Friday, July 27, 2012

The Marvel Universe Kills Deadpool

In my last post about Deadpool, I talked about how after the most recent series became successful, Marvel started saturating the market with Deadpool side-stories, mini-series, alternate universes, etc. and how most of it sucks simply because the majority of the writers don't understand Deadpool. They think he's just a funny, schizophrenic Punisher.

One series I neglected to mention is one that is slated to come out later this year, "Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe".

This is a miniseries taking place in an alternate timeline where Deadpool goes crazy and kills everyone in the Marvel Universe. Heroes, villains, the works.

Marvel had done something identical with (you guessed it) the Punisher a few years back, so you can imagine I was more than a little skeptical.

Then I read this description:

• What if everthing you thought was funny about Deadpool…was actually just disturbing? 
• What if he decided to kill everyone and everything that makes up the Marvel Universe? 
• What if he actually pulled it off? Would that be FUN for you? 
• The Merc with a Mouth takes a turn for the twisted in a weekly horror comic like no other...

Yeah. REALLY skeptical.

But a part of me wasn't ready to call bullshit on this yet. I thought there was a direction this could go in that could conceivably work. If the writer REALLY understood Deadpool and went in some very dark recesses of Deadpool's past, then yeah, it could work. Deadpool DOES have a disturbing and scary side to him. No one has captured this quite as well as Joe Kelly did back when he first introduced us to "The Box"...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

How Nick Arcade and Clarissa Helped Turn Me Into a Nerd

I've always taken a certain amount of pride in the fact that I'm kind of an all-purpose nerd. Comic books, movies, TV, music, anime, computers, D&D, math, science, sci-fi, fantasy, kung-fu, the list goes on. With the tragic exception of books, if there's a nerdy stigma attached to it, I'm probably into it. But if I were to pick one and only one that was my first nerd love, it would have to be video games.

I was born in the late 80's, so video games were hitting their peak during my formative years. One of my earliest memories was of my family unwrapping a NES at Christmas. Another early memory of mine was a sort of daycare place that I would spend some days at while my mom was working and my dad was asleep. A lot of my memories are fuzzy, so I can't remember details like faces or names or how old I was, but I distinctly remember that the woman who was in charge of my brother and I had a son who owned a Sega Genesis. I loved my NES, but getting to play the Genesis felt like visiting a foreign country. It was exciting and different. Similarly, my best friend growing up had a SNES, and I lost count of the number of times we played "Turtles In Time".

But video games were only a portion of the things I was interested in as a kid. I also remember being really into basketball. I'm not sure if this was BECAUSE of my early love of the movie "Space Jam" or if I loved "Space Jam" because I really liked basketball, but it was something I really enjoyed doing until team sports ruined it for me.

Kids tend to have a wide variety of interests that they narrow down as they get older based on which ones give them more enjoyment. Whereas playing basketball on a team made me feel weak, stupid, effeminate, and uncoordinated thanks to the douchebags I played with (one of whom was, of course, the son of the coach), video games were something I shared with people I cared about and that I was pretty good at.

But today I realized that there was more to it than that.

Today I stumbled upon a few articles taking a retrospective behind-the-scenes look at two shows I remember very fondly growing up: "Nick Arcade" and "Clarissa Explains It All".

How's this for a nostalgia bomb?

They were pretty smart not to choose "Super Ghouls'n Ghosts", that shit's hard. Yeah, I know they lost the video challenges anyway, but that game would have SHAMED them.

"Nick Arcade" was a pretty investing show for me. On the one hand, it was unbelievably cool that they were sending kinds inside a video game (and as far as I knew at that age, that's exactly what was going on) and that in order to be considered worthy of that privilege, they first needed to best their competition both through video games and random trivia, which was usually suspiciously not video game related. On the other hand, watching these kids fail was MASSIVELY frustrating.

I mean, yes, today I watch that video and think, "She probably didn't know what was going on since everything is a blue screen to her and she can't really see the big picture," but when I was a kid I was probably screaming at the TV, "THE COIN IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU! THERE ARE NO OBSTACLES! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR!?!?" It's just like with that stupid monkey statue in "Legends of the Hidden Temple", but I digress.

Whenever these kids failed, they seemed unworthy to me. Why did THEY get to enter the video game world? I felt like I deserved it, not them.

Yeah, that's a pretty elitist and snobby notion, but I was a kid at the time. Still, remembering how I felt made me realize that video games were more than something I enjoyed, they were something I was very prideful about. I took them very seriously. I think the idea that if I was good enough at video games I could be on that show and be permitted to actually ENTER a video game lit a fire inside me, no matter how ridiculous it was. That and Space Camp were some of my most persistent childhood fantasies. The ultimate fantasy? Going on "Nick Arcade", winning, and the grand prize being a trip to Space Camp. Seriously, if 5-year-old me found a magic lamp and had one wish, that probably would have been it.

Plus it was just a really cool game show.

But that's also just what it was like at the time. Video games were cool. Everyone was into them. The fact that I was crazy about them didn't make me a nerd yet. In fact, if it was just something that I enjoyed, like basketball, as soon as it made me a social pariah, I probably would have tossed it aside as well.

However, that didn't happen. Partially because I always had friends that equally enjoyed it, but also because subconsciously I knew that everyone enjoyed video games.

And one show that really enforced that was "Clarissa Explains It All".

This was a show I really liked as a kid. I may not have been as obsessively invested in it as I was with other shows like "Power Rangers" (which most definitely fueled my love of kung-fu and anime), but aside from being an easy show to relate to (even though Clarissa was much older than I was at the time) it had this gimmick where every episode, Clarissa would create and play a video game on her computer to help her deal with whatever problem she faced during that particular episode. I wish I could find a clip showing an example, but it was featured in almost every episode that I can remember. If you hunt down the DVD of Season One, you'll see what I'm talking about.

This notion is obviously ridiculous. No single person could or would invest the time to make a video game specifically to illustrate a problem they're going through within the span of a few days. But, once again, being a kid at the time, I totally bought into it. It was always the part I looked forward to the most.

In the article I linked to earlier, the creator of the show said, "I never really thought about it as impossible or strange that she would make her own videogames. We always would make her blasé about it: 'Look at this cool videogame.' No one at Nick ever said it was something I shouldn’t do, and again it was about making her look cool for boys who would want to watch this girl who was pretty and smart and into videogames like they were."

Damn if that tactic didn't work on me. While I certainly liked the rest of the show and watched Nickelodeon religiously at that age, I probably wouldn't have gotten as invested as I did if it weren't for the promise of a new video game every episode. Also, being at the "girls are weird" stage of my childhood, it probably was very good that I was exposed to the idea of a girl being capable and intelligent and creative as opposed to girls who are just obsessed with fashion and dating and becoming a pop star like in a lot of kids shows from the past few decades. There were a lot of shows on Nickelodeon that involved live-action teenagers dealing with every day life, but "Clarissa" and "Pete & Pete" were the only ones I really cared about.

Speaking of the whole girls and video games thing, it also kind of blows my mind to watch that "Nick Arcade" video and see how, out of the four contestants, three of them were girls. This, in addition to the many children of color that were contestants on the show (as well as the African-American host), was something I don't think I ever noticed as a kid. It was just normal. "Girls and black kids like the same things I like," had become a foundation of my understanding of the world. Yes, other aspects of society have since attempted to challenge that notion, but perhaps thanks in part to these two shows, I've always known better than that. I mean, just look at that god-awful show on Cartoon Network called "Level Up" where a bunch of kids battle video game characters in real life and the cast consists of four characters, three boys and one girl, and the girl is explicitly portrayed as the non-gamer within the first 10 seconds of any given episode. Seriously, just watch the first 10 seconds. More than that and your brain will melt.

Fuck that shit.

But anyway, it was more than just the fact that video games were something Clarissa enjoyed, but also that it was something that she used to express her creativity. She didn't just play the games, she MADE them. She put her problems and issues inside of them to help her confront them. A lot of people point to more recent games to show how video games are an art form, but to me, the way Clarissa uses them in that show illustrates it perfectly. I think that's something that really sold me on video games as a kid.

I always enjoyed video games as a kid, and while I can't really know what turned it into my first true nerdy passion, I can't help but feel like these two shows really fueled that. They made video games feel normal, relevant, expressive, and accessible to everyone. Anyone could make and play video games. It didn't matter how strong you were, whether you were a boy or a girl, black or white. It was all about skill and dedication.

I think I always gravitated to that.

So thank you, Nickelodeon of old.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My Pull List - Comic Reviews for 7/25/2012

This week we've got:
- Aquaman #11
- Deadpool #58
- Green Lantern #11
- Justice League Dark #11
- Teen Titans #11

SPOILERS beyond this point.

