Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there in Leaguer-Land.

I'll be spending Mother's Day this year with Judy, Jamie's mom, and will raise a glass to my own mom when they come to visit in a few weeks.

I've known my own mom for quite a few years, and in that time, I've had opportunity to observe her at work.

it is impossible for me to imagine the KareBear sitting this still unless she were asleep

As lucky as I am to have the KareBear for a mother, its difficult to underestimate how many other kids my mom has taken care of over the years. A constant of the Steans household was to see all our pals running around the house, being fed, spending the night, and having a second home at our house. I was probably in high school before I figured out not all moms did this (Peabo's mom, however, probably saw a doubling in the food bill in the years I grew up in Austin as I wasn't shy about wandering into their kitchen).

And as my mom has taught however many decades worth of kids, it wasn't uncommon for us to have some kid who was having a rough time of it hanging around the house in one shape or another. From the girls whose family lost their house in a tornado to me wandering downstairs in college and seeing a pool full of kids I didn't know were going to be there that day, the lady's heart knows no limits to size nor does it know boundaries. She genuinely loved those kids, and when I'd wander the hallways of her school when I'd come to visit, those kids who hadn't been in her room for a few years were still trying to talk to her in the hallway.

All that, and there was never any question whether she had time to be a den mother for my cub scout troop, was hauling me and my pals to basketball practice, hosting parties for my drama gang, whatever... She was always there.

I don't want to paint too much of a Beaver Cleaver picture. Like any family, we had our differences. But I can honestly say that those differences were always something easy for me to deal with, especially as I grew older and knew that those differences stemmed out of approach, not out of any lack of love.

As nuts as I was about Jamie, I don't know if it was because of how nuts I was about Jamie or because she liked Jamie all on her own, but Karebear has been nothing but supportive of Jamie and me in a million different ways. And I know she's very pleased to finally have a daughter instead of just two, big, smelly boys.

probably what the KareBear envisioned for herself when she had a family

What she wound up with

Since I graduated, she's retired, but that doesn't mean she isn't volunteering at her former school, teaching English to new residents, and helping out with my grandfather and the kids of family friends.

This spring Karebear is fulfilling a lifelong goal of journeying to Kenya on a mission trip with a church group. While its traveling far from home, and into an unknown situation, part of me thinks its pretty typical of my mom. She's going to go above and beyond to help people she doesn't or who she barely knows.

So, I salute thee, Karebear. Happy Mother's Day. Hope that bouquet showed up.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

FYI: Comic Fodder No More

As an FYI, I am no longer contributing at Comic Fodder.

That's no political statement, I've just not had time to write about comics lately AND actually read them. Each CF post took around 3-4 hours, and finding that time in a week had become increasingly difficult, as well as feeling jazzed enough about some minor point of comic-minutia to get revved up to write on it in the manner needed.

In the end, I was writing more about comics than reading them. And that, Leaguers, is just wrong. I want to enjoy my comics, not look at them as a "to do" list.

So... part of why I returned to Comic Fodder was to side-bar my in-depth comic discussions which usually received no feedback, whatsoever, here at League of Melbotis. I would alert you guys... that's probably coming back in some shape or form. I probably won't be avoiding the topic, and without CF as a platform...

I'd like to thank Tpull (Travis Pullen) and Mac Slocum of the Fodder Network for being a great Publisher and Editor. And, of course, CF contributor Simon for having such great insight.

That is all.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I forgot.

In my previous posts, I completely forgot about Supergirl, starring Helen Slater. Whom I am now too old to say the things about Slater that I said when it was more age-appropriate and OK. Lets just say that as a younger person, i was fond of Helen Slater.

As penance... over the next week, I shall watch Supergirl. And you will read my review.

Slater showed up on Smallville a season or two ago. She's holding up just fine.

Worst Comic Movies of All Time

Ho-boy. Here we go.

I'm sticking with the same rules in regards to superhero comics adapted for the big screen. I also have to apologize for posting this a day late. I was working on it last night and became tired and opted for bed over an incoherent second half.


The biggest challenge, except where otherwise noted, is that I haven't bothered to watch several of these again since I first bore witness to their malice. So some of these I barely remember at this point, except for a deep sense of melancholy when I try to recall my theatrical experience.

These are as bottom of the barrel as I can go and not somehow do an about face and grow to love the production for its awfulness. I've referred to the JLA TV pilot that never aired, and I kind of like how the only thing right about it is that someone thought to throw some cash around and hired Miguel Ferrer to play a version of Weather Wizard.

