Saturday, July 01, 2006

Bully's birthday and the center of Superman's universe

Today is my birthday! I am six years old today. Which is a very good age to be.

Happy birthday to me! As a special treat today, John took me into Manhattan to see the real Superman Returns (following my embarrassing error of yesterday) and it was quite the best birthday treat a little stuffed bull could have. As I am only celebrating my sixth birthday today, of course I could not have seen the original Superman on the big screen on opening night in 1979, but John was there of course and told me this new sequel to the two original films made him feel like a little kid again from the moment that familiar "da-da-da-da!" Superman march theme came over the THX speakers.

Enough people in the comics blogosphere have reviewed this film in full so well, so I shan't in length aside from commenting on two things that caught my attention:

1. Like the original Superman, Superman Returns featured some fantastic scenes of high adventure superhero-style (the space plane rescue had me at the edge of my seat!). If there was any mild disappointment it was that there were not enough of this sort of scene in the movie: I did want to see Superman performing more super-feats. Like the original movie, he lifts and strains and rescues but we never see him throw a punch. And that's what leaves me even more eager for the sequel: if Bryan Singer follows the pattern and produces as fantastic a knock-down punch-out spectacle as Superman II in Superman Continues to Return, why that will be the best movie ever!

2. A little more mature thought than just "punching stuff is cool" now—after all, I am six and it is time to put childish things behind me. (Except for comics. And Lego.) One of the things I liked best about this movie was that it gave us back, in a lyrical and moving portrayal, something that is such a vital part of the Superman mythology in our minds but which we do not actually see anymore: the pain of Clark's love for and his distance from Lois. Think about it: it's a cliché, but one of the greatest elements of Superman is that his necessary double life keeps him from the woman he loves. But we don't get that element in modern Superman comics (I'm not arguing with that; I like Lois and Clark to be married in DC Universe continuity). We don't see it in what is arguably the best Superman reprint comics this year: The Showcase Presents: Superman paperbacks, because those are chock-full of Superman actively keeping Lois at a distance and in some cases cruelly tricking or punishing her for being a little snoopy-pants. These stories are fun to read, but that ain't true romance, oh no. The Superman animated series had some clever and sweet Front Page flirtations going on between Clark and Lois, but little of the sad distance that Clark felt. We really haven't seen this theme since the early years of the Lois and Clark TV series and the post-Crisis Superman comics—yet this theme of heartbreak and longing is as essential and familiar to the Superman mythos as a bald guy hoisting a big green glowing rock. I liked that Lois's new boyfriend was brave and generous and not a jerk; that would have been a hackneyed way to paint him. (And hey, after losing in the character interest stakes to Hugh Jackman for three movies straight, it was nice to see James Marsden actually get the girl for once). I'm hoping this theme is developed and continued in Superman Keeps on Returning Again, because sure, I wanna see Superman hit things. But I also wanna see him find that the one true center of his universe is not an exploded green planet, but a spunky prize-winning reporter.

Friday, June 30, 2006

My Superman Returns review

Today I went to see Superman Returns, and after scurrying through the legs of the crowds of people to get to my theatre in the massive and confusing AMC Empire 25 Cineplex, I was so excited to settle into my seat in my giant bucket of popcorn and await that familar red and blue logo appearing on the screen. I know all of you have been eagerly waiting to hear what a little stuffed bull has to say about the superhero spectacular of the summer. Well, to be honest, it was pretty good but not as fantastic as I had imagined it would be. The dialogue was indeed sparkling and witty and I found myself laughing out loud several times at the antics of professional journalists. Anne Hathaway was especially cute and made an ideal Lois Lane, and while Meryl Streep is not my first choice for Lex Luthor, she had the proper amount of menace and gave off a scary evil vibe of control and obsession that is not only reminiscent of Gene Hackman, is actually is more stylish. I admit to being disappointed that she refused to shave her head for the role, however.

Where I was disappointed was in the lack of many of the elements I thought would be carried over from the original film and the startling updates. Instead of working for the Daily Planet, Lois appeared to be working for a fashion magazine in this new Superman movie, and Perry White was nowhere to be seen. It was a bit odd to see Lex Luthor obsessed not with land grab scams or destroying Superman but instead Lex's major plot seems to be just badgering and bullying (excuse the phrase) the employees. Now that I think about it, you know, I didn't really hear John Williams's familiar Superman march theme blaring triumphantly, or spot any kryptonite, know, I can't actually remember seeing Superman. Maybe he was moving too fast to be seen. It is an interesting and risky new tact to take for a Superman movie, but I guess these major directors know what they are doing. All I would have done different was...

Hey! Wait a minute!

(re-checks my ticket stub)

Curse you, AMC Empire 25 Cineplex!

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

If you don't buy at least three of these comics, you are the one killing the industry.

Runaways #17RUNAWAYS #17: This comic is fun! Twists, turns, returned teammates, doubted loyalties, exploding summer homes, and a terribly, terribly frightening cliffhanger that threatens the future of my favorite this comic the soap opera of the Marvel Universe or what? When I say that, that's a good thing—Runaways consistently and continuously blends a solid mix of action, humor, realistic kid dialogue and teen angst. It is, in many ways, the perfect example of a "gateway" comic: appealing young characters, a kids-versus-adults plot, danger, humor and love that would be the perfect first comic for young adults and teens to be introduced to the world of superhero comics. Why isn't Marvel actively marketing it to that target market more heavily? Why isn't this comic selling a hundred thousand a month? Why must I lament every month that this comic, great as it is, is Marvel's biggest missed opportunity since their failure to promote Ultimate Spider-Man to a school-age audience? All of it adds up to a comic that's good enough to eat! (Warning: do not actually eat comic.)