Why I Can't Get Into American Professional Sports

The 2012 Summer Olympics start this weekend and like most citizens of the world, I'll probably be watching it passively over the next couple weeks. I'm sure a number of events will get me excited, but for the most part, it will just be background noise. But I do like the Olympics.

Whenever it's time for the Olympics or the World Cup, I remember why I never really got into American pro sports. It's not just that I find a lot of sports boring. Sure, American football and baseball have annoying announcers and awful pacing, but I think hockey, (real) football, and basketball can be exciting and interesting. The issue isn't entirely with the sports themselves, it's with the way professional sports are run and organized in America that really bugs me.

When I watch the Olympics or the World Cup, the teams are all representing where they come from. Sure, there are the occasional recent immigrants, but they are still expected to have full citizenship of the country they represent. Each team feels more personal and symbolic. Regular professional sports don't have that. 

"Wait," you might be saying, "each team DOES represent a particular region or state! And the athletes have to be residents of that state/region while they play for those teams!"

Yes, each team technically represents a particular state or region, but only in as much as the team trains and plays home games in that particular state or region. They don't actually come from there. Hell, just looking at the current roster for the Boston Red Sox, I could only find one guy who was actually born in Massachusetts. Hell, looking at their birthplaces, I'd say the team is more an accurate representation of Texas or California. Yes, they all currently live (at least partially) in Boston, but they all moved there explicitly to play for the Red Sox once they signed a contract. They didn't move there because they really liked Boston. It was a job offer. That's how it works.

Being a resident in a different state is not exactly difficult, either. There's no immigration process or anything. You just have extra tax forms to worry about. Yes, there are logistic issues, but considering how much pro athletes get paid, I doubt it's hard to live in two places at once.

As someone who used to live in New England, I know a lot of people cared a lot about the Red Sox and the Patriots as though they actually represented them or their identity. To me, they don't and they can't. All of the teams in all of the sports pick from the same pool of players that they trade and bargain for every year. Just because the region I live in is a part of their name and their base of operations doesn't mean I care about them.

"OK, fine," you might retort, "but people don't have to like teams that represent their region! They like teams with good coaches or a certain combination of players!"

This mentality I can understand better. Maybe you like a particular player and you support whatever team they're a part of. That's fine. I personally can't be bothered to care about that, just because I've never really been one to care too much about celebrities, but I can understand why people would. Maybe you pick a new favorite team every year based on whichever one plays the best. This sounds exhausting, but it makes sense.

That's not what a lot of people do.

Most sports fans that I know are loyal to a particular team through thick and thin, regardless of team configuration.

I can understand being loyal to a particular group in many situations, but not when the members of that group change as part of a regularly scheduled business arrangement.

To me, this would be like if all of the rock band managers got together every year and had a draft for their musicians. Would you still like the Rolling Stones if the musicians changed every year? Sure, maybe they'd still turn out good music, but could you really call them your favorite band?

Seriously, I want someone to try an experiment where they take two hockey teams, have them exchange jerseys, and see if the majority of the fans behave any differently. I somehow doubt it would matter much beyond, "Wow, this guy is having a really off night. That other team still sucks, though. They just got lucky."

This is why the fierce loyalty confounds me. The success or failure of your state/region's team does not accurately reflect the success/failure of the athletic or competitive prowess of said state/region. It's all in your head.

To me, it would be way more interesting if you could only play for a team that you've lived in for at least a year or two prior to singing a contract or playing, kind of like what they do for the Olympics. Sure, teams would still trade players, but it would be a much more involved process. The player would have to uproot themselves and go somewhere without getting paid. Either they would have to remain unemployed for the waiting period or they would have to find another job in the meantime (they're all college-educated, right?). Few people would do that unless they really wanted to play for that team. Otherwise, teams would just be comprised of people who already live there.

Yes, this would mean that the players would have fewer options and wouldn't be able to have as much leverage when negotiating payment. Cry me a river. Yes, I know that most athletes have short careers and they get paid a lot so that they can comfortably retire when their bodies can't keep up anymore, but forgive me if I don't have a lot of sympathy for a guy who gets paid vast sums of money and gets to retire before the age of 40 for playing a fucking game. Yes, I know it takes a lot of work and dedication, but it's still a fucking game. You know what else takes a lot of work and dedication? Neuroscience. Where's their early retirement and summer home? Sorry neuroscience isn't as entertaining to you, but it's sure a hell of a lot harder and more important to the advancement of modern society.

Yes, it would also mean that a lot of teams would start sucking and they couldn't do much about it in the short term. But I would much rather support a shitty team that actually represents my home than an amazing team that just happened to make good picks during the draft that year.

And yes, I know this will never happen. Professional sports in America have no shortage of money and fans and they don't need my patronage. Even so, this is primarily why I just can't bring myself to give a crap about any sporting events other than the World Cup or the Olympics. It's just a business.

Oh, also I might be a little vindictive because I hated it when football games preempted "The Simpsons" when I was growing up.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Comic Continuity: Welcome to the Rabbit Hole

As you guys know, I started doing reviews of the classic "Doctor Who" serials starting from the beginning and working my way forward. Even assuming that I can manage to keep up with it consistently (an apparently very foolish assumption), I still probably will not manage to complete this task for a few years at least. "Doctor Who" is the longest-running sci-fi television show ever. Even so, I decided that if I was going to start watching the classic "Doctor Who" serials, my only true option was to start from the beginning, and if I'm going to suffer through it, I'm going to drag you guys along with me.

When I first expressed interest in the classic "Doctor Who" serials, the idea of starting from the beginning seemed ridiculous. Many of the episodes exist only as fan-produced reconstructions, and even the ones that aren't lost have never been released in any comprehensive fashion by BBC. Going from beginning to end would take a lot of effort and time and research. So I started off by asking friends of mine who love classic "Doctor Who" what serials I should check out. They recommended quite a few and I tracked them down and started watching. Immediately, I was struck with that nagging feeling. A character would reference an event or a plot device from an earlier serial, forcing me to curiously investigate what they were referencing, and before I knew it, I had fallen down the continuity rabbit hole.

The whole reason I wanted to get into the classic "Doctor Who" was so I could have a more complete understanding of the character. While the new series may not care THAT much about the old continuity, it does still matter. So if I was going to do it, I had to go big or go home.

This situation reminds me very much of people who try to get into comic books.

Anyone who is a fan of comic books at some point is asked the question, "I want to get into comic books, but where do I start?"

No one asks this question for any other medium. If someone wants to get into "Game of Thrones", they'll either go buy the first season on DVD or buy the first book in the series. There is a clear and obvious starting point.

There are three main reasons why potential fans have such a hard time knowing where to start.

1) Like "Doctor Who", comic book characters and the universe they inhabit have been around for decades. Thousands of new issues are printed every year. If I wanted to read every single comic book issue released by DC this year, I would spend roughly $1500 on the books and I would have to read about 2 issues every single day for the entire year. This is just for ONE year's worth of comics. If I wanted to read every single comic book that's relevant to comic continuity for Marvel and DC, I would probably have to turn it into a full-time job. You can't just say "Start from the beginning". Well say you just wanted to read every single "Avengers" comic ever. That's not as terrible. That's only about 500 issues. Not easy, but not ridiculous. Even so, old comic books are kind of... bad. Or at least, they are really cheesy. While they have a lot of great historical value, serious comic book continuity didn't really start mattering until the Silver Age, and "serious" comic book stories didn't really become commonplace until the Bronze Age. And there have been so many retcons and reboots that many of those older stories aren't really worth the trouble. So even in isolated cases, for long-running comic book heroes/teams, "start from the beginning" is not really an option.

2) Marvel and DC have spent a long time marketing their overall universes rather than individual heroes. By having inter-mingling continuity, it's hard for an individual reader to feel like they can just get into Spider-Man or Iron Man or Batman without having to worry about the additional baggage. You can't just get into Spider-Man. You have to get into comic books. It's not just a medium, it's a hobby. Imagine if instead of saying, "I want to get into 'A Song of Ice and Fire'," I said, "I want to get into books"? If someone asked that question, people would often respond by asking, "What kind of books?" But with comic books, it's a different animal. A lot of the times, people will recommend starting with event comics because they can often be a good way to showcase a lot of the characters involved in present continuity to help the reader decide what characters interest them so they know what to read going forward. You have to embrace the medium as a whole before you can start reading individual series.