1) Spawn.
When discussing terrible movies a few days ago, Jason mentioned this particular gem, and I cannot disagree. I'm not sure the idea of Spawn in itself is bad, even if it does sound like a 14 year old's idea based on an inability to reconcile his love of death-metal album covers with wanting his creation to be heroic. The idea of turninga negative into a positive is one I can get behind, but...

in the comic and movie, Spawn is a rebelled agent of the devil. Rather than leading Beelzebub's forces on Earth, he uses his nightmarish powers, in a big ol' plot twist, for GOOD, fighting and hunting Satan's demons, who don't appear as metaphors, but as actual demons. I have to admit, once you actually show the face of THE Devil, you've sort of lost me. In fact, all of the "hell" sequences lost me, as they all looked like they'd been cooked up on an Amiga, circa 1993.

Aside from the premise, I'll be honest, all I remember about the movie is the following:
a) I was terribly embarrassed for Martin Sheen, who was, for some reason, in the movie
b) If I did not already have a deep disdain for John Leguizamo before, this movie sealed the deal
c) The FX were the sort of cheap CG one would usually see on Xena or other syndicated shows of the time.
d) I wanted to leave, but could not. Jamie had already decided to go hang out in the lobby, where she remained for the last 3rd of the movie, all the while I sat both despising the film and wondering when she'd come back so I could tell her we were leaving. A smarter person, she.

I've seen Spawn comics and the cartoon, and I admit, I don't get it. But aside from well rendered MacFarlane pencils, I don't know what I was ever supposed to get in the first place.

2. Judge Dredd
A cult-favorite in the US and, I understand, very popular in Mother england, this UK-based comic is about a utopian future in which "Judges" are police, judge, jury and executioner.

I'm not familiar with the comic to much of a degree, but I do know that it does not feature Rob "Makin' Copies" Schneider, or even David Spade.
The film was in trouble when Stallone decided this was his comeback vehicle, and hired some poor schlub out of nowhere to direct so he could basically dictate a great deal about the film, not actually have to direct, and not take ALL the blame if the movie tanked. Any relevance to the state of things in Thatcher's England that led to the Judge Dredd comic was missed entirely by the production, as we got, instead, to endure 2 hours of Stallone bellowing and moping.

I have no idea if it made money or not, but the movie received terrible critical review from everyone but my college-pal, Richard, who had seen it a day or two before and insisted I see this masterpiece right away.

The movie actually follows the Superman II/ Spidey 3 pattern of removing the costume for a big part of the movie and not letting them kick the crud out of thugs. Seeing someone lose their job or quit their job is NOT what people are generally paying to see at a super-hero movie. Especially the FIRST in a series.

The movie strips Judge Dredd of BEING Judge Dredd before the end of the first act.

Maybe the FX were okay. I have no idea. All I remember is being deeply unhappy walking out of the theater.

3. Batman and Robin
Tim Burton had abandoned the Bat-flicks after making two movies about a guy ostensibly like Batman, and who lived in Gotham City, etc... but who was pretty clearly NOT Batman (Batman can turn his head).

"Lost Boys" director Joel Schumacher took over the franchise and proceeded to chuck any goodwill Burton had built up with his loving, if off-kilter treatment of the franchise. It was a bold move in circa 1987 when Burton got Batman to disregard the old Adam West show (which most people identified as defining superheroes). Apparently squarely in the "this is stupid" camp, Schumacher must have thought he was helping when he dismissed Batman's motivation as childish and felt Batman was and always should be high camp, or not exist at all. A Batman for the 90's!

"Batman Forever" was the crummy third installment, which doesn't hold up well these days at all. It introduced a 20-something Chris O'Donnell as "The Boy Wonder", Robin, foisted Jim Carrey in tights upon us, and made an ass out of Tommy Lee Jones, who may have now seen Dark Knight and still be unaware he was playing Aaron Eckhardt's character.

"Batman and Robin" decided to expand the franchise and, developed in the late-90's "star power" era, added Alicia "I can't read" Silverstone as Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon-- no, she was suddenly Alfred's niece for some reason. Silverstone generally looks and delivers lines as if marginally lobotomized, but apparently enough people liked her rack in that Aerosmith video that we were supposed to think she was a super addition to the franchise.

Look, in the 1990's, I had it in for Silverstone. She kept getting work when she was clearly not talented, and I still find "Clueless" a vapid and stupid exercise from which I think you can trace a direct line from there to The #$%^ing Hills.

There was also the unfortunate casting of George Clooney, who gets ribbing for being in this movie, but... seriously...? Clooney? The guy just stands there and grins like a geek and tries to deliver the dilaog as if any of it (and of it at all) makes a lick of sense.

And in comparison to his cast-mates...

Uma Thurman demonstrated her inability to vamp, deliver a line or be sexy as villainess, Poison Ivy. Thurman CLEARLY believed she was in an Adam West episode, and may not have been wrong. But it doesn't mean she was as good as Vincent price as Egg Head.

