Tinker, Tailor, Winter Soldier, Spy

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I wanted to do two reviews of Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier: This one will be spoiler-free and focus more on the cinematic roots of the movie, while the second one (I’ll post it tomorrow) will dig into the comic roots of the story and reveal some of the Easter Eggs which are deftly planted throughout the movie. 

Before I get too far into the review, let’s get the important bit out of the way: I LOVED THIS MOVIE ! The other phase two releases I enjoyed mostly because of the reactions of others – my wife and son loved Iron Man 3 and I enjoyed their enjoyment of it, despite some elements I was less than impressed with. Same with Thor 2, which was full of plot holes but adored by my daughter, so I liked it too. Cap 2, however, I just flat out loved because the film itself was so damn good !!! I give it a 4.5 stars out of 5. 

One of the main reasons I enjoyed the movie so much was the way it succeeded in making a movie that was, as Kevin Feige described it “a 70s spy thriller, with a superhero thrown in”. This was a movie which had more in common with the Le Carre adaption I mangled in the title than with, say, a Spider-Man film. It was a film whose roots lay in the great spy/espionage thrillers like Three Days of the Condor, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and – appropriately given the introduction of a new hero, The Falcon and the Snowman

 Like those films, The Winter Soldier is chock-full of betrayals, twists, fakes, double crosses and investigation of clues. From the outset we have the Black Widow enacting a mission within a mission, Nick Fury being coy with information and a mysterious Macguffin (in this case a USB drive) which propels the action going forward. We also have an enemy who is relentlessly capable yet cloaked in mystery, an operative who “was spoken of in whispers” and “believed to be a myth” according to our own super spy Black Widow.

The plot works very much like a spy thriller too, with some action interspersed with exposition and investigation before an action-packed climax sees the world saved and the heroes changed.

So, I loved this movie not because it features my favourite superheroes (Captain America, the Black Widow and Falcon)  but also because it is a great spy thriller in the mode of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy – albeit with less manilla folders and more action. 

 

 

Please use the insult “graphic novel” properly ! (An Open Letter to David and Margaret)

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Hitting the wrong target 

 

I am a massive fan of ABCs David and Margaret At the Movies TV show. Both David Stratton and Margaret Pomerantz are the most knowledgeable, intelligent and eloquent movie critics – and fans – in Australia, if not the world. So, it pains me to write this missive, to appeal to them to use the insult “graphic novel” properly.

I was moved to write after watching this review of the 300 sequel, 300:Rise of An Empire. In it, both Margaret and David use the term “graphic novel” in a derogatory way, primarily to deride the way the film’s visual effects constantly overshadow, and interrupt, the narrative. Now, obviously as a lover of comic books and graphic novels I would rather they never use either term as a way to insult film, but on some level I understand what they mean. However, what really annoys me is the way they use the terms to deride those aspects of a film that are cinematic tropes, NOT graphic novels/comic book ones. 

What do I mean ? I mean I would not mind too much if Margaret and/or David were to look down on a choice that is based on comic book tropes. For example, it makes sense to complain that in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films it strained credulity that virtually every villain had some connection to Peter Parker, as that is a trope which comes firmly from the comics. It is also reasonable to point out that a WW2 super soldier would not be able to stand up to a god-like alien for even two seconds, making the fight scene between Captain America and Thor in the Avengers film a bit silly as again, this sort of thing happens all the time in Avengers comics. In my heart of hearts I would cringe to hear these complaints, but I accept they are reasonable.

What is NOT reasonable is to blame as an artefact of graphic novels or comic books aspects of a film that are cinematic in nature. as such, it does not make sense to say that the slow-motion, over the top fight scenes which punctuate 300: Rise of an Empire are bad because they come from graphic novels, as these are visual effects that come from movie-making. This ‘bullet time” effect comes from the Wachowski siblings’ Matrix films, not from any comic book or graphic novel. Similarly, the huge amounts of blood flying at the screen is an old trope used in everything from Hammer horror films to the remake of Carrie (not to mention the original Carrie of course). again, this is a cinematic effect, not a graphic novel one. 