3) Even once someone has decided that they like a particular character, say Captain America, and they want to get to know THAT character, people will still have a hard time recommending a good starting point. More often than not, people will just recommend specific series, trade paper backs, or particular writers' runs on certain series. "This is the story arc where Bucky dies, this is the story arc where Cap becomes Nomad..." and so on. The problem is that what matters to a particular character is subjective, particularly because most of the writers for any given character did not invent that character. They are writing a character as they interpret them, and that interpretation is subjective to the comics they read. Instead of writers passing the torch to one another, each new writer typically just hits the reset button to bring the character back to the way they remember them. So while individual stories can matter more than others, it's all subjective.

These problems are by no means insurmountable. After all, this isn't really all that different from studying history. If I want to study history, I can't just start from the Big Bang and work my way forward. I have to choose where to start, what interests me, and whose interpretation I want to listen to. Historians can't reboot and reconsolidate all of the history of the world to make it easily digestible for people who want to get into history, because all the history they're glazing over still exists. The same can be said for comic books. Even after DC's "New 52" relaunch, people STILL recommend old story arcs from before the relaunch, even if they've been rendered non-existent. These stories still exist, whether or not they do in the "real" continuity, so they still stand as an option for new readers. It's like cleaning your room by stuffing everything in a closet. You haven't gotten rid of everything, you're just trying to make it LOOK cleaner so you don't scare anyone away.

This is primarily why comic books will never be as popular as they once were. No matter what we do, the history of comics and their characters will only be pursued by nerds, and thus, only nerds will read comic books.

And that's FINE.

Comic books will always make enough money to stay a viable business. Sales have pretty much been level for the past decade and they've even gone up a bit with the popularity of the movies and the advent of digital comics.

Superheroes and their continuity, however, have transcended comics. They have become mythological characters that are in TV, movies, and our culture in general. Comic books may never be super popular again, but the characters will never go away.

The comic companies have done a lot of work to try and make their comics more approachable. They do reboots and events and "Essential" series and tie-ins. But while these things do increase sales, they don't increase their audience.

And frankly, I don't think there's anything they can do to drastically change that.

Well, OK, if they stopped objectifying women and always drawing them like pin-ups without spines, they would probably have an easier time attracting female nerds, which would increase their audience a reasonable amount, but they would still only be attracting nerds.

Even if they completely undid all of their continuity and swore off it completely, people still wouldn't read comic books. Hell, continuity is the main reason people read comic books. It's why fans get so pissed whenever continuity is forgotten or disrespected. We feel like historians or archaeologists, slowly uncovering the ancient machinations of these universes and putting all the pieces together. Sure the comics themselves are good, but the continuity drives our passion. It's why we devour the event comics, even the bad ones. It's why DC and Marvel put so much effort into trying to reconcile the discrepancies that pop up.

And yes, it's why "Avengers" was such a popular movie.

So why is it that the movies can get away with having inter-continuity and maintaining a mainstream audience, while comic books will only ever have nerdy fans? Because movies are easy for people to catch up on. I can watch every single Marvel Cinematic Universe movie in a single afternoon. These movies have been coming out for 5 years. Yes, as time goes on, it will be harder to marathon them all, but that doesn't stop people from getting into long-running TV shows. I mean, how long does it take to watch the entirety of "LOST"? So long as the movies are always readily available and watching them from beginning to end doesn't require thousands of dollars and years of dedication, these movies will never repel mainstream audiences like comics do.

And in a way, that's great. The movies kind of act as a SparkNotes version of a specific comic character's history. They boil down the plot elements that are collectively considered important or interesting, they incorporate them into the movie, and then you have a consistent character that appeals to long-time fans who get the references and new audiences who don't.

Only the nerdy audience members will then look into the comics to understand all the references, but that new blood will keep the medium alive.

The comics can continue to be labyrinthine. They always will be no matter how hard Marvel or DC try. And to be perfectly honest, we love that. We comic fans often say we hate how no one else is into comics, but really, we love to be the ones who know who Nick Fury is. We love to be the ones who know who Thanos is. We love to leave the movie theaters telling our friends how awesome that one reference was and telling them why in far more detail than they actually care about.

Continuity is not inherently a bad thing. We feel like we get extra mileage out of having watched/read earlier entries in a series. It gives us a sense of completeness and understanding. It makes the characters feel alive.

Even so, if Marvel and DC REALLY want to get more people into comics, they can't do that by trying to make the continuity less confusing. They've tried it again and again and it never works. What they SHOULD do is try new forms of advertising. Specifically, commercials.

There are a lot of TV shows I've never watched but I could still tell you the gist of the plot just by having seen their commercials. TV spots tend to give a quick recap of a plot or major events from previous episodes that are relevant to upcoming ones. See enough of them, and you can generally get the idea of what's going on without ever having watched them. But unless you're reading comics, you probably have no idea what's currently going on in comic books. Comic books practically depends ENTIRELY on word-of-mouth for publicity. Almost all of their advertising is in places where only people who already buy comic books go.

What I might like to see is a weekly recap of comic book goings-on. Cartoon Network could make it a part of the DC Nation and Disney XD could make it a part of their Marvel Universe block. They could either have it in-character/in-continuity, like with a news reporter from the Daily Planet/Bugle or something, or as a sort of weekly review show, like with Linkara or someone who just reviews all the comics that came out that week and briefly touches on what happened in them. This way, people can get a general idea of what they might be missing out on if they don't read comics.

Even then, however, they'll still only attract nerds. But there are a lot of nerds out there who don't read comics. They can change that, but not by stuffing their continuity in a closet. They have to make everyone casually aware of what's currently going on in the universe, even if they don't read everything. They have to make everything readily available (Comixology is great for this). They have to focus on telling good stories and dissuade writers from retconning or hitting the reset button.

My whole point is just that comic continuity may make it difficult for new readers, but that doesn't make it a bad thing. Continuity is what makes fans dedicated and passionate. It should be embraced, not hidden. And comics should abandon all hope of becoming popular in the mainstream again. Sorry, but in the digital age, there's just too much available media for that to ever happen. The mainstream audience will see your movies, but they won't read the comics. They'll just ask the nerds when something confuses them or they missed a reference. And as a nerd, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we're OK with being your historians.

Oh, and in case you DO want to get into comics, here's my advice. First, find a character that you like, either from hearing about them or from watching a TV show or movie involving them. Then go into a good comic book store or go to a friend who loves comics. Then say that you really like this one character and you want to read some good stories involving him/her. They will probably be able to rattle off a list of recommendations off the top of their head -- probably available in trade paper back form -- that you'll be able to pick up. Buy it, start reading. If something confuses you, look it up on Wikipedia. Then you might find another character that you like. Then you go back to the comic book store and so on and so forth. Welcome to the continuity rabbit hole, my fellow nerd.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Defending the Star Wars Prequels: Revenge of the Sith

I promise I'll have the long-overdue "The Aztecs" review up tonight, but first I want to finish my "Defending the Star Wars Prequels" thing that I never finished.

To be fair, I think "Revenge of the Sith" requires the least amount of defense. While most "Star Wars" fans hate the prequels as a general rule, they don't have quite as much hate for the third one. It included Wookiees and had almost no Jar Jar and it was practically wall-to-wall action, which is difficult to hate.

As I did with "Attack of the Clones", I'll start by citing my personal grievances with the movie before launching into my defense of the common complaints.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises, Falls, and Rises Again...

I was one of those nerds who thought that "The Dark Knight" should have been at the very least considered for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 2009. While I can understand the argument for why "Milk" or "Slumdog Millionaire" would be better, I can't imagine anyone arguing that it's a lesser film than "Frost/Nixon", "Benjamin Button", or "The Reader". I mean, honestly, does anyone actually remember "The Reader"?

But that's the Academy for you. It took them three tries before recognizing "Lord of the Rings", and "Return of the King" wasn't even the best of the trilogy, in my opinion. They picked "Annie Hall" over "Star Wars".

Then again, a lot of people think the Academy changed its rules for Best Picture nominees specifically because of the "Dark Knight" snub, and for that reason, I think a lot of people were hoping that "The Dark Knight Rises" would be the first comic book movie considered for Best Picture. Even if it wasn't quite as good as "The Dark Knight", the Academy might nominate it just as penance for the 2009 snub.

Here's the problem. "The Dark Knight Rises" isn't even CLOSE to as good as "The Dark Knight". It's not even as good as "Batman Begins", which really shocked me.

And to be perfectly honest, even if this movie DID get the "honor" of being the first comic book movie nominated for Best Picture, I don't think we should be proud of that. This movie, while certainly not BAD (and actually pretty good) is not a good representation of comic book mythology in general, let alone Batman mythology. A nomination would basically be the Academy saying, "We don't care how good the actual movie is, so long as it is needlessly topical and doesn't have bright colors." That wouldn't bring any new mainstream credibility to the genre.