The newest Bat-villain, Bane, supposedly the Dark Knight's equal in the comics, was reduced to a mindless drone in his screen debut. And, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger was given bot the role of Mr. Freeze, and an endless stream of quips and one-liners about ice. Most of which make no sense.

Luckily, the movie was both a financial bomb and the closest thing you can get to Hiroshima as far as critical reviews go. Its failure triggered the Bat-movie reboots under Chris Nolan.

Oddly, the movie is so mind-numbingly awful, I can't help but watch it when it comes on cable. From the "Gotham is a Fabulous Disco" set design, to the bat nipples, to the awful one liners, to the plot which makes just absolutely no sense, to the frequent toyetic costume changes and the endless amounts of money obviously poured into this trainwreck.

It is schadenfreude at its sweetest.

4) The Fantastic Four Movies

Did Fox want me to hate the FF?
A typical case of "the studio knows better what will work, rather than 40 years of success in your comic", the FF movie went deeply off the rails well before production began.

Oddly, these two train wrecks are movies one hears occasionally defended, and I can never imagine wanting to be the one whose critical thinking skills have failed them so completely, that somehow either FF film seems like a good idea.

The first failure was probably in hiring director Tim Story, who had done light comedies with Jimmy Fallon before taking on Marvel's second most precious comics commodity. Clearly, Story was much more into the idea of what sort of sight gags he could cook up around the FF's powers and physical irregularities than pounding out a solid story or paying any attention to what had made things work for 40 years. Ha ha... Invisible Girl has to get naked... Oh, good times.

Sure, both are kids movies, and the FF SHOULD be family friendly. But the FF comics have been kid and family friendly for decades without requiring the sound of a trombone coming in with a "wah-wah-waaaaaaah".

They managed to miscast, neuter and dethrone Doctor Doom. Not to mention change his background, abilities, motivation, etc... To absolutely no end.

FF2 is, amazingly, worse than FF1. At least FF1 had the charm inherent in the super-hero origin story. FF2 introduced the Silver Surfer, had the most obvious and embarrassing bachelor party scene of all time, needlessly employed Doom, and failed to give anyone in the FF anything to actually do except for stand around and stare at the Silver Surfer. Seriously, they don't actually DO anything in the entire movie but watch the other characters.

And, for comic geeks, the decision that Galactus was not a character, but a big, purple cloud... pretty lame, studio. Way to forget there's a whole act wherein the FF could have actually DONE something.

Word is that the cast figured out the studio wasn't too keen on the sequel when they hadn't already heard about a sequel within three weeks of the film's premier.

Possibly the most maddening thing is that FF1 came out so close to Pixar's "The Incredibles", a movie which demonstrated the spirit of what a family-centric superhero movie can be. It's a franchise I'd love to see get a second chance.

5) Superman IV: The Quest for Peace
The first Superman film had fantasy, magic and wonder going for it, as well as strong performances, an astronomical budget and a director who didn't think he was on the set of "Three's Company".

Sadly, Superman IV lacked all of these items, but did give us a "Jon Cryser is: Hiding Out"-era Jon Cryer, Mariel Hemingway and Mark Pillow as Nuclear Man.

The frustrating thing about the movie is that you can see that at one point, it was an ambitious script, but something happened along the way, and they made the movie they could with the money they had, and the lack of talent, etc... associated. While its easy to shrug off the premise of Superman trying to remove the world's nukes as stupid, its also the most immediate logical question to bring up about a nigh-unstoppable god-man who is supposedly here to protect us. Why wouldn't he make a pre-emptive move on everyone on Earth to keep us from atomizing ourselves?

Obviously a complicated question, but rather than just answer it, the movie goes off the rails, cloning Superman into this guy.

Nuclear Man's weakness... he loses his power if he's not in direct sunlight. IE: his greatest fear is a good shade tree.

The FX in the movie are sub-par in comparison to the earlier installments, poor Margot Kidder is looking like somebody's mom who doesn't want to be there (but is back after the contract dispute that led to all the Lana stuff in Superman III), and has to endure a scene in which she double-dates Superman and Clark with Mariel Hemingway. realizing you are going to see what you think you're about to see gives you that same feeling you used to get when you realized you hadn't studied for a test or that you forgot to file your taxes on time.

Jon Cryer attempts to channel, I guess, some surfer-dude character or something. I don't know if that was funny when the movie was released, but it just sort of makes one sad now. Sort of like when you accidentally watch Power Rangers.

And, God bless Chris Reeve, because the man is still Superman despite the various obastacles of budget, directing (the only other recognizable film in the director's repertoire are the Iron Eagle movies and the Rodney Dangerfield opus, "Ladybugs"), possibly drug-addled co-stars, and who knows what else.