To be charitable, I understand their confusion. Over the past thirty years comic books have used more tricks of the cinematic trade, and artists like Frank Miller (who is mentioned in the review) have made a career out of using these tricks to tell a graphic novel story in a new way. So when you read the original 300, Sin City or Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot comics you can see these cinematic techniques used abundantly. This does not mean, however, that they are graphic novel or comic book techniques, but film ones borrowed to be used in graphic novels.  A comic may use the image of a rocket stuck in the moon’s eye, but this does not change the fact the image was first used by the film-maker Georges Méliès. 

Now this may seem pedantic, but when talking about people who have shown considerable intelligence and ability to research I expect more. So, I respectfully suggest both Margaret and David at least read Scott McClouds Understanding Comics, to get an idea of what  graphic novel techniques are, and how they differ from cinematic ones.

 

 

Australia’s Best Publisher

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Today is the Australia Day public holiday, which has been perfectly timed this year to be a Monday – yesterday was the actual date for Australia Day, but we Aussies love days off work more than just about anything else, so we are taking the day off today so we don’t miss out on that quintessential Aussie experience ! And since I am having the day off work, watching the cricket and having a beer, I thought the blog for today should be appropriately Aussie too. As such, today’s blog will focus on Australia’s best comics publisher, Perth’s own Gestalt Comics.  

Gestalt Comics has an ethos which is very much reflected in the graphic novels and comics they publish: Story First. Gestalt has released horror comics, anthologies, all-ages graphic novels and genre-mashing Western horror/magic tales in a number of formats, from the traditional comic book and graphic novel as well as the digital new frontier. They have published works by Australia’s best artists and writers, including Nicola Scott, Tom Taylor, Christian Read and one of my all-time favourite Aussie artists, the inestimable Gary Chaloner ! You can buy all of their awesome stuff on their website (which this month has a sale !!), at the Oz Comic-con and Supanova conventions or, best of all, at their great launch parties ! 

My first exposure to Gestalt was at the launch party for Volume One of Perth artist Justin Randall’s magnum opus Changing Ways

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I was new to the whole Perth comic scene at the time, and didn’t know anyone at the party as I walked in. Within minutes though I was given a beer, watched a incredible trailer of the book and had a chat about comics new and old with the publisher himself, Wolfgang.  Never had I been made to feel so welcome in a room full of strangers, and by the end of the night I had made a couple of connections with people as passionate about comics as I was – even more so, really, as they were creating and publishing comics !! Justin Randall is not only an immensely talented artist, with a style reminiscent of Perth artist alums Ashley Wood and Ben Templesmith (whom Justin had taught Graphic Design in his “real job” as a lecturer at Curtin University), he is also an easygoing, humble, hilarious and generally  great bloke to chat to who was genuinely excited to be talking to one of his readers. I had such a great time merely buying the book that reading it and discovering a clever, creepy and beautifully produced horror story was the icing on the cake ! Needless to say I bought the second volume from the launch party too, and I will be the first in line at the launch of Volume Three !

 Thus started my relationship with Gestalt Comics, publisher Wolfgang and their array of great creators. The experience I had with Changing Ways has been replicated a  number of times now, and I have had the pleasure to talk to Tom Taylor when buying his brilliant all-ages book The Deep, discuss with Nicola Scott her evolving art style since she worked with Andrew Constant on werewolf tale Torn,   and be spoilt by Wolfgang with previews of everything from new issues of Unmasked to the trailer for The Deep animated series !

So, perhaps I am biased when it comes to Gestalt due to the amazing experiences I have had the personnel behind the company. Maybe these have coloured my reading of Eldritch Kid: Whiskey and Hate, a great mash-up of the hard-bitten shaman/cowboy with Doctor Strange and Unmasked (in which loser super villains try to make it as “regular” criminals), making only so-so stories seem like masterpieces. It’s possible. However, I reckon the works speak for themselves, and once you have ventured into the Deep with the Nekton family or marvelled at Gary Chaloner’s line work in Unmasked #3 you too will be singing the praises of the publisher which loves great stories so much it is their ethos !  