Some of you might be thinking, "Why should we care what the Academy thinks?" Well, to a degree, we really shouldn't. The Academy Awards don't dictate what makes a good movie. However, they DO dictate what a studio is shooting for in terms of a movie's quality. For example, after "Beauty and the Beast" got nominated for Best Picture, suddenly animated films from Disney tried (and often failed) to shoot for that same kind of clout. It raised the bar for them. They knew they could accomplish more than just box office success, and that kind of awareness grants the creators a certain amount of freedom to focus more on quality than profitability.

In other words, the Academy recognizing a comic book movie as a quality piece of cinema would tell Warner Bros., Fox, Sony, and Marvel Studios that they don't have to simply try and make a ton of money. They can explore deeper concepts and critics no longer have to add the caveat "for a comic book movie" to any compliment they give.

However, if they recognize this comic book movie, it will say that a comic book movie has to be as gritty, dark, and realistic as possible in order to be considered a "true" film.

"The Dark Knight Rises" is not a comic book movie that takes its source material seriously. Catwoman is never once called "Catwoman". Batman is still wearing bulky, heavy armor that looks awful. Bane has only the most superficial similarities to his comic book counterpart.

It's like when you're in Junior High and your English teacher asks you to write an essay about something that has to contain words from your weekly vocabulary list. You go out of your way to include them just because you're supposed to, but if it weren't expected, you probably wouldn't have bothered.

That's what's going on here. Nolan clearly doesn't WANT to be making a Batman movie. Frankly, this movie probably would have been better off if it didn't include Batman. If it was just a movie about a city being cut off from the rest of the world and plunged into anarchy, that would be interesting. I mean, that's a really cool premise that you can do a lot with. But because Nolan is trying (but failing) SO HARD to give Batman a complete story arc in the midst of all this, we really have no time to really explore it.

This movie probably looked good on paper. If I just look at the overall plot or outline of this movie, it sounds amazing. The problem is with the execution of the screenplay. This is easily the messiest Nolan Bros. screenplay ever, and that includes "Inception".

The individual parts are well-put-together and the presentation is excellent, but it never really comes together in the way the previous two movies did.

OK, beyond here, we're getting into SPOILERS.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Impossible Sora and the End of the Universe

In one of my first posts, I casually posited that if the upcoming movie, "Wreck-It Ralph", included references to "Kingdom Hearts" or "Tron", it could effectively shatter existence.

Well, it would appear that Tron just might make an appearance in some fashion. So what does that mean?

First, let's explain the core mechanic at play in "Wreck-It Ralph". The idea is that video game characters have lives outside of their "day jobs" and they go to their respective games through a sort of transport hub that's strictly regulated. The titular character somehow gets through this security during his existential crisis and starts game-jumping, causing him to disappear from his video game and reappear in the real world. It is not clear if he is able to jump to any other game in existence or just other games within the arcade. We probably won't find out until the movie comes out. But let's say for the sake of argument that he could jump into any game anywhere.

As we all know, "Tron" was an old movie Disney made back when they were trying to capture a niche sci-fi audience in the wake of "Star Wars". This tactic didn't really work out, but the movie inspired a few video games that were very popular, including a game of the same name that was centered around the light-cycle game from the movie. In the recent sequel, "Tron: Legacy", this arcade game made an appearance within the universe, making the game itself canonical.

Finally, we have "Kingdom Hearts", a game in which a character named Sora and his allies fly around going to other Worlds inhabited by several Disney and Square-Enix characters. In "Kingdom Hearts II", one of these Worlds was Space Paranoids, the setting for the first "Tron" movie.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. Space Paranoids is separate from the "Tron" arcade game since it came before it. In all likelihood, if a Tron-related arcade game were to make an appearance in "Wreck-It Ralph", it would probably be "Tron", not "Space Paranoids", and "Tron" has yet to make an appearance in "Kingdom Hearts".

Well, you would be right. However, in the upcoming "Kingdom Hearts 3D", we will be going to The Grid, the world featured in "Tron: Legacy", which was made after the "Tron" arcade game and also appears to include the game itself. This also implies that Sora is able to traverse any of the computer worlds within the "Tron" universe. In other words, Sora is able to enter the video game "Tron".

What makes Tron World unique in "Kingdom Hearts" is that while there are other video game characters in the games (see all of the "Final Fantasy" characters), Tron World is the only one that is canonically a video game. It is a video game in the movie, it is a video game in real life, and it is a video game in "Kingdom Hearts". This means it bridges the gap between all known universes.

So if Wreck-It Ralph is able to game-jump into "Tron", whose to say Sora couldn't game-jump as well? Like, say, into the real-world version of his own game?

There's two ways to think about this. One: Sora the video game character is able to jump out of "Kingdom Hearts" and into any other video game, which theoretically would include "Tron". Two: In-character Sora is able to traverse into "Tron" as per normal in-character means.

With all this in mind, here is how Sora could destroy the Disney/Square-Enix Universe.

In a "Kingdom Hearts" game, Sora goes to Tron World. He then game-jumps into a copy of "Kingdom Hearts". Within that copy of "Kingdom Hearts", he takes that game's version of Sora with him to Tron World where he repeats the process, creating an infinite number of Soras. Then all of those Soras game-jump into the video game "Tron", where they then traverse to Kingdom Hearts World, which is canonically connected to "Tron" the video game.

Sora has then at once left his own video game entirely, but returned to the World from the video game. He is both in the video game and not in the video game. His presence defies all logic. He has become Impossible Sora.

This infinite army of Impossible Soras then spread out to all the infinite Worlds of the Disney/Square-Enix Universe, unraveling the very fabric of existence and destroying it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Pull List - Comic Reviews for 7/18/2012

This week we've got a short list:
- Avengers Vs. X-Men #8
- Captain Marvel #1
- Justice League #11

Crusader Kings II

I am not really a fan of Real-Time Strategy games. I have a nostalgic appreciation for the older "Warcraft" and "Starcraft" games, but the replayability of most games like that depends on your willingness to play multiplayer.

I like multiplayer, but I'm a bit of a prick, so I generally don't like to play games I'm not good at, and generally, I'm not good at RTS's. I'm not good at thinking on my feet and most RTS's demand built-in strategic and tactical knowledge and fast reflexes. I'm usually OK with single player since I can usually save the game and reassess strategies as I go along, but in multiplayer, I invariably get my ass handed to me. So RTS's have never been a genre that interested me.

Similarly, I've never really been fond of Simulation games. Sim games were some of the first PC games I ever played. But I always felt like games like SimCity, the Tycoon games, and the Sims always tried to bother me with boring minutiae in order to control the things I cared about. I just wanted to create a world and see how the people react and interact, not constantly repair roads, sewers, and power lines. I wanted to build amusement parks, not worry about budgets and whether or not I had enough trash cans and hot dog stands to keep everyone happy. I wanted to have people interact and have relationships, not constantly force them to go to the bathroom or get to work on time every damn day. Then again, at least sim games have a pause button so you can take time to think.

Games like Civilization kind of straddled the line between RTS (though they were actually turn-based) and sim, but they still had those elements that bothered me. Too much micromanaging of resources and infrastructure and not enough personality and character. I never really got into games like that either.

I doubt I ever would have really tried out Paradox's "Crusader Kings II" if it hadn't been featured on "Extra Credits" and featured during one of Steam's Summer Sales. I suppose it also might have been influenced by my recent interest in "Game of Thrones". Not because I learned that "Crusader Kings II" had a GoT mod (I actually still haven't tried that out yet), but because GoT really got me more interested in the idea of dynasties and medieval politics. 

Regardless, I decided to give "Crusader Kings II" a try, and it has gripped me in a way no other RTS or sim game ever has.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Deadpool (The Video Game)

High Moon Studios just recently released a teaser trailer for an upcoming game based on my favorite comic book character, Deadpool.

My gut instinct is to be excited about this, but I can't help but be a bit reserved and skeptical. Let me explain why.

Believe it or not, there was a time when Deadpool was not really all that popular. It's a rather long and uninteresting story, but basically he had a number of comic series starting in 1997 and in 2004, he started sharing a title with another Liefeld character, Cable. "Cable & Deadpool" is still fondly remembered by many fans, primarily because Deadpool works best with a straight-man to play off of and Cable was a great straight-man. However, it became more and more obvious that Deadpool was a little too shut off from the rest of the Marvel Universe. Cable's story arcs were always the ones that actually had any weight regarding the rest of Earth-616 and Deadpool was basically just the character that bounced around and messed things up or had wacky adventures that were entirely divorced from Cable's plots. It was unsurprising that when Cable left due to X-Men time-travel shenanigans and whatnot, Deadpool didn't have much else to do.