I could have NOT included the movie but (a) its a failure that ended a franchise and did damage to a genre, (b) its sort of joyless and kind of unwatchable.

But, again, its seeing the big ideas that Superman could and should be addressing, and seeing the numb-skull-edry that overtakes those ideas and crams them into the mold of a standard "I must fight my equal" punchout scene.

Superman III also has its flaws, but... honestly, this film is somehow even more disappointing. People have just seen it less.

Honorable Mention

Superman III. Aside from Annette O'Toole, who has twice graced the Superman franchise with her foxiness, the movie is a mess. But it is also the driver for re-shaping Luthor as a corporate tycoon as seen in the comics from 1986 - 2006. And, sorry, I actually like the Clark v. Evil Superman fight. As a kid, i remember having a sort of revelatory, deep-gut reaction to that sequence. Plus, it features DRUNK, ANGRY SUPERMAN. And that is awesome.

The Phantom. Slam Evil! said the poster. But this low-budget picture was more about slamming me with cliches and an oddly-cast Treat Williams. Sadly, what I mostly remember about the film is Kristy Swanson in tan adventure pants. Everything else is a blur.

I do recall being very excited that this very pulpy looking movie was coming out, and then THAT is what they did with it. Hey, I LIKE Rocketeer and The Shadow. No, really. I own them on DVD. So I don't know what happened here.

The Punisher - Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane. Both are bad, but Lundgren's Punisher is epically bad. And I say that as someone who used to pay to see Steven Segal movies in the theater. It oddly features a lot of Louis Gosset Jr., Italian-American stereotypes, the Yakuza, bad lighting and Dolph Lundgren acting as if he's on qualudes for 90 minutes. Thomas Jane's version missed the whole part about not being real specific about which mobsters the Punisher was taking on and re-located everyone to some resort town the Florida Keys or something. Its hard to believe anyone would be that upset when everyone looks like they should be enjoying a drink with a little umbrella in it.

Captain America - the Tv movies and the 1990ish feature The 70's TV movies of Cap needlessly rewrite Cap's origin and sort of make him a walking gun for the cops. They're just... sort of half-assed, but do feature Cap as a van-owner. and that I can get behind. The 1990's movie gets the WWII and freezing bits right, but gets literally every other detail wrong, including the choreography of the action, any pacing whatsoever, and not casting Ned Beatty as a central figure to the movie. It all looks like the budget was probably roughly what I was making that year in the allowance dollars given to me by the folks.

GhostRider. I don't know if you could have made a compelling movie out of this comic franchise to begin with, but its tough to imagine me wanting to sit through that movie less than I wanted to finish watching this one.

Catwoman. Oh, God. Well, this is actually probably worse than anything above, but I'm not looking back now. I also didn't finish watching it. What you can say is that it created a job for someone at Warner Bros. whose responsibility it is not to accidentally damage anymore DC franchise items the way we saw with Catwoman. (Why do you think marvel is producing its own movies now?)

Elektra. It was like they sorta skimmed the Elektra comics, and decided that was too interesting, so they should go a different direction and make a sort of poorly paced and awkward movie. Couldn't finish this one, either.

Daredevil. Well, its unlikely anyone was really going to capture Frank Miller in his prime quite right for a movie, and sure enough... they failed. So, so many places where this didn't need to be as bad as it was. One day I really hope they try again with Daredevil because he should be a very movie or TV ready character. Just... not like that.

What I have not seen:

The Spirit (most recent or 1980's TV version)
TV movie of Dr. Strange
TV movie of Spider-Man from the 1970's
Corman's Fantastic Four

What I have seen:
SuperPup, which, to view it is to know madness...

Wolverine Goes to College

The University of North Texas website today. That's Wolverine and, I think, Penance (formerly "Speedball" of the New Warriors).

I seriously thought I had clicked on the wrong link for a full five seconds and newsarama or someone had changed their look...

Monday, May 04, 2009

Best Comic Superhero Movies of All Time

So in the comments on my post about Wolverine, Jason challenged me to name the best and worst superhero movies of all time. I think, wisely, Jason suggested I stick to
superhero movies that were actually adapted from comics or graphic novels.

Like any genre or sub-genre of film, there's a few shining stars, there's several in the mid-range, and then some movies that are epic in their failure to execute and/ or entertain. Those films often gain legendary status among geeks, as (in)famous as their more successful counterparts. But, of course, they enjoy the word-of-mouth "you haven't seen it? Oh. My. God." status.

The problem with superhero movies (much like sci-fi) is that there seem to be a far greater number of movies that hit the ultra-bad status rather than the very good.

So what did I pick?