My son Jamie asked that I put a picture here of the Nekton family from his favourite series The Deep. Jamie says about the first book: 

“The boy is the best because he teaches the fish to fetch a stick like he is a dog. That’s silly and funny’ 

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I’ve been waiting, for a reprint of you….

….to come into my life (let it never be said that the Comic Book Evangelist fails to keep old  songs alive !). 

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Rebellion has announced they will be (finally !) releasing the complete run of Zenith by Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell in four volumes starting in  October 2014. 

This is exciting news for old school fans of the British sci-fi anthology 2000AD, who have been waiting 20 years for the story to be reprinted. It’s also great news for fans of Grant Morrison, who will finally get to read one of the acclaimed writer’s earliest works.  Finally, it is fantastic for artist Steve Yeowell, who is one of the most underrated yet brilliant artists in comics, whose amazing work on Zenith is sure to win him many, many fans and lift his profile to the level it deserves to be.

“OK, that’s some decent hyperbole”, I hear you say. “What’s so great about this Zenith thing then ?”.  I’m glad you asked ! 

Zenith is a series that ran in the aforementioned 2000AD in a number of discrete chapters known as “Phases” from Progs (issues) 535 to 806. This breakdown from 2000AD online is the best resource for those keen to track down the progs themselves, which I highly recommend, as there are other incredible stories contained in most of these progs, especially those from 535-700.  

The story of Zenith is quite simple, really, though it allows for a number of clever permutations and balls-out action, including an unofficial crossover of many of the British comic scene’s heroes and villains who join to battle The Great Old Ones of Lovecraft’s mythos. The story is this:  20-something Robert McDowell is Zenith, the son of 1960s superheroes who has inherited the powers of flight, strength and durability. Being a selfish 1980s yuppie-brat, Zenith uses his powers to promote his career as a pop star. He is reluctantly (very reluctantly) dragged into the battle against the Many-Angled Ones (primarily Lovecraft’s   Yog-Sothoth) who have possessed the body of a Nazi super-villain thought destroyed in WW2.  His initial allies in the conflict are an  alcoholic Welsh hero called the Red Dragon,  Conservative politician Peter St John (the Conservative Party  is the UK equivalent to the US Republican Party or the Aussie Liberal Party) and still youthful-looking friend of Zenith’s parents Ruby Fox. The group set out to defeat the Many Angled Ones first in the UK, then across multiple dimensions.

The coolest thing about Zenith is the clever use of super-powers (particularly the mental powers of Peter St John), the satire of Thatcherite Britain and the literary references to William Blake and others which add a layer of commentary to the story.

Oh, and I cannot write about Zenith and forget to talk about the coolest thing of all – Robot Archie the Acid-Head ! He is one of the retooled British characters of the 50s, 60s and  70s (other favourites of mine include The Lion and the Leopard of Lime Street), Archie steals the show as a robot who digs acid-house music and its associated culture. 

Oh, and to top it all off you have character designs by Brendan McCarthy and the beautiful clean, expressive lines of artist Steve Yeowell. Yeowell is a 2000AD stalwart, and if you are not au fait with his work check out this page on Tumblr for more beautiful images than you can poke a virtual stick at.

And for more information about the series itself and why it has taken so long for the reprints to appear, check out this.Just do not read the plot bits, it does spoil a story that reads best when you go into it with only the vaguest idea of what it is about and how it plays out !

Holy home entertainment, Batman !

Apologies for the delay in posting Wednesday’s blog. I became aware of some impending news and was waiting for it to come out so I could discuss it. Sadly I mixed up my days and the news hit on Thursday morning here in Australia, not Wednesday morning as I expected. 
 
