Archive for July, 2008

God of Gamblers

Posted in Film, Poker on July 28, 2008 by thebigsmoke

How can you not want to play poker after watching this?

You probably shouldn’t watch this if you haven’t already seen the movie, as it’s basically the ending.

The Dark Knight

Posted in Comics, Film on July 28, 2008 by thebigsmoke

I’ve given The Dark Knight a lot of thought since I saw it yesterday. I’ve tried to be objective and judge the movie on its merits, but I have to admit it’s difficult not to be swayed.

The level of media attention this movie has received is such that it’s almost doomed to disappoint a good number of people. It is also very hard to gauge whether people are genuinely being entertained or whether they’re just caught up in the hype.

I know that the plot was a little muddled at times when the Joker and Twoface strands started interlacing. You could probably snap the film in two and turn it into a great Joker/Batman movie and a good Twoface/Batman movie. Perhaps that would have been the way to go, but I don’t think it matters a great deal.

The Dark Knight feels like more of a tribute to the mythology than most superhero movies. The characters on screen do all the work when it comes to making the movie entertaining. I’m not sure whether it was the intention, but I never cared much about the plot simply because I was too busy relishing every moment Batman and the Joker were on the screen.

I do think that Heath Ledger deserves a posthumous Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker. Maybe he’ll get one, but I doubt he’d even be nominated if he hadn’t died so tragically.

Anyway, there are a million and one reviews of this movie online, so let’s just say it’s an amazing movie and leave it at that. If you are a comic book fan, you can’t fucking knock it, because this is what you’ve been waiting for all your life.

Now I’ll finish with a short list of random points:

  • Bale’s raspy Batman voice still sounds a bit rubbish.
  • Removal of the love interest was a relief for me. All the romance in all the previous movie incarnations felt forced and out of place.
  • The cowl still makes Christian Bale’s chin look a bit small, but they did improve the costume. They got rid of those weird triangle clasps on the cloak and it all looked less like moulded rubber.
  • I thought the Batpod looked ridiculous in previews, but seeing it in action was great.
  • The tank-like Batmobile has grown on me too.
  • Fuck you, internet! You told me there was something after the credits.

The 100 Best Single Issues Since You Were Born

Posted in Comics on July 24, 2008 by thebigsmoke

So, you remember my post about the Wizard list of the 100 Best Single Issues Since You Were Born, right? Well, since I have now read every comic on the list, I thought I’d post up my verdict.

Hopefully, everyone searched for the torrent as soon as I made my post and has been reading along with me!

I read through the list as if it were a countdown, so I started with the Ghost Rider story entitled “The Curse of Jonathan Blaze”. It’s quite a traditional sort of comic book story, but it works so well. I thought it was fantastic, and foolishly raised my expectations. I thought to myself, If this is in 100th place, the quality of these stories must be really high.

Sadly, it has to be said that the list is actually quite poor; there are a lot of fillers and some quite arbitrary choices. “The Curse of Jonathan Blaze” is great, but I thought the other Ghost Rider story on the list, “Wish For Pain”, was terrible. How on Earth did it get ranked 50 places higher?

There are also a lot of issues of Ultimate Spider-Man included on the list, and frankly I just don’t get that. I’ve come to quite enjoy Bendis’ writing thanks to his Avengers work, but I can’t get into these Spider-Man comics. It’s fairly straightforward teen stuff, and though it’s done well, I can’t see how Wizard can really justify giving it these kinds of accolades.

Still, with all that said, there is certainly some fantastic storytelling on the list.

The Preacher and Sandman issues are all excellent, although I would have put them in a slightly different order. Truth be told, I have never fully understood Sandman’s popularity, but the stuff on the list was so good that I’m considering dipping into that series again.

I might also have to check out Geoff Johns’ run on Flash if “Absolute Zero” in issue 182 was a true indicator of the quality that I can expect.

I was pleased to see Hellblazer’s “Forty” and X-Factor’s “X-Aminations” make the list. Each of these comics made a big impression on me as a teen and re-reading them both was a joy.

All of the Alan Moore-scripted titles in the top 10 are exceptional. He is such an intelligent writer that I can’t quibble with his domination near the top of the list. It tells you something about the general standard of comic book writing when he still stands head and shoulders above the competition.

“The Overview” better than “The Killing Joke”, though? I don’t think so.

Naturally, the highlights of the list for me were the comics I hadn’t read before. I was expecting big, big things from “The Overview” and it wasn’t quite as good as I hoped it would be. Of course, it’s still a brilliant story.

I enjoyed all the Fantastic Four stories, but I think especially “Happy New Year, Reed Richards… Now Die!” That was just such a neat little story. It doesn’t hurt that, as I have said in a previous post, I’m a total sucker for Alan Davis’ work.

I’ve never been much of a fan of the Fantastic Four, but seem to enjoy their adventures more and more. Similarly, I’ve started to get interested in the Legion of Super-Heroes and thought that “Who Shot Laurel Kent?” was a lot of fun. I had to do quite a thorough Google search to make sense of the ending.

The Dr. Strange tale “A Mystic Reborn” was a surprising gem. It’s always nice to see a second tier hero really fulfill their potential.

The comic I enjoyed most on the list (excluding those I had read before) was Action Comics 775, “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?” I think I may have actually mumbled a “Whoa” or two while reading this comic. This is a truly terrifying vision of Superman unleashed. He’s such a powerful, commanding character, but too often mired in his own boy scout persona.