How about this? Here's my top five in no particular order.

1) Superman: The Movie
Sure, its Metropolis scenes are hopelessly mired in the ill-conceived fashions of the 1970's, and the whole "Can you read my mind?" sequence is a test of anyone's patience/ sanity... But it also tells a deeply complete story on a scale that's still difficult to match. I still find the characters and motivations of everyone but Otis (read: RHPT) to be truly thought out from a writer's perspective. Cliche they may be these days, but lest we forget: Superman originated a lot of those cliches, so credit where credit is due.

Its hard to believe Reeve is in his early 20's (about the same age as Routh, who was often criticized as "too young") as he managed to define the character of Superman for a generation. Throw in Kidder's "tough city reporter", the essence of Lois Lane, and Hackman as a daffier-than-expected Lex, and it adds up to the capstone on a great cast.

Its also got one of the most memorable scores in all of filmdom, fantastic cinematography, amazing practical effects and manages to tell an amazing, epic story. Something almost no other superhero movie has managed to pull off.

And I know you think Superman II is better, but its far campier and goofier than what you remember. I assure you.

2) Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2
Spidey swung in on a web and saved the superhero movie for the 21st Century. When we'd come to expect dreck (more on that later), Sam Raimi's love of the wall-crawler in both the first and second installments hit pitch perfect with the audience and recreated the superhero film by actually paying attention to the original source material instead of dismissing it as kiddie-garbage.

Raimi, unlike Burton and his Batman, "got" Spidey in all the ways that mattered, and understood what had made the original source material work. Rather than slavishly try to hit all the beats, he distilled down why we love made the damn best two hours of a Spidey movie anyone could ask for.

Sadly, Spidey 3 was a terrific mess and a disappointment.

But Spidey 1, especially, is a hell of a lot of fun. Who didn't want to web-swing after that movie?

3) The Dark Knight
I grew up as a huge fan of the Burton films, but they never felt exactly like the comics I was reading when I'd head home from the store with Detective or Batman comics in my hand. The Dark Knight built on the based-in-comics foundation of the Goyer-assisted Batman Begins (which was great, but could have used more Year One), and sets Batman firmly in a world much more like our own. And then drags the audience along, like someone tied to a galloping horse for about two hours.

In many ways, the Batman comics WISH they were as we well put together as Dark Knight, and I don't think any writer since Morrion did "Arkham Asylum" or Moore and Bolland finished The Killing Joke has managed to make the Joker so completely frightening or menacing in a way that seems all too possible.

Sure, I've failed to do a Maggie Gyllenhaal "DITMTLOD" post, but the replacement of Katie Holmes as Dawes is not what makes me love the movie. Its just a rock-solid film from start to finish with clearly defined characters struggling in a world where morality is punished.

Also, the score is nothing to listen to for relaxation, but its a huge part of the environment of the movie.

4) Iron Man
It's a recent entry, and so I'm reluctant to place it so high in the rankings, but Iron Man is a great story of circumstance creating a hero from the complacent.

Its tough to imagine anyone but Downey in the role these days (Tom Cruise actually had the role locked up for a few years until the rights expired).

Had Iron Man not been overshadowed by Dark Knight's insistence on refining the genre, it would be the movie we'd all still be talking about (I am. I have it on Blu-Ray. Thanks, Jason!).

The movie was probably mostly there in the script, but its not too difficult to imagine how it could have gone wrong. Humorless. Forcing in the alcoholism angle of the 1980's too early. Too many one-liners. Someone deciding it was a kids movie, and could we lighten up the middle-eastern portion... So many ways it could have been nothing but, literally an empty suit of a movie. But Favreau and Downey found some perfect pitch to hit. Sure, its spirals into the same mad scientist/ my evil twin-ness of several other superhero movies, but its a great ride getting there.

Plus, I liked Gwyneth Paltrow again. Who knew?

If Dark Knight made me want to lay down for a while afterward, Iron Man made me want to stand up and cheer.

5) Justice League Unlimited
is not a movie. But it's available on Netflix, and is the best representation of the JLA I've seen. And that includes Morrison's JLA, to which I have a slavish devotion (Rock of Ages? Best. JLA. Story. Ever.).

It doesn't hurt to watch the preceding two seaons or so of the series "Justice League", or all the various seasons of Batman or Superman (also available via Netflix). But JLU's two seasons were a high point in American televised animation.

Brilliantly voice-acted, well-animated, and with a team of peopel scripting the thing at a level not seen on most prime-time shows (aside from, maybe, Lost or something...), JLU encapsulated everything there is to love about the DCU. Big stories with small, personal moments. A wide cast of characters fighting for the common good, questions of power and responsibility... all that stuff. Plus a wild array of villains and villainous plots, grounded by well defined characters on both sides of the good/ evil dichotomy.