 
 
I am extremely excited about this – along with a million other people born in the 1970s – as the Batman TV show was the first time I had seen a hero I loved from cartoons and comics on TV ! Furthermore, since the series was repeated constantly on commercial TV here in Australia from about 1972 onwards, it may even be that I saw the TV show first and the comics later (my earliest memories of Batman are of him escaping an hourglass death-trap on the TV show and reading a black and white reprint of a Spectre/Batman team up).  Whether it was my first exposure or not, the triple threat of JLA and Brave & Bold reprints, Challenge of the Super Friends cartoons and the Batman TV show cemented very quickly my love for this dark knight (who smiled a lot in the cartoons and on TV told us kids to be careful crossing the road).
 
For those unaware of why this is a big deal and why it has taken so long for the series to come out, it comes down to the usual culprit and the acknowledged root of all evil: money.
See, the series was created by Fox but the character of Batman – and Robin, Catwoman and all the others – are owned by Warner Bros.  So, when the home video market hit big in the late 1980s Fox  wanted to cash in by releasing the popular series. Warner Bros. blocked the release, as they claimed to own the characters and thus wanted a cut of the profits. Fox argued they created the TV show and so didn’t have to and the arguments went on for years and years over that point. (please note, this is a much simplified version of events as I remember them, so if you want something definitive check out a more reliable source !).
 
It seems that now after decades of wrangling some sort of deal has been struck and the series can at last be released.
No news at this stage as to when the DVDs are coming to a store near you, or what extras there may be. For this Bat Fan however, all of that is irrelevant – the TV show I most loved as a child is finally coming out so I can watch and rewatch it at home whenever I want to ! Hoo-RAAAYYYYY !!!!
 
Note to the kids: Daddy apologises for subjecting you to watching poor, chopped up version of Batman on YouTube over the years. He does not apologise for subjecting you to more of the Batman TV series (in high definition)  in the future !! 
 
Of course, I could not end the blog in any other way but this:
See you again on Monday – Same Bat-time, same  Bat-channel !

2014 antici……..pation

Comics marketing is a funny thing. Despite it only being a few weeks into January, us comics fans already have a pretty good idea what is coming up for the rest of the year: January sees the solicitations come out for April (Dark Horse released their’s yesterday and the new Lone Wolf & Cub is there !! Woo-hooo ! More on that later), DC announced in November their plans for trade/GN publishing through until July 2014, and the rumours are pretty much confirmed about the next DC event in September 2014.

All of this news has made me very excited indeed for the the titles to be published in 2014. Here is an outline of some of those titles that have me salivating in anticipation (anyone have a bib I can borrow ? Wait my 8-month old son does !)

 

The fun kicks off in January with the “L’il Dynamite” event orchestrated by Art and Franco !! They are doing L’il Battlestar Galactica, and the covers for the other books, which include L’il versions of Vampirella, Red Sonja, the Bionic Man and Woman, and Evil Ernie – written and drawn by Roger Langridge 

Also in January is Detective Comics # 27, a 96 page anthology celebrating the seminal Batman issue. The book includes art by Neal Adams, Frank Miller and my current favourite bat-artist Jason Fabok as well as a story by the all-time best ever Batman writer Paul Dini 

The awesomeness Marches (yay, bad pun !!) on with Greg Rucka releasing a new 5 issue limited series called “Veil”. The story concerns a beautiful girl who wakes up in a….you know what ? It doesn’t matter what the plot is. This is Greg Rucka folks ! So, the story will feature strong characters, clever plot twists and dialogue crisper than fresh celery.  Put the series on your standing order at the Comic Zone as soon as you see it in Previews, I will be ! 

Dynamite will have more fun coming along in 2014 as they launch new series featuring beloved characters from Gold Key (and later Valiant): Magnus, Robot Fighter, Turok, Solar Man of the Atom and Doctor Spektor. I loved these characters back in the day, when I could grab random issues in supermarkets (that was a very long time ago kids !) and enjoyed their Valiant incarnations (especially Magnus, whose personality was improved dramatically). Best of all, the characters are being shepherded by some of the best writers in the business – Fred Van Lente is taking on Magnus in what I think will be the breakout success story of the launch; Greg Pak is writing Turok and Mark Waid (who I have loved since his days on Flash) is revamping the Occult Files of Doctor Spektor. I reckon this one will be a great success, as awesome writers give us their take on awesome characters. 