Deadpool had always had a dedicated following, but he never went mainstream, primarily because he almost never got involved with the mainstream universe's goings-on.

Then in 2008, about half a year after "Cable & Deadpool" got canceled, Deadpool got his own solo title back, this time written by Daniel Way.

A lot of people have different feelings regarding this run, but personally, while I do think that Daniel Way isn't the FUNNIEST writer for Deadpool, he certainly GETS Deadpool in a way that no one really has since Joe Kelly.

You see, people who often write Deadpool understand only a few key elements of him. They know he's murderous, insane, hilarious, ugly, and that he breaks the fourth wall. So that's usually the extent of what they do with him.

What Joe Kelly did (and what Daniel Way does) is he understood WHY Deadpool behaved the way he did. He showed us that Deadpool was very conflicted and perhaps isn't as crazy as he lets on. He sometimes made us wonder if Deadpool was the only sane person in the entire universe. His fourth-wall breaking isn't just there to be silly, it's there either because of his tenuous grip on the nature of his reality or because it's the only way he can mentally digest the absurdity of his life.

My point is, I like Daniel Way's run because he gets Deadpool in a way that most writers don't.

The other thing about Daniel Way's run is that it ushered in a bit of a Deadpool craze.

You see, another thing that marked Daniel Way's run was that he started getting Deadpool more involved in the over-arching plots of the Marvel Universe. In fact, the first year or so of Deadpool's new comic was almost entirely centered around something he does during the "Secret Invasion" story line. It also tied him in with the Thunderbolts series during the "Dark Reign" story line. I personally think that this momentary spotlight gave Deadpool a sudden boost in visibility and new readers flocked to him. Deadpool became more popular than ever before.

As a long-time fan, I was happy to see the character finally getting the attention I believed he deserved.

However, as any Marvel fan knows, once Marvel has a popular character on their hands, they milk it for all that it's worth.

Since Daniel Way's run became popular, we've had "Deadpool: Suicide Kings", "Deadpool: Merc With a Mouth", "Deadpool Corps", "Deadpool Team-Up", "Deadpool MAX", "Deadpool Pulp", "Deadpool: Wade Wilson's War"... the list of spin-offs and miniseries goes on. And the worst part is that with rare exception, almost none of them actually understand the character.

Deadpool is often misused as a character designed to let comedic writers do whatever silly funny things they want without needing to be serious. Deadpool's crazy so he doesn't need a good reason to do any of the things he does, right? So let's just throw him into whatever plot we come up with and throw in a ton of jokes and action scenes and that'll do it.

This is why I can't tolerate most of these other series. It's not enough to be funny and violent. There's a certain amount of subtle intellectualism behind Deadpool that far too many people miss. They basically treat him like a funny Punisher.

And to be quite frank, when I look at this trailer, I definitely get the feeling that High Moon Studios only gets the funny and violent part.

Now, that can work to a certain extent. I mean, Deadpool's inclusion in team-up video games and "Marvel Vs. Capcom 3" didn't need to reach past his surface-level antics because those games aren't about individual character development.

However, an entire game centered around him with a real narrative and everything absolutely MUST understand him.

I will say this, Nolan North has always done a good Deadpool. He first voiced the character in a short animated feature called "Hulk Vs. Wolverine", portraying a version of the character that was still with Weapon X and had clearly not yet grown a conscience. He was funny but still sounded a bit threatening and vindictive. Then he reprised the character in the aforementioned "Marvel Vs. Capcom 3", where he sounded more like he does in this trailer. A bit goofier, a bit more playful, and less vindictive and threatening. To me, this shows that North understands how layered the character is. I also gained a ton of respect for the actor's talent in his recent performances as Superboy in "Young Justice". I think he can pull this off if he's given a good script.

That's the part that worries me.

If the entire game is just about Deadpool bouncing around and having silly adventures and never ever gets serious, I will absolutely hate it, no matter how good Nolan North is.

It's hard to judge a game based on a trailer like this, but let's just say that given the volumes of bad Deadpool interpretations that have come out over the past few years, I won't be surprised if this game will just be a "Devil May Cry" game with lots of bad jokes and wasted opportunities.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Can Spider-Man and Daredevil Join the Avengers?

Comic book movies have had an unusual history. Believe it or not, there was a time where it was nearly impossible to get one made. While DC has been owned by Warner Bros. since 1969, making WB responsible for almost every film and TV incarnation of DC superheroes you've ever seen since that date, it is also why there haven't been a lot of DC-based movie franchises. Almost every single movie they've produced has been related either to Batman or Superman and just about every other franchise they've attempted has failed for one reason or another.

Marvel took a different approach. Since they still had their movie rights, they opted to license those rights to any studio (other than Warner Bros.) who was willing to make movies based on their characters, since at that point in time, they would take anything they could get. This is why Marvel movies came out with much greater frequency and variety, and it's also why Marvel's movie rights are scattered all over the place.

Since Marvel took a bold risk and started up its own studio beginning with the surprise hit "Iron Man", they've been focusing on getting their rights back.

However, now that comic book movies are in again, the studios that have been sitting on those rights are doing everything in their power to turn out new movies quickly to retain those rights.

You see, the way the contract works is that if the studio doesn't start production a movie based on the rights they purchased within a certain amount of time, then Marvel gets the rights back. Additionally, Marvel could theoretically purchase the rights back if the studio no longer wished to keep them. For this reason, Marvel has since reacquired the rights to Blade and the Punisher.

However, some of the rights are still floating around. These are the ones we know about:

- X-Men: 20th Century Fox's most successful comic book franchise. While its popularity has been waning, they still rushed out the film "X-Men: First Class" which was popular with fans and critics and did well enough in the box office. They now have a sequel for that film planned as well as a new "The Wolverine" movie that will likely discard the events of the wretched "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" movie.
- Fantastic Four: Also owned by Fox. This hasn't had a movie since 2007 with "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer", but they've recently landed Josh Trank (the director of "Chronicle") to direct a reboot. It's only been 5 years, so as long as they pull something together within a couple more years, they'll likely keep the rights to this property.
- Daredevil: Also owned by Fox. While it's been nearly 10 years since the last Daredevil movie, it's only been 8 years since "Elektra", which technically is under the Daredevil umbrella. Still, it is believed that Fox needs to start production on their planned reboot this Fall or the rights will revert back, and it was recently reported that the director just jumped ship.
- Spider-Man: Owned by Sony. Now that "Amazing Spider-Man" was an unquestionable success, it's unlikely that Sony is looking to part with the property. However, it is worth noting that "Amazing Spider-Man" is probably going to be the least successful Spider-Man film of all time, not even making back its budget through domestic gross. It will still likely reach $500 million worldwide, but like I said, its profitability is deteriorating.
- Ghost Rider: The other property owned by Sony. They just came out with "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance", which made back its budget worldwide, but failed to do so domestically. Similar to "Amazing Spider-Man", it made about half of what its predecessor made.

So why does this matter? Well, because Marvel has proven that its inter-connected continuity between comic book movies was an overwhelmingly successful idea. Now it's basically guaranteed that every single Marvel Studios film is going to take place within this continuity. Meanwhile, the Marvel movies made by Fox and Sony won't be.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My Pull List - Comic Reviews for 7/11/2012

OK! Let's do this!

This week I'm reviewing:
- Batgirl #11
- Batman #11
- Batman and Robin #11
- Demon Knights #11
- Swamp Thing #11

Once again, there may be SPOILERS.

Ouya: The Indie Console

For those of you who haven't heard, this is Ouya:

Its Kickstarter started the other day with the seemingly lofty goal of raising nearly $1 million. As of this writing, it is nearing $3 million and I don't doubt that it will blow past that by the end of the day. I haven't the slightest clue where it will end, but I think it's probably bound to be the most successful Kickstarter in the history of the site.

A lot of people seem skeptical about the idea. Myself included, at least to a degree. I myself haven't actually contributed to the Kickstarter, and I doubt that I will. Not that I don't think this is a good idea, I just don't like contributing to Kickstarters that have already reached their goals.

I understand the skepticism. The platform is cheap, costing only $99. Its hardware is basically about as powerful as a decent tablet PC. The company producing it will only make profits from the sale of the hardware and presumably a cut of whatever monetization scheme developers come up with for their games.

