this book was an ongoing monthly, I could probably be easily happy with just reading it and Astro City.

Hellboy: Bride of Hell: I commented before how I am not a big fan of Richard Corben's artwork but with Hellboy it's a great fit. His detailed yet stark contrasts works perfectly with Mignola's characters and storytelling. This comic is also a complete story in one issue, harkening back to classic Hellboy (and older horror comics' stories) as a tale of mood and dread yet with a quick rhythm and pace. Also contained is an excerpt of Guy Davis' Marquis which I might have to try to find at some point.
Julie Walker is the Phantom: I don't mind spending a little extra when the book is something like this. Longer than a regular comic, with a full story, wonderful artwork AND appropriate coloring! For those who came in late, Julie Walker was the twin sister of the Phantom of the late 1800's and when her brother is incapacitated she puts on the costume though no one ever comments on why the Phantom should change sexes. This story involves real-life reporter and crusader Nellie Bly recreating Phineas Fogg's trip around the world in less than 80 days. However, a man that has been inconvenienced by her previous articles decides that at some point, she should suffer a fatal accident on this trip. When the Phantom breaks a leg stopping the first attempt, his sister takes over secretly guarding Nellie Bly. The subtext of women's lib and sexism runs through the story but without actually taking over or being preachy and stands as a good superhero story against the historical backdrop. While I don't know if it's intentional or not, it also raises the question of other branches to the Phantom line. Julie is mentioned as being married and having kids, which means there's at least one more line to the Phantom heritage. It might suggest why in the 20th Century, there'd be other characters to adopt Phantom like m.o.s, if you take a Wold Newtonian view of comicbook characters.

JSA: One of the things I'm not liking about the JSA books is how they split up the stories and such. In others words, a big part of the plotting of the last several months of the JSA books is basically getting covered now in the split-off book. If you want to find out the villain behind the attacks of the gang of supervillains and why they were not going after Stargirl, you got to get the other book. While the attack by Kid Karnevil against Mr. Terrific and Obsidian's reduction to an egg and being taken is covered in the main book. And, a different big villain is brought back to fight the JSA while that story continues as a subplot since they cannot go after the big villain of the other plotline, even though that's what was driving the book for the last few months. I like the division in that it allows me to get just one book and it allows more characterization, but this is a bit backasswards. The bringing Mordru in as a big threat villain for the team to immediately face should have gone into the new book as the new threat while the ongoing plotline actually gets addressed in the book that it started.

Otherwise, the newest issue has art that is straightforward and tells the story well. There are funny bits as people think that Liberty Bell and Hourman being on different teams means they broke up, and Mr. Terrific balking at inactivity while he recovers, a light-hearted touch often missing in many of today's comics. The deal with Mr. America's whip fell flat as it turned a decent and non-lethal weapon into a weapon that would be lethal against anyone this side of Solomon Grundy and he wouldn't be able to use it to disarm, as an impromptu swing line, etc.

JSA ALL-STARS: Not really getting this book, but my brother picked up my comics this week, and they placed this in my bag since I do get the JSA. I like the cover, specifically the coloring style. Sadly, that's the best thing to recommend this book. My brother made the comment that the artist might need to get laid a bit more often. While Power girl's chest has always been a bit robust and is part of her thing, the artist pretty much draws the Asian Judomaster, villain Tigress and teenager Stargirl with the same proportions! In this book we have the modern tendency to take last seen colorful characters in new, mundane and colorless outfits ie Arthur Pemberton. Also on hand is to treat his last appearance apparently was in real time since he's now 30 years older since then. Bleh. The back-up story also has a few mis-steps. The Tigress and Icesickle are two of the villains in the lead story but also in the back-up. No one could be bothered to possibly create NEW villains to use instead of trotting out the same ones over and over. And poor Johnny Quick who isn't even in the story, they manage to completely mischaracterize as a big part of the motivation serving the story is that he had a "Speed Force" fixation. Only he didn't. He believed in his magic formula and the Meta-Gene explanation NOT the Speed Force and apparently often butted heads with Max Mercury over it. In fact, until Wally's accessing the Speed Force and Johnny's being absorbed by it, Max Mercury was portrayed as being the only one of the heroes to believe in it. So, Jesse Quick would not have been told any bed-time stories about it.

JSA Blackest Night: Did not get this, but it was in my bag the other week so I leafed through it and considered it. Ultimately, saw it was a mini by James Robinson who hasn't impressed me enough to buy anything lately and not a one-shot, and I'm not getting any of the other BN tie-ins, so there. But, in it Damage is dead? Yet in All-Stars he's fine. So, either he dies at some point in the future of the JSA books or he recovers from his dead status here. See, the JSA annual does set up the fact that something serious happens to Damage and could die, that's nice foreshadowing and setting up of tension and dread. This is just removing the teeth from that future story as we now know the outcome. The Annual was fairly weak, it might have been better if the whole comic was made to be about Damage's death instead of character vignettes (though the Damage one was nice and moody while the rest pretty much forgettable).

Superpowers: The latest issue is the lull before the storm. The villain is revealed as is his plot and the heroes put together a plan and position themselves while the villains behind the scene bicker. While I have lauded the story for moving at a faster pace this go around, this issue raises some of the same flaws that plagued the first one. Characters are made to fit the story and logical extrapolations are bypassed to tell the story the way the writers want to instead of following internal story logic. Captain Future is revealed as Zeus who wants the Promethean fire stolen from him back. An interesting idea but so far it isn't really explained as to how and why he became Captain Future or if there ever was a real Captain Future. Nor, why he would choose this scheme, and if he was behind the Pandora's urn angle that trapped the heroes for decades and why he'd fall for it himself.