Marvel are also relaunching series with great characters in their All New Marvel Now. Leaving aside the “All New” Marvel Now campaign seems more about launching old series  with a new #1 rather than introducing new characters/concepts, there are some offerings which look interesting.  Nathan Edmondson kicked arse on “Who Is Jake Ellis ?”, so I expect his run on The Punisher will have a decent amount of cool twists, realistic yet awesome tech and mind-bending psychology. Similarly, Phil Noto will be the artist on Black Widow, so based on his previous work this book and the lead character will look gorgeous.  

The series I am most intrigued by is New Warriors, as this is another case of great creators working on great characters. The new New Warriors is being written by Chris Yost, who has been crafting amazing stories on Marvel’s animated shows for years (Spectacular Spider-Man and Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes being highlights) and most recently made me interested in the Peter Parker clone Kaine in his Scarlet Spider series. The New Warriors book picks up on plot threads from Scarlet Spider, as well as having Kaine and his “sidekick” being front and centre of the team, so this is a must-read book for fans of that series. The book will also have old favourites Speedball and Justice (Hoo-RAAAYYY !) as well as the new Nova, so it seems the pieces are al present for this to be a great book. Best of all, the book’s artist is Marcus To ! I love To’s style, which is made up of clean lines reminiscent of Tom Grummett (whose art on Karl Kesel’s Superboy series looks incredible). Check out Red Robin and you’ll see just how suited To is to portraying the adventures of teenage superheroes. 

Also, Dan Slott and Mike Allred are doing a new Silver Surfer series !!!! ‘Nuff Said !!

As well as the new stuff, there is also some great old stuff continuing in 2014. Super-talented and even more super-cool Aussies Tom Taylor and Nicola Scott will keep on rocking it hard on Earth 2, while Mike Carey brings us the final arc of the incredible Unwritten story in Unwritten: The Apocalypse. Fred Van Lente will make Archer & Armstrong the best “buddy” book ever again in 2014, while Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie will bring us the long awaited Phonogram story spotlighting the acerbic Emily Aster. And all of the comics in my top ten will also continue to be amazing, making next year at least as cool as 2013 !!   

Oh, and Sandman Overture will be completed this year, which will give Neil Gaiman and JH Williams III the time to work on their Doctor Strange graphic novel (thanks G-Money from Ultimate Facepalm for the idea !!).  

Finally, and most exciting of all, Dark Horse has announced they will be bringing to the Western world the sequel to seminal manga series Lone Wolf and Cub ! It seems Kazuo Koike and new Hideki Mori have released in Japan two seasons of a new Lone Wolf and Cub story featuring Ogami Itto’s son Daigoro (the Cub of the title) which begins a few minutes after the climactic battle in which (SPOILERS for the original series) Itto is killed. Dark Horse will be releasing the first season in 2014, and subsequent seasons (including the third season which Koike is currently working on) in years to come. 

Along with Dark Horse releasing the original series in omnibus sized digests, now is the perfect time to get into Lone Wolf and Cub (which will be the subject of a future blog) !! 

This is what I am excited for in 2014 – what about you ? Tell me what you are excited to see in what will be an amazing year for comics !!!!   

 

 

2013 review is going….going….gone !

As I am sure most comic bloggers would tell you, I found it quite tricky to create a top ten list of comics I read in 2013. There were many more comics I wanted to talk about, along with creators I wanted to highlight, stories about comics I enjoyed and those “after the last minute” memory flashes which had me yelling “Oh NO ! I forgot to add title xyz to my list !”  I also found I had a lot more to say about the comics I did remember to add to the list that what I expected to be one blog post quickly turned into four posts.

So, to uphold my expectation to have a concise and easily digested list of comics published I feel deserve attention, I present this final look back at the year that was 2013.  For those who want details about the comics listed below and my reasons for choosing them, please see the previous posts on this topic available thru the links below.