Bart Simpson #30BART SIMPSON #30: This comic is fun. You've got to love a comic whose cover riffs on Yellow Submarine (even though there's no corresponding story inside!) As usual, Bongo fills this comic with multiple (three) stories for a cavalcade anthology of fun and and impudence to authority. The first, and standout story, appealed to be the most: everyone in Springfield gets hooked on reading the Harry Potter Larry Snotter books, and Bart must put an end to the reading frenzy to save his favorite entertainment medium, television! It's a story that's a little out of date—it would have been more pointed and popular two or three years ago when the last Potter book came out—but that's a delay easily forgiven not only because the Simpsons weather topical references well but also because, as I'm a little stuffed bull working in the publishing industry, I especially enjoyed the jokes about books! It even gives us The Best Line of the Week: "Can we go to the bookstore, Dad?" "Not until you finish your television!" So, in the words of Krusty the Klown, "Give a hoot! Read a book!" Or even Bart Simpson #30!

X-Factor #8X-FACTOR #8: This comic is fun. Or, as I like to call it, it's Quicksilver-ific! Back in the original X-Factor, Peter David wrote one of the best characterizations of the Fastest Man Alive (in the Marvel Universe), so it's a treat to see him return to writing Pietro if only as a guest-star. The cover shouts at us that it's a Civil War tie-in, but this story (which really should have been titled "Waiting for Pietro") is really one more in the never-ending "House of M" epilogues as the mystery of M-Day deepens. Even in the midst of tossing off patented PAD glib one-liners, X-Factor continues to doubt the "official" mystery of the loss of mutants' powers. I think they are abs'lutely right to be suspicious of Cyclops and what he's not telling us? You should never trust a guy when you can't see the reds of his eyes. Plus a Spider-Man appearance, Siryn gets ready to rumble with Wolverine, and Doctor Malcolm Modern! All this and Jamie Madrox: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.*! Next issue, an appearance by the Astonishing X-Men. Ehhh. Let's hope Peter David doesn't get fed up with the crossovers this time and leave just when this comic is becoming indispensable.

52 Week 852 WEEK 8: This comic is fun...sorta. Last week's first stumble in the weekly maxiseries continues this ish with a handful of plot devices that chug the story along but which are fairly unbelievable, contrived, and unconvincing—a rough spot in the natural and realistic progression 52 has taken in its first couple months. I'm still not buying the double-dealing of Booster Gold: adding to his public downfall last week Booster threatens, trash-talks, and just generally hands out tickets for the wolf to Clark Kent. Um, Booster, you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger, and you don't tug on the journalistic abilities of Clark Kent. More serious is the labored set-up of miscommunication between John Henry Irons and Natasha—so clichéd that the whole plot depends on them not talking and communicating their difficulties, but it's done in such a heavy-handed way that it might as well be an episode of Three's Company. And am I dreaming, or is Star Brand now a DC Universe character? I'm just confused and a little disappointed by this issue, and hope it'll pick up a bit in week nine.

Brave New WorldBRAVE NEW WORLD: This comic is crunchy, cheesy, cheap and delicious. I could spend a lot of time dissecting this dollar comic which is basic'ly an advertisement for six forthcoming DC Universe superheroes titles all wrapped up in a framing sequence that gives us the return of a popular DC character from the mid-eighties, but let me use this anal'gy, okay? Brave New World is Taco Bell's Crunchwrap Supreme in comic book form. Have I lost you with my clever anal'gy? Consider this: six savory and tasty ingredients in a deep fried crunchy wraparound shell. Sure, some people don't care much for tomatoes or nacho cheese or the Martian Manhunter, but it's cheap and filling and even if you forget that you ate or read it an hour later at least Blue Beetle didn't get his brains blown out in detail at the end. (Warning: Blue Beetle reference does not apply to Crunchwrap Supreme.) I liked and will check out the Atom and Martian Manhunter series, had no real interest in OMAC or The Creeper, am interested enough in Shazam to peek at the series, and was freaked out enough by plastic-looking new Phantom Lady to avoid the Uncle Sam series by a wide margin. Sure, it's an advertisement-slash-junk food. But it only costs a buck and it's 80 pages. That's a Silver Age-style bargain if I ever heard one. Taco sauce is not included.

Nextwave #6NEXTWAVE #6: This comic is fun. It's just basically one big long fight scene with kicks and explosions and force beams and face slams with shovels, without much dialogue but heavy on the homicide crabs. And there's nothing wrong with that! It's over the top and anarchic and juvenile and oh-so-fun. You can't blame me for giggling like a loon reading Nextwave, and if you are not picking up this book, then the terrorists win.

Solo #11SERGIO ARAGONÈS: SOLO: This comic is fun. MAD's manic Mexican master takes the Solo spotlight in this soon-to-be-captured sequel and gives us not only the most fun comic of the week but which will surely be on my year-end list of The Most Fun Comics of 2006! Really. I'm scolding you for not picking up Runaways and Nextwave, but if you didn't buy, read, and love Solo this week, turn in your comics fan badge: you're not allowed to read comics anymore! Brave New World may be 100 pages for a dollar, but Solo (48 pages for $4.99) is more comics enjoyment per page than any comics published this week. Or month. I'm especially fond of Sergio's confessional "I Killed Marty Feldman," but every story is a delight— gag stories, a twist-ending western, a samurai epic, a lesson in how victors write history, an autobiographical saga of Sergio's job search in New York, and one of the most entertaining Batman stories I've read this year: you've got to love a Batman villain called the Plumber whose henchmen have their pants tugged down their butts. Haw! Haw! Haw! This one goes on the shelf where I can get at it when I want it, not tucked away in the longbox. And that, fun comics fans, is the highest praise I can give a comic: I will want to read it again and again.

*Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage and Logistics Directorate.