It all seems very pie-in-the-sky and risky.

If mismanaged, this can easily go the way of the Wii. Excited consumers will buy it, but developers will lose interest primarily due to the underwhelming technical capabilities of the platform.

However, it doesn't appear that Ouya is going to make the same mistakes as the Wii.

First of all, they're sticking with a very simple control scheme. Given the open nature of the platform, motion-capable input systems could be developed for it, but this is less than likely to happen anytime soon. Regardless, this will provide a comfortable environment for developers to work in and it won't put off gamers either.

Also, whereas Nintendo's inexplicable desire to make everything licensed and proprietary deterred indie developers from taking full advantage of WiiWare, Ouya's game publishing system will presumably be completely open, much like the Google Play service for Android, and the SDK for the system is completely free.

For the past few years, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft have been fighting the trends in gaming. People don't want to pay full retail prices for games. With the advent of Steam, more and more gamers are returning to the PC, since that's where all the indie developers are. The new casual gaming market brought on by the Wii has largely found a new home in mobile gaming, particularly on the iOS and Android.

They've been trying their best to ride the waves of the shifting paradigm, but they don't want to change the way they do business. They like being the gate-keepers. Right now, if you want to develop for one of the major consoles, you need to purchase their SDKs, create the game according to their specifications and standards, get their approval, pay for the licensing, and pay for the publishing. If you want to develop a game for XBLA, for example, all of these costs go straight to Microsoft. On top of that, the process in lengthy, taking several months. Additionally, releasing game patches or DLC often takes just as long. The Big Three act as middle-men and that's the way it has always been.

This is primarily why most indie games these days come out for Steam first. Steam doesn't have any specific hardware specifications or standards, SDK integration is easy, and they basically just take money directly from the sale of the game.

In a way, Ouya is taking the Steam approach, but applying it to consoles. It costs nothing to develop for and once you have a game ready, you just submit it and Ouya adds it to their store. Their only requirement is that your game functions on the hardware and that it has at least some element of free play, either through a demo or a microtransaction system or just by making the entire game free. If your game has a cost, Ouya will take a cut of it.

Ouya may lack the technical power and connections with the industry that the Big Three have, but they make up for it by offering console development without the cost and red tape. Even AAA developers might look at that and think, "Hey, maybe we can dedicate a small team to make something for it, just to try it out." But I guarantee, indie developers will be all over this. If you were so inclined, you could make a game by yourself in your basement and

Does it have problems? Probably. Like Android and iOS, the idea of an open store has two possible paths. Either they allow just about every single app through, making it difficult for anyone to stand out in the sea of garbage, or they pick and choose what they allow in the store, which is time-consuming and subject to criticism. With the amount of publicity Ouya is getting, there will be a lot of developers making terrible games very quickly to try and get an early foothold on the market, and this may put off a lot of gamers.

Obviously, its limited technical capabilities mean that we won't see major AAA titles for this system.

The idea of encouraging hackers and modders to play around with the system is very bold, but it may make developers nervous and it may make fragmentation a problem.

Even with these problems, however, this system could change everything. If new and struggling console developers start focusing on Ouya, it puts the Big Three in an awkward position. They would be able to retain their AAA developers, but that market has been stagnating for a while and hasn't had much growth. They will have to adapt to survive, which may mean a serious shift in the way the entire industry does business. XBLA and PSN might go the way of WiiWare as fewer and fewer developers will want to put up with their high costs and standards.

Additionally, if Ouya continues on its current trajectory and captures a huge market, there's no reason why the Ouya 2 (or whatever) couldn't match the technical capabilities of its competitors in time, eventually capturing the AAA market as well.

This could be the first step to the future of console gaming. I guess we'll know for sure in March 2013.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Defending the Star Wars Prequels: Attack of the Clones

OK, here's the tricky part of this series that I'm doing here. While I do think the prequels as a whole are worth defending, and yes, while I do fully intend to defend "Attack of the Clones", I also will admit fully that it is the weakest "Star Wars" film by far.

Since I want to make it clear that I'm not really a fan of this movie, before I get to defending it, I want to cite my major problems with it.

While the plot of "The Phantom Menace" lacked any real structure or motivation, it still made sense. Trade Federation sets up blockade against Naboo. Galactic Senate sends Jedi to resolve the situation. The Trade Federation, prompted by the Sith Lord, Darth Sidious, breaks Galactic law by invading Naboo and attempts to get Queen Amidala to sign a treaty to appease the Galactic Senate. The Jedi help Amidala escape but they crash land on Tatooine, where they find a boy named Anakin Skywalker, who one of the Jedi believes is a chosen one prophesied to bring balance to the Force. They all go to Coruscant where the Senate is unconvinced by Amidala's pleas, leading her to submit a vote of no confidence in the Chancellor and go fight her own battle. Ultimately, the supportive Senator Palpatine becomes the new Chancellor. Meanwhile, the Jedi Council refuses to train Anakin, leading him to be taken on as an apprentice to Qui-Gon Jin. During the battle to take back Naboo, Qui-Gon dies, leaving Anakin in the care of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Naboo is won back with the help of the native Gungans and the Trade Federation is presumably ousted from the Galactic Senate while the Gungans are given a say in Naboo's political matters.

It might not be the most INTERESTING plot, but it DOES make sense and it DOES set up the over-arching plot regarding Palpatine's master plan.

Palpatine basically had little interest in the success or failure of the Trade Federation. He just wanted to become Chancellor. He probably would have preferred the Trade Federation succeed, since losing probably set his plans back a few years, but he still got his brass ring. If Amidala hadn't been rescued by the Jedi, he probably would have still used the Trade Federation's coup as a way of inciting a vote of no confidence from SOMEONE upset with the circumstances once it went public, and my guess is that if the Trade Federation won, it would have launched straight into a war that would have given him emergency powers much sooner. However, with the victory of Naboo, it set his plans back a bit.

But in "Attack of the Clones", his plan really makes no damn sense.

So the Jedi Syfo-Dyas commissioned a clone army to be created shortly after the events of "The Phantom Menace". It's never explicitly said in the movie, but lets assume he knew what the Sith were up to and wanted to be prepared. Then Count Dooku, who had somehow been corrupted by Darth Sidious, killed Syfo-Dyas and hid the cloning planet Kamino from the archives so no one would find out about it. Darth Sidious and Count Dooku then take advantage of the fact that only they know about the clones and somehow implant Order 66 into their minds.

Meanwhile, Darth Sidious has to deal with the fact that his greatest ally, the Trade Federation, has now lost most of its power and its position within the Senate. However, with the help of Count Dooku, he turns other systems to his side under the banner of the Separatists.

His plan, it seems, is to set the Separatists against the Republic and give the Republic the clone army to fight with. Then if the Separatists win, the Republic and the Jedi Order are finished and he rules the galaxy, and if the Republic wins, he uses the clones to kill the Jedi Order and rules the galaxy. It's the Xanatos Gambit.

So far so good, right?

Now this is where it kind of stops making sense.

All he needs to do is to make the Republic aware of the clone army without showing that he or Count Dooku knew anything about it. To this end, he has an assassin go after Padme Amidala then has ANOTHER assassin kill THAT assassin, leading the Jedi to track down Jango Fett, ultimately finding the cloning operation right when they conveniently need it most.

OK... why not just send them an untraceable anonymous message pointing out that a planet is missing from the archives? Then they send a Jedi to investigate and you accomplish the same thing without depending on the Jedi being clever and trying to track down two assassins. SO MUCH could have gone wrong with this overly-complicated plan.

I DO understand why he sent an assassin after Amidala. It was his way of appeasing the Trade Federation and it also got her out of the Senate so that Jar Jar could be stupid and give Palpatine emergency powers. But he didn't have to make his "tell the Jedi about the clones" plan entirely dependent on the outcome of "get Amidala out of the way" plan. He might as well have been begging to fail.

So the plot is pretty damn contrived to make everything connect to everything else even when it makes no sense.

Next, yes, Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman almost never have any genuine chemistry together. There's one good scene where they're frolicking in a field that I think actually works. They're having fun, they're casually talking about politics and power, and I could believe for a second that they COULD fall in love. The problem is that we never SEE them fall in love. They just ARE SUDDENLY SUPPOSED TO BE IN LOVE ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPT. It makes all of their poorly-written romantic scenes unbearable. Poorly-written romance scenes are sometimes passable (they have an entire GENRE for crying out loud) but only when the characters have believable chemistry and its understandable WHY they're in love. We never get that from these two characters.