Plus, Amanda Waller.

Its a great run on a great series. Never embarasrsed about being a show about superheroes, and never feeling that because its a show about folks in capes that it should be anything less than the best show they could make it.

If not for the greed of Cartoon Network officials (unhappy the toy money was going to DC and not to them), we would have had another few seasons. But I'll take what i can get.

And if you don't find anything cinematic in the season endings to either season, the Amazo episodes of JLU, the Dark Heart episode, etc... well, more's the pity. I love that they can do this on the comic page, and I love it that Timm, McDuffie and Co. brought me such imaginative work over so many episodes.

But I also don't mind their straight-to-DVD features. All of which have been worth picking up, in my opinion.

Honorable Mentions:

Obviously X-Men and X2 are great movies. Simply terrific at condensing down the expansive X-Universe. But the first film's ending is kind of goofy, and I'm not sure the second film's ending pays off the set-up of the film on the scale I would have preferred.

I actually like both of the recent Hulk movies for different reasons, and would gladly pay to see a sequel to the Edward Norton-starring Hulk. I really don't know what else you're going to do with the Hulk, so it worked for me.

Superman II and Superman Returns certainly get an honorable mention.

Hellboy 1 (but, sadly, not Hellboy 2).

I still like the short-lived Flash TV series, Seasons 1-3 of Smallville, and Wonder Woman.

FCBD Vid from Austin Books

Here's a video shot about the same time as we were at FCBD at Austin Books.

You can hear Jason laugh at the Defuser's joke at one point (when he tells the Statesman guy he smells of evil, I believe), but we don't show up on camera.

Shame they didn't use the video of a whole family who showed up for the event, led by Mom the Comic Geek. Brandon is the guy who tells you how little your comics are actually worth when you try to sell them to Austin Books.

Anyway, its also a peek inside Austin Books as it is now.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

X-Men Origins Colon Wolverine Colon Isn't Very Colon Good

Surprise, right?

Long, long ago, I got into superhero comics in no small part because of Claremont's "Uncanny X-Men", a team book which was, as is now well known, all about mutants and the prejudice they faced on the streets of New York. The first issue I recall reading was issue 210. It would be a year or so later before I would discover back-issues and be able to find out what led up to that issue, but the clear social message, which reflected very much what I was taught at home, in theory at school, at church, etc... matched up pretty darn well with the "Mutants are People, Too!" message of the issue.

No fights in the comic, but the X-Men regrouping after a big fight (almost unheard of for such continuity in comics today), and Kitty Pryde and Colossus having a run in with some anti-mutant bigots, while Rogue's heroism won over some tough guy New York construction guys.

Wolverine stabbed nobody.

At that time, Wolverine had been through quite a bit. His past was shrouded in mystery to both he, the X-Men and the reader. He had already had some adventures in Japan, and so by the time I reached the character, he had studied to become a samurai (not a ninja), and had a fallen-out romance with a woman of Japanese nobility.

Still, he was a gruff, stocky, hairy guy prone to drinking cases of beer, smoking cigars, and using what passed for profanity under the Comics Code Authority (he said "blazes" a lot, in place of "hell" or "damn"). He came across as Kitty Pryde's tough uncle, who was all bluster. For goodness sake, he occasionally hung out with Power Pack.

Wolverine had had a successful 4-issue mini-series in 1982, but never starred in his own title. He was a utility player that I think, wisely, Marvel knew was popular, but feared over exposure and the audience's realization that the character might not be much more than the word "Bub" and a set of claws.

At some point, the letters coming in and successful solo stories in Marvel Presents convinced Marvel that they should try a Wolverine solo-series. I wasn't convinced Wolverine needed a solo series. I preferred him as a member of the X-Men, but I think I started trying to pick up the series to go along with X-Men around issue 3 or 4 when I realized that Wolverine in his own series might just be the way of the world. Part of this (and this will stun younger readers) was that back then, if a character had a solo mini-series, they would actually demonstrate this in continuity by removing the character from their usual book for the duration. That's how seriously fans and the editors took continuity and would try not to put the same hero in two places at once. Ie: a successful Wolverine series should mean that Wolverine might not be in the X-Men anymore.

I didn't care for the series.

I don't know who was writing, but I'll guess it was Claremont. There was a lot of business about some stand-in island for Singapore called Madripoor, and a ridiculous secret ID for Wolverine in which he wore an eye-patch (like a pirate) and called himself "Patch".

Some character can take glomming on to certain parts of their past, and others... not so much. The Madripoor stuff opened the gate to pretty much any cockamamie notion anyone wanted to throw at Wolverine (who was ageless due to his "healing factor"), becoming a part of his background, whether it was a good idea or not.