Top 5 Graphic Novels, Trades etc:

5. The Best of Milligan & McCarthy 

4.  Butcher Baker, Righteous Maker 

3.  The Comic Book History of Comics 

2.  The Deep: The Vanishing Island 

1. The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice

Top 10 Comics Countdown (10-6), (5-1):

 10. Saga

9.  RASL 

8.  Suicide Risk 

7.  Revival

6.  Daredevil

5.  Lazarus 

4.  Archer & Armstrong 

3.  The Adventures of Augusta Wind 

2.  The Unwritten 

1.  Young Avengers 

So this post does not end up like a TV sitcoms clip show, here are the other comics, creators and events I enjoyed immensely in 2013 (take it as read the creators of the comics I have already mentioned are on the lists.

More comics I enjoyed:  Tom Strong and the Planet of Peril (it’s always great to see a new Tom strong story, and this one had all the elements I love about this “universe”), the David Mack and Brian Michael Bendis’ DareDevil: End of Days miniseries (Mack and Bill Sienkiewicz produce comic panels which deserve to be framed),  Uber (Kieron Gillen’s story of Nazi super-soldiers is horrific but so very well told), Superior Spider-Man (watching Doc Ock trying to be a hero using the methods of a villain is incredibly entertaining), Larfleeze (Giffen at his humour/cosmic storytelling best), Hawkeye (especially when Kate Bishop is in the spotlight), The Indestructible Hulk (Bruce Banner makes peace with being the Hulk and amazing stories ensue) and It ! Girl and the Atomics (Mike Norton again, this time renewing our acquaintance with Mike Allred’s groovy super heroine).  

Favourite creator: Gilbert Hernandez.  In 2013 Beto had a staggering 5 comics/OGNs released, from additions to his Palomar mythology to showing us the life of a man from birth to death in Julio’s Day. I have been a fan of Beto’s since I discovered Love & Rockets vol 1 #22 at the local record shop in the late 80s (L&R also celebrated it’s 30th anniversary in 2013 and there were a number of great books published to celebrate this) and was overjoyed that this incredible artist produced so much thought-provoking, heart-warming and pure man-it-is-so-good-to-be-reading-this-stuff work.  I will be posting blogs which dive into the work of Beto in a few weeks, such is the strength of my admiration for the man. Until then, enjoy Tom Spurgeon’s  interview with Gilbert Hernandez.

Other creators whose work I enjoyed: Nicola Scott (another year of beautiful line work and great character designs from the best Aussie artist working in mainstream comics !!),  Mike Allred (who brought his pop sensibilities to FF and gave us the best design of Ant-Man ever),  Art & Franco (in comics and their hilarious Aw Yeah! Podcast) , Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Fatale is incredible and I have just started Sleeper which brings back the enigmatic TAO from Alan Moore’s run on WildCATs – cool !) and Francesco Francavilla (Buy his pulp love letter Black Beetle book and drool over his concept art for the as yet unpublished Batman 1972 !!). 

Favourite comics moment:  My favourite comics moment happened off-panel, and wasn’t in any comic I read ! My favourite comics moment occurred during the Supanova convention in Perth. My 4-year old son – at his second comics convention – was asking Chris Claremont to sign some comics for him, and wanted to tell “Mr Claremont” how much he loved everyone’s favourite Canadian mutant Wolverine. Jamie is not shy, and happily pantomimed Wolverine popping his claws, telling Mr Claremont “Wolverine says ‘I’m the best at what I do ! And SHING ! BAM ! he pops out his claws”.  Not only did it entertain Mr Claremont hop end, it made this comics-loving geek dad immensely proud indeed ! A full account of the exchange can be found here

 That’s it for me and 2013, an incredible year of great comics, fun interactions with my favourite creators and the first steps in my becoming a regular comics blogger. But that’s enough of me, how about you ? What comics amazed you  ? What creators inspired you and made you think ? I am keen to find out, so tell me in the comments section below.