The fight scene between Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Count Dooku fails to be as compelling as the fight from "The Phantom Menace", primarily because it's difficult to believe that Dooku is actually this good. Darth Maul had an intimidating physical presence and a nimbleness that made you believe that he could take on two Jedi at once and hold his own. Dooku is intimidating, but not physically. The way the fight plays out, it seems like Dooku is only winning because Anakin is an idiot, and that does not make a compelling fight.

Next, C-3PO is REALLY unfunny in this movie. They basically got rid of Jar Jar and then tried to have C-3PO fill the gap, hoping that maybe it would work if the stupid comic relief came out of a recognizable character rather than a new character everyone hated. Nope, didn't work. He almost single-handedly kills the pacing in the third act whenever he shows up. It's abysmal.

Lastly, the new locations they develop for this movie are FAR less interesting than in "The Phantom Menace". Kamino is basically as simple as Cloud City with the most generic-looking aliens you'll ever see. Geonosis comes off as Tatooine but with more canyons. It all felt much smaller and less richly developed.

OK, so those are my major problems with the movie out of the way.

Now for my defense.

Speaking SOLELY for myself, I think Hayden Christensen is fine as Anakin Skywalker. People say he's whiny and immature, but that's the way the character is WRITTEN. That's not Hayden's fault. Personally, I think it makes sense for the character at this stage in his life. He grew up dreaming of leaving Tatooine, seeing the stars, making a name for himself, and coming back to free the people he cared about. Then he believed his dream came true. He got to leave and he got to become a Jedi, traveling the galaxy and living up to his potential. However, he is expected to answer to his superiors and do as they say. We know that his thoughts still dwell on the life he left behind and he likely believes that he's powerful enough to go back, free his mother, and live with her again as a new man, but he knows that the Jedi would never allow it. This is frustrating to him. He feels as though he has no control and has to give up everything he cares about. It's reasonable that he would be frustrated with Obi-Wan. Most of all, when he returns to Tatooine and watches his mother die, he snaps. He feels guilty for leaving her behind. He feels guilty for never coming back sooner. He feels powerless and so he lashes out with unbridled hate. This is why I think his infamous breakdown after the death of his mother works. Yes, it's pathetic and over-emotional, but let's see how you act if you ever have to watch your mother die and then killed a whole bunch of people in anger. It feels emotionally genuine.

Just like with Jake Lloyd, the decision was for Anakin's actor to portray genuine emotion first and foremost, and I think he definitely manages that when it counts.

I'm not saying they couldn't have found a better actor, but I think Hayden gets more crap than he deserves for his performance.

I think people were just upset that Anakin wasn't a badass like Darth Vader. They felt like it undermined the character they were terrified of when they were younger.

Now let me talk briefly about falling to the Dark Side.

I have played a lot of "Star Wars" video games and watched a lot of fan-films and read a few Expanded Universe books. In almost every single one, whenever we see a Jedi fall to the Dark Side, it is always for really poorly explained reasons. One of the worst I can remember is in "Knights of the Old Republic", where the character Bastila spends the entire game lecturing you whenever you do something slightly bad. Then she gets captured and then with NO PRIOR IMPLICATIONS, she suddenly falls to the Dark Side off-screen.

What I really love about the portrayal of Anakin Skywalker in the prequels is that we understand why he falls in the end. We SEE the conflict within him. It is done believably and when he finally submits to the Dark Side in "Revenge of the Sith" it makes sense and has weight.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. We're still talking about "Attack of the Clones".

I also think that a lot of the action scenes work. The gladiator pit scene is one of my personal favorite action sequences from "Star Wars", at least until the Jedi and C-3PO show up and it becomes a clusterfuck. Yoda's fight with Dooku is amazing, but criminally short.

I do enjoy quite a bit from this movie, though admittedly I tune out a lot of it whenever I watch it.

Hey Keira Knightley's character just got killed. Too bad. Dum de dum de dum bad dialogue, dum de dum de dum OOH it's the guy who played Mouse from the Matrix! Haha, deathsticks. Dum de dum de dummmm more bad dialogue and investigating that doesn't really have a clear objective dum de dummm OOH fight with Jango Fett! Cool! Aww man, Slave One! Badass! Dum de dum de dum...

And it goes on like that. There are parts that I like, but the rest just kind of... happens. "A New Hope" and "Empire Strikes Back" have much better structure. There are no wasted moments. "Attack of the Clones" has way too much fat. Lucas either should have trimmed it or converted it into muscle. As it stands we have a whole lot of pointless scenes that accomplish very little and mostly just pad for time.

So I don't have much else to say beyond that. Like I said, definitely the weakest movie and the least defensible. Even so, I think people have a greater tendency to attack the portrayal of Anakin Skywalker just because he doesn't match what they expected. I don't think that's fair. I think Anakin works in the context of the series, but I'll deal with that head-on next time when I wrap this series up.

Comic Books, Thanos, and Intellectual Property

So I'm sure we've all seen "The Avengers" by now. If you haven't, that's your problem, I'm going to spoil the very ending anyway and I'm not hiding it behind the jump.


They all eat shawarma.

Oh, and Thanos was behind the entire plot.

Thanos the Mad Titan is well-known for trying to get in Death's pants and for bringing the Marvel Universe to its knees with the Infinity Gauntlet, but that's neither here nor there.

Much like Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. showing up in "Iron Man", Thanos' inclusion in the movie 'verse was simultaneously meant to excite comic fans and intrigue those who don't read the comics, who would then ask their excited companions what the fuss was about.

So now Marvel is doing a bit of a Thanos push. He's recently appeared in the heinously bad "Avengers Assemble" comic, which is intended to get the movie-goers into comics (I really doubt it will succeed) and it's implied that he will be heavily involved in the probable "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie that will probably be announced this week, as well as in the inevitable "Avengers 2".

Meanwhile, the creator of Thanos, Jim Starlin, has been a little cheesed off. While he hasn't taken legal action yet, he does seem a little offended that Marvel is doing stuff with his character and not paying him or even inviting him to screenings or press events.

Now, as reported on DigitalSpy, Starlin has posted his earliest drawing of Thanos and is passive-aggressively asking for some sort of compensation.

To quote: "This is the second film that had something I created for Marvel in it - the Infinity Gauntlet in Thor being the other - and both films I had to pay for my own ticket to see them," and also, "Financial compensation to the creators of these characters doesn't appear to be part of the equation."

My heart goes out to Starlin, really. It does suck that he has absolutely no control, creative or otherwise, on the character he created and that he isn't seeing a cent for the new things being done with the character. And if, as this article implies, Marvel has lost their records of whatever agreement they reached with Starlin regarding his work, then he is well within his rights to demand some sort of financial arrangement for Marvel's use of the character that he legitimately proved to create.

HOWEVER, I do not think Starlin has any moral or ethical right to demand financial compensation just because he created the character. It may be within his LEGAL right depending on the circumstances, but I don't think he has any genuine right to be upset about the state of things.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Defending the Star Wars Prequels: The Phantom Menace

For those of you who are expecting my next Old Who Review (on the off-chance that you exist) I'll probably have it ready this weekend, so don't worry. But right now, there's something I've been meaning to write about for a while and I just suddenly had the urge to finally do it.

The "Star Wars" prequels aren't that bad.

That's right, I said it.

Speaking personally, I actually enjoy watching them. Some more than others, but truth be told, even my least favorite from the batch I enjoy watching about as much as I enjoy watch "Return of the Jedi".

But I know that my personal tastes aren't enough to dictate that a movie is actually "good". For example, I KNOW that the "Matrix" sequels are "bad" movies. They are paced and constructed poorly, the plots make little to no real sense, and a lot of the acting choices really don't work. That said, I still enjoy the "Matrix" sequels because I like techno-philosophy, kung fu action sequences, and Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith. Also I think there are parts that are very memorable and quotable and I have a lot of fun watching them.

That being said, I won't ever try to DEFEND the "Matrix" sequels because I know they are bad and people have plenty of reason to not like them.

I will, however, defend the "Star Wars" prequels, not because I think they're necessarily "good" movies (I do acknowledge they have a lot of problems) but because I think "Star Wars" fandom has a tendency to overplay just how "bad" these movies are.

Because I don't want this post to be TOO long (Spoiler Alert: It is anyway), I'm going to break this up into a three-part series, each part discussing a different movie and the points that are commonly brought against it.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

My Pull List - Comic Reviews for 7/4/2012

I've decided to start doing a weekly post where I do quick reviews for the comics on my pull list. Some of these are from previous months, but I'm including them since I purchased them this week.