Meanwhile, in the wake of Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, etc... and an increasing wave of acceptance of rougher material in comics, it became the comic language du jour to come up with a berserker character who was at least potentially deadly, and dub that character the "Wolverine of the group" for team books, in everything from X-Factor to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I don't know exactly when or why I quit reading Uncanny X-Men, but I threw in the towel on Wolverine's solo title almost immediately, years before I gave up on X-Men. And at some point, something about Wolverine as a "superhero" didn't really work for me. Under Morrison, the X-Men would abandon any premise of being a comic about "superheroes", but aside from that, I just wasn't too keen on a superhero (a) stabbed people as his primary function, and (b) killed lots and lots of people. None of that sounded much like a "hero" to me. Add in what became what continues as some serious over-exposure, and I mostly lost interest in Wolverine.

The casting of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine was an accident, originally. Dougray Scott went for the surefire hit of Mission Impossible: II, featuring John Woo as a director and Tom Cruise as a co-star, bowing out of this silly little superhero movie nobody would go see. I recall seeing the first pictures of this Jackman fellow and being confused.

He was tall, lanky, and handsome. The opposite of how I pictured the guy. Fortunately, both director Bryan Singer and Jackman were on the same page with the comic version in personality (he's gruff and rough around the edges, but he's got a noble warrior's heart). And I never complained.

Wolverine was already overshadowing the rest of the X-Men (my personal favorites as a kid were Colossus, Rogue and Cyclops, and Psylocke until they made her into a ninja). Today's Marvel comics have become so Wolvie-centric that, I am not making this up, this month Wolverine is on the cover of almost every Marvel comic, whether he appears in the comic or not. The character has a rabid fan base as deep and loyal as Spidey, Superman and Batman.

And I know virtually nothing about the character as he's been presented since about 1995. I did read the "Origin" limited series in 2001 or so, which is covered in its entirety by a sequence which occurs before the credits roll in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine". It was written specifically so that the studios wouldn't just make up an origin without any input from Marvel, and it works well enough. But everything I've heard over the past ten years leads me to believe that Marvel really doesn't have a "good idea/ bad idea" policy for Wolverine's past, anyway, and that much of it seems to pop out of what I'd suggest sounds, from the outside, like bad fan-fiction (he now has a son named "Daken" or some such, who has tattoos and whatnot.).

I wasn't particularly enamored by the mini of "Origin", even if I felt the basic idea was solid. But since then, there have been numerous Wolverine origin series. And the movie is based on a lot of comics I never read and don't know much about.

The basic problem with "Wolverine" is that it feels a bit like a 90's action movie in that there's a lot of attention to superheroics, improbably stunts, etc... and absolutely no attention paid to whether the story makes sense. Unlike Transformers, which seemed to hold both the property of Transformers and the audience in disdain as not worth bothering to put together a respectable movie, Wolverine feels much more like everyone but Hugh Jackman and Liev Schreiber (as Victor Creed) are out of their depth, including screenwriters, director, 3D specialists and whomever had to cut the darn thing together.

It's a movie where several times the characters mournfully shout their anger to the sky, and the camera pulls back to an aerial shot (this shot should have been retired when Rainier Wolfcastle first shouted "Mendoooozzaaaaaa!) and dying people say things like "I'm so cold...". Especially in the last forty minutes or so, people seem to just be doing stuff because it moves the plot forward, not because it makes sense (why, on God's green Earth did gambit attack Sabretooth and Wolverine at that moment? and why didn't Wolverine pursue Sabretooth?).

Nothing about Stryker's plan makes any sense, aside from his end goal. The secret base in the Canadian Rockies from X2 and X3 is in the movie, but why its there, and why they use that, and what the hell Stryker bothers to imbue Wolverine's skeleton with adamantium doesn't, honestly, make much sense. Nor does the final explanation of Wolvie's memory loss. One gets the feeling all of this did make sense but... Wolverine was plagued with re-shoots.

While I am glad they didn't bother with the Madripoor stuff or try to tackle Wolverine's years in Japan, as that would have extended the movie (with five endings or so already) even further, the story they do tell is sort of... just not all that interesting. Oddly, like Watchmen, what seems far more interesting as a movie than what unfolds on screen is the stuff in the opening credits. Jason and I agreed that all THAT seemed far more interesting than the paint-by-numbers plot of the movie.

And, seriously, how many "women in refrigerators" does Logan have under his belt at this point?

The writers were aiming for fanboy acceptance, and try to cram 10 pounds of mutants into a five pound bag. Characters come and go, and its hard to care about any of them. Any thrill fans of the X-books might have been getting from seeing, say, Gambit flit briefly across the screen, was lost in the morass of 20 other mutants, many of whom I suspect debuted well after I quit the X-books.