Just as in Chapter One, the Lama was made into a full-blown magician instead of using characters who WERE full blown magicians, this issue makes some characters into adversaries for Zeus while ignoring all the mythological heroes actually available. Samson makes some sense, but Twister is given a mythological origin as a descendant of Odysseus AND cursed by a wind god. Admittedly, as far as I know he was never given a real back story, but it just seems a little pat, whereas another character from the 1940s who hasn't appeared was Tornado Tom. Tom had been picked up by a tornado and deposited hundreds of miles away and left a victim of amnesia and now with tornado powers. If a character suggested being cursed, it was he. Not to mention if you wanted a hero with abilities descended from a Greek hero there was the Nedor hero Thesson, descended from Theseus and with a ring that grants him super strength and endurance. Meanwhile the Flame and Flame Girl whose mastery over flame given to them by those friendly Tibetan monks are made to tie in to the Greek myth. Acceptable enough. However, what gets ignored are characters like Vulcan who has been captured by the cabal that is helping Zeus. They feed him Flame Girl when they have a hero who claims to be descended from the Greek gods themselves. Part of that group are other characters like Lash Lightning and Lightning Girl who got their lightning based powers from the mystic Old Man of the Pyramid, the Sword who received powers through Excalibur and others with no origins and pseudo mystical underpinnings such as Captain Courageous and Unknown Soldier. Also serving them through President West is Man of War, a being created by Mars and imbued with the powers of the greek gods including a flaming sword. Meanwhile, Man-Cat (nee Cat-man) got his abilities from a Cat goddess. Other GA characters with powers from the gods: Diana the Huntress (the actual goddess given the mission by Zeus to fight Nazis in Greece), Thor (the Fox hero given the weapons of Thor and his powers by the Norse gods), Craig Carter (Centaur hero with a ring that allows him to call forth the gods including Zeus to serve him). As well as various heroes empowered by various spirits like the Fighting Yank: Captain Red Cross, Yankee Girl, Major Victory, Captain Fearless, Citizen Smith, Steel Fist, the Flag (also in service with other patriots to the President and the cabal) and then a host of other mystically powered heroes. And, there's ole Hercules himself who pops up enough in various GA companies that an appearance wouldn't be out of the question.

Lastly, what about Mars himself? Mars who was a villain in the Fiction House titles. Mars who was a villain and accidentally created a hero in Man of War and spent time trying to destroy him. You have a precedent with Mars, using the actual history and stories that this series is supposed to be celebrating. By making the villain Zeus, it raises the question why him and why not an actual GA bad-guy god? Or at least other dark gods such as Shiva, Loki, or Set whose pantheons are not as extensively intertwined already with the heroes and history. It's a case where the story hasn't sufficiently explained the motivations behind the extreme actions. As it sets forth to cast a character against type, the explanation given is weak and raises other questions. By making the changes to characters to use the ones they did use, it calls attention to all of the other characters that would have made more sense or at least the equal amount of sense to use, even with ones that have already appeared at least in cameos. It calls forth questions in its internal inconsistencies instead of presenting a story that makes sense.

What is sad is there really is a story hidden in this, that is logically extrapolated from the series central conceit that all of the GA heroes of the various public domain companies were active in one continuity, the question of the plethora of mystical based superheroes. Why at this time the gods of various pantheons and mystics got involved in the War, that all these heroes and villains would receive powers from them and places like Tibet. What about this World War involves restless spirits of the American Revolution, Far Eastern mystics who would pass knowledge and powers on to those of European descent, the resurrection of mummies on both sides, etc. And, keep in mind that it has to have been seen coming for decades, people like Amazing Man and the Flame were raised in Tibet from infants.

Marvels Project: With the fourth issue, I stopped getting this title. In four issues, we've had the deaths of three characters. What is sad, is that none of them are well done and they all serve the same purpose, to motivate the actions of the Angel who is ostensibly the central character of the book. With the death of the Two-Gun Kid we had what seemed to be a cool moment that makes no sense in regards to character motivation, why his "friends" would send him as an old man to a time period he never lived in, where he had no friends or family away from friends and family he probably cultivated in the 40 years he lived in the future, and where medicine and treatments were a hundred years out of date. With the death of the Phantom Bullet, it was completely off panel, we never get to see or know the character and the Angel's actions and reactions are not supported by the story. We don't know why he takes it so personal or why he thinks the death was in some way involved with a case the Phantom was working beyond getting killed while stopping a crime he had just come across. Then, we have the death of the Ferret. The Ferret's death serves the exact same purpose of the Phantom Bullet's to the point that nothing is gained. The Ferret could have easily just as been wounded/placed in the hospital. It violates a story that otherwise fit into continuity from just a few months back that has the Ferret living at least long enough for the Human Torch and Namor to become uneasy allies. This time, we find out there is a friendship between the Ferret and the Angel that existed somewhere in between the panels of the books though it's important enough to serve as explanation for the Angel to take personally. Lastly, it's a death that pretty much demeans the Ferret in its treatment. The deal with the Ferret is he's a pulp styled detective, an ace detective. But, from his handling here, it gives the reader more of the idea that he's just merely eccentric and lame enough that he cannot handle a simple shadowing job and is very easily killed. In order to build up the Angel as a character, the Ferret (and to a degree, the Phantom Bullet) come across as ineffectual, characters to make jokes about. It's a storytelling tactic that seems a recurring theme in Brubaker's writing. I had hoped this would be different, it started off strong enough. But, this was enough to call it quits on his writing. I hate it because he otherwise handles characters, themes and time periods that interest me. But, we obviously get different enjoyment from them.