This week I'm reviewing:
- Animal Man #11
- Avengers Vs. X-Men #7
- Batwing #11
- Deadpool #57
- Earth 2 #2 and #3
- Justice League Dark #10
- Lookouts #1

There may be some SPOILERS, but I'll try not to be too specific unless I need to be in order to make a point.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Old Who Reviews - Serial 005: "The Keys of Marinus"

"I don't believe that man was made to be controlled by machines. Machines can make laws, but they cannot preserve justice. Only human beings can do that."
~The First Doctor

As I'm sure anyone knows, the first thing related to Doctor Who that captured the attention of audiences was the advent of the Daleks. Terry Nation's creations were an unexpected hit, and so it's no surprise that when the series was given more episodes beyond its initial 13 that they would bring Nation back to write another serial with a NEW alien race that they hoped would be the next Daleks. I'm told that they try to do this a lot and it almost never works. In this failed attempt, they give us the Voord.

Let me just say that I rather like the work I've seen of Terry Nation. He has a tendency to speak on the nature of morality, social justice, the mind, and humanity in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. While I wouldn't say he's a genius or anything, I'd certainly say that his serials are the most competent of the ones I've seen, and so far, "The Keys of Marinus" is my favorite.

The Doctor and his companions wind up on an island on an alien planet completely surrounded by acid with a single building designed to repel intruders. They find that the building houses a man known as the Arbiter, who safeguards a device known as the Conscience of Marinus (Marinus being the name of the planet they're on). Basically, the device manipulated the minds of the planet's inhabitants by giving them an objective sense of morality as defined by this machine, which supposedly was always fair and never wrong. Essentially, the people of the planet no longer decided for themselves what was right and wrong, instead letting the machine decide for them.

However, there were a people known as the Voord who were able to resist the Conscience's sway and attempted to take it for themselves in order to dominate the planet. In an effort to prevent this, the Arbiter took out four of the five all-important keys from the machine and scattered them across the planet until he could fix the machine so that the Voord could no longer resist it. Once he finished repairing the machine, he sent his daughter and other associates to find the keys again, but none of them returned. Once he meets the Doctor and his companions, he ropes them into finding the keys for him and gives them devices to transport them to the locations of the keys.

This serial is basically a season of Dragonball.

Each episode in the serial (with the exception of the fifth and the beginning of the sixth) all take place on a different region of the planet with it's own self-contained plot. As such, I'll be breaking this review down into smaller chunks, reviewing each episode on its own.

The fetch quest begins after the jump!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Amazing Spider-Man" Mostly Exceeds My Low Expectations

Let me just say that I did not want to like "Amazing Spider-Man". It felt way too soon to do a reboot, and with the overwhelming success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it seemed like it would have been smarter to fold Spider-Man into that rather than keep him in his own little world. On top of that, it felt like Sony was more interested in pumping out a paint-by-numbers blockbuster than making an actually decent movie. In a Summer that includes "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises", it can't help but look like it's not trying hard enough.

I wanted this movie to fail big time so that Sony would think twice about creating another one, Marvel Studios would be able to get the rights back, and then Spider-Man could be a part of the larger continuity.

Considering how well the movie is tracking and how positive most of the reviews are, it seems unlikely that it will do that poorly in the box office, though it's worth noting that it only has two weeks before it's annihilated by TDKR and speaking personally, the midnight screening I went to was more than half-empty. Granted, I saw it in 3D, so it's plausible that the 2D screening was more densely populated, but I won't be too surprised if this movie underperforms. Midnight screenings are usually full of really enthusiastic people, but this one felt pretty much like any other movie screening. I get the feeling like word of mouth may not be too positive on this one and apathy will keep people from seeing it right away. This is probably wishful thinking.

Regardless, I went into the movie with pretty low expectations, and the film was definitely better than I expected.

Let me start with the good stuff. Andrew Garfield is a good actor and he brings a certain amount of charm to Peter Parker. Emma Stone is even better as Gwen Stacy. She really pops and is a really solid supporting actress. Martin Sheen, Sally Field, and Denis Leary all do well in their own right and some of the best moments are the smaller moments between characters. Rhys Ifans isn't bad, but he comes off as the weak link in the chain. He's just not a very compelling villain, but more on that later.

The thing that surprised me the most is that the action set-pieces are really solid. I loved Mark Webb's "(500) Days of Summer", but I didn't think he had enough experience directing action to be a good fit for a movie like this. I was wrong. Not only is everything shot well, he makes good use of the 3D, which is something even seasoned action directors seem to struggle with. Spider-Man moves less like a ninja and more like a spider, which gives him a very unique physicality that makes the action almost mesmerizing. Whenever Spider-Man is fighting something, it usually works out really well.

With a good cast and good action scenes, audiences tend to forgive short-comings in the screenplay, which is why I expect there's quite a lot of positive reviews for this movie.

On the negative side, the screenplay is really, really weak. If the acting and directing had been more mediocre, it probably would have been much more blatantly obvious, but as it stands, it's not often bad enough to distract from the whole experience. But as a lapsed Spider-Man fan, this treatment of the character does him a lot of disservice, primarily by turning him into a huge douche.

From here on out I'm going to get into SPOILER territory, but let me just sum up by saying that if you saw the trailers and the movie looked good to you, go ahead and see it, but if it doesn't interest you at all, just don't bother.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Old Who Reviews - Serial 004: "Marco Polo"

"No, my lord. They would not believe half the things that I have seen in Cathay. But what is the truth? I wonder where they are now? The past or the future?"
~Marco Polo

When I said I wanted to review all of the old "Doctor Who" serials, I truly meant ALL of them. Those of you who know a thing or two about the old serials would know that a great deal of them no longer exist. There was a great tragedy where miscommunication and standard practices of the BBC in the 60's led to the destruction of most of the serials from the first few series. While some of them have since been rediscovered and remastered and while more are found every decade, a great deal of them remain lost, including the vast majority of the Second Doctor's run.

So of course I'll be skipping these episodes, right?


For you see, even in the 60's there were rabid television fans. Unfortunately, since videotape had yet to be brought to a wide commercial audience, people could only enjoy old episodes of their favorite television shows during reruns. However, some geeks (and I use that term lovingly) wanted to be able to enjoy the experience whenever they wanted without having to wait for reruns, particularly for serialized shows like "Doctor Who" where continuity was important, so they would record the audio of entire episodes on tape and listen to them like a radio drama.

Obsessive? Perhaps, but thanks to these wonderful geeks, we too can enjoy these old episodes in a limited capacity, which is certainly better than nothing.

To improve matters, a long-standing group of fans called "Loose Cannon Productions" have collected the audio from all of the remaining lost episodes and timed them with promotional images and text descriptions for certain actions in order to give a more complete understanding of what's happening. The result is a sort of slideshow/audiobook hybrid that are referred to as "reconstructions" or "recons". Reconstructions currently exist for every lost serial, though since Loose Cannon is a fan group and they don't own any part of "Doctor Who", they don't actually SELL these episodes. You send them VHS tapes with return postage and tell them what serials you want (up to three at a time), and they send the tapes back to you with the recons you requested. BBC has officially released one or two reconstructions of their own that you actually can purchase (and Loose Cannon does not provide recons for any episodes officially sold by BBC), but for dozens of lost serials, Loose Cannon recons are the best and only option. They can be found as digital downloads, but Loose Cannon does not (and will not) sanction them and the legality of it is dubious at best.

OK, so now that we understand what a recon is, let's jump right into our first such serial, "Marco Polo", which is obviously about Cybermen.

No, not really, but that probably would have made this serial far more interesting.

To summarize, the TARDIS gets taken by Marco Polo to be given as a gift to Kublai Khan, forcing the Doctor and his companions to join Polo's caravan and thwart the evil plans of a power-hungry warlord.

One of the original intents of "Doctor Who" was to act as a sort of edutainment show to teach about science and history. While the first few serials mostly focused on scientific elements, this one focuses almost exclusively on history as a sort of fictional retelling of a part of Marco Polo's journey through the Gobi Desert.

I'm going to say this right now, if you aren't interested in 13th century Chinese history, then don't bother with this episode. It is well-written, has some good character moments (which I shall try to highlight in this review), but the plot is almost entirely focused on the historical characters rather than on the Doctor and his companions. The plot is more or less contrived to force the characters to stay out of the TARDIS and with the caravan as much as possible so we can learn as much about the historical characters and their politics as we can. And this serial is seven episodes long, roughly 3 hours in total. If the idea of hanging out with Marco Polo and Kublai Khan sounds boring, just don't even bother, particularly since it's currently only available as a reconstruction, which already makes it a little difficult to watch.

Now that I've gotten all of the disclaimers out of the way, let's get on with the show.