The special FX are mostly OK. There are a few scenes in which, oddly, Wolverine's claws don't look quite right, which I found mind-boggling. How do you mess up solid metal in CG? But it just didn't look quite right. And, occasionally, when Sabretooth is hopping about, it looks a little wonky.

Nobody is all that bad in delivering the clunky lines they've got. Jackman, typically, throws himself into the Wolverine role, and there's no doubt that the replacement of Tyler Mane as Sabretooth (as seen in X-Men 1) was a very good idea.

The movie has some neat action sequences, but that's pretty much what you'd expect. If that's all you're looking for, you should do well, I suppose. But that's mostly what the movie hangs on rather than stuff like plot or character.

And, no, after 40 years of Wolverine in comics and the past few years of comic movies, I don't think fans of the material should lower their sites just because someone deigned to see fit to make a movie about their favorite character.

I'll be the first to say that Wolverine is taking 21st Century superheroics from the comic to the big screen. He's a character more fit for modern movie tastes than Superman or even Batman, in many ways. With any luck, a second Wolverine movie will take things up a notch and not be the narrative mess of this film.

But I'd probably still prefer just getting an X-Men movie over another installment in the solo missions of someone who is much more interesting as the wild-card on a team of straight arrows.

Fun at FCBD and Showering the Baby

Yesterday was action packed until about 5:30 or so.

We picked up Jason before 11:00 and headed down for Free Comic Book Day at Austin Books. This year they'd set a tent up outside the shop to sort of artificially create a lot more square footage and keep the aisles in the store open and free from the line of people who could have made it tough to walk around and browse the store.

We stood in line for a short while, and it sort of had the same spirit of camaraderie that I've seen at opening night for sci-fi movies, etc... Jason and I wound up chatting with a really nice guy about everything from The Flash to Star Trek (Jamie went inside for air conditioning after a few minutes in line).

There was this guy hanging outside in a cape and goggles, whose get-up I immediately admired. He even had a teen-age side-kick with him, and went by the name "Lord Vile". I admired Lord Vile's wardrobe, as well as his snarkiness. If you're going to be a villain, you might as well have banter, says I.

I picked up some interesting stuff. Love and Rockets. Blackest Night. Love and Capes. Bongo Comics. Stuff like that. And I did grab Peabo's copy of the "Cars" comic.

Also picked up my most recent two week's worth of titles and the 4th volume of "Queen and Country".

Inside Jason and I queued up to meet "The Defuser", Austin's own superhero and winner of Season 2 of Stan Lee's "Who Wants to be a Superhero?".

The Defuser is a local Austin police detective (no, really!), who is using his alter-ego to raise money for "SCARE for a Cure", a cancer awareness charity. I picked up a signed copy of his comic from Dark Horse, and a signed picture, which I will find a home for in The Fortress of Ineptitude (as Jason suggested I call my office).

I have to admire The Defuser. The man is already a police officer, which is reason enough to think a guy is doing something with himself, but he spends his weekends dressed as a superhero raising funds of cancer charities. Say what you will about dudes in tights, but when you can do a little good with what you have on hand, that's something I can support.

There was also a group of guys who showed up as Cyclops, Professor X and Banshee (and someone else, but I forget who).

I was digging through back-issues of Action Comics and overheard the Statesman reporters who were there talking to each other about how exciting all of this was, but they weren't really sure why, or even what was really going on. Neither had any familiarity with comics, and I heard them trying to decipher why people were into comics.

I do think that one of them sort of hit the nail on the head in realizing its a storytelling medium that's visual and readily accessible. She was also pretty clear that it wasn't all Superman and X-Men, as she mentioned Archie, etc... so I hope they picked something up to look at before leaving.

Never saw the story show up, though...

In the afternoon, Jamie and I attended a babyshower for League Pal's Letty and Juan (and, one would assume, the baby-to-be). I had never been to a baby shower, and I actually breached Baby Shower protocol at least twice (I grabbed a champagne glass for lemonade and wandered off before a champagne toast), and probably did several other things wrong.

But it was good to get together with Letty and Juan and wish them well as the baby is coming.

I think rightfully so, they've sort of passed the "oh, we've got a baby coming!" point in the pregnancy and are headed toward figuring out logistics, etc... around having a child.

The event was held at author Stephanie Klein's home. I admit, I have not read Klein's work, and don't really know much about her, but she and her husband were extremely gracious. It was nice of them to have all of us hanging about and trashing their place. I have no idea how Letty and Juan know Stephanie or her husband, so don't ask.

On top of that, we didn't get too wound up to do much else.

Supposed to see Wolverine today. I suppose I shall report out.