Now, as a little something extra, I’m going to provide a list of what I consider five awesome single issues that were not on the Wizard List and I think should have been.

I’ve provided free downloads for all the comics my list, so you can actually read them if you feel inclined. Just click on the individual titles for a link. Cool, huh?

5. Justice League America Annual 4 (“What’s Black and White and Black and White and Black…”)
By Keith Giffen, J M DeMatteis and Mike McKone

The Wizard list had a couple of Giffen and DeMatteis Justice League comics on it. This comic is funnier than either of Wizard’s picks. It was written just as the writers hit their stride and has a wonderfully confident, brazen style.

It’s also worth pointing out that it’s more of a self-contained story than “Born Again” was, as that was the first part of a larger arc and it felt like it.

4. X-Men Unlimited 1 (“Follow the Leader”)
By Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo

Yeah, I have an X-Men comic on my list. Wanna make something of it?

Lobdell and Bachalo eventually came to define the X-Men titles at the end of the 90s, but this was an early collaboration and they were just finding their feet.

Cyclops is one of the blander Marvel superheroes, but Lobdell manages to give him some real depth with this story. “Follow the Leader” completely changed the way I felt about the character. I’m sure it will have you rooting for him too.

3. Incredible Hulk 417 (“Party Animals”)
By Peter David and Gary Frank

This may be a bit of a cheat, because this ties in quite neatly with issue 418, in which Rick and Marlo tie the knot. That’s a fantastic issue also, but I prefer this one just a little bit more. I think the bachelor party episode can stand on its own, so this comic goes on my list.

Peter David is a gifted comedy writer. His characterisation and dialogue is spot on, so you should find some of the exchanges in this comic very enjoyable.

With a few notable exceptions, I usually preferred the quieter issues of Incredible Hulk while David was writing it.

2. Swamp Thing (“Windfall”)
By Alan Moore, Stan Woch and Ron Randall

Superheroes and drugs.

The two have been combined on many occasions, but never before like this. Ultimately, drugs have generally been treated in quite a conservative way in comics, which is hardly surprising. Comics are generally aimed at kids, so writers usually take a very anti-drug stance. A few brave writers have attempted stories about addiction, with mixed success.

Alan Moore’s balanced, morally ambiguous stance on the subject is a breath of fresh air. Above all, though, this is innovative writing and fascinating to read.

Credit is due to Wizard, as they have Moore’s “The Anatomy Lesson” in 7th position, but I think this is a better story.

1. Batman 431 (“The Wall”)
By James Owsley and Jim Aparo

Why this particular Batman story? I am not entirely sure why it resonated with me. “The Wall” is quite a typical sort of Batman tale, but it’s done so well. I first read it when I was very young, but like to revisit it periodically. I still feel that it’s a very strong piece of writing and a genuine classic.

If you liked the Batman Begins movie, you’ll probably like this comic.

Watchmen

Posted in Comics, Film on July 20, 2008 by thebigsmoke

Warner Brothers have released a trailer for the upcoming Watchmen movie.

Almost anybody who reads comics will tell you that Watchmen is probably the greatest superhero story of all time. They’ll probably also tell you that it’s one of the finest works of literature to come out of the 20th Century. It’s not like other comics, it’s in a different league.

Watchmen is sacred to many who love comics (myself included), mainly because it treats comics and superheroes with such maturity and respect. It fulfills some of the potential that avid comic book readers always felt that the medium had. After you have read Watchmen, you’ll never be able to say comics are just for kids.

The elevated status of Watchmen means that any movie adaptation has to be made very carefully indeed. With this in mind, the trailer causes me some distress.

I have had my concerns about the choice of director from the outset. I enjoyed Zack Snyder’s adaptation of 300, but it was not what I would consider a great movie. The directorial style was flashy and so reliant on CGI that it made the movie look completely unreal. While that wasn’t such a problem with 300, because Frank Miller’s comic was similarly obsessed with style, Watchmen is a far more subtle piece of work.

Unfortunately, the Watchmen trailer seems to confirm my worst fears.

The rock soundtrack instantly gives the movie totally the wrong feel. I like The Smashing Pumpkins, but that track was last used in Batman and Robin for God’s sake. Worse, I haven’t seen CGI that unwieldy since The Mummy Returns. I felt like I was watching a videogame for some of those sequences.

I sincerely hope that my first impressions are wrong and that this movie is everything it should be, but it doesn’t look good.

The Fantastic Four

Posted in Comics on July 6, 2008 by thebigsmoke

Buy this title! Drop whatever you’re doing and just go out and buy it.

I know it hasn’t been that long since I last raved about The Fantastic Four, but damn, the series is awesome.

A lot of comic book writers struggle to make earth-shattering events seem earth-shattering, but Mark Millar has always been able to present large-scale action in believable ways. It’s a gift that made him the perfect choice to take over writing The Authority when Warren Ellis left the title.

With The Ultimates, Millar developed the epic approach to storytelling he used in The Authority and it became deliberately cinematic. Millar’s writing style combined with Bryan Hitch’s naturalistic art produces a sort of comic book hybrid. It’s so easy to imagine the pages transferred to the big screen.

Most comic books require a massive suspension of disbelief. Those of us who read comics regularly are able to suspend disbelief without even thinking about it. When we open a DC or Marvel comic, we enter a different universe – a universe where lots of crazy things are the norm. This is why the translation from comic to film is often quite painful.

With that in mind, I can’t stress enough how refreshing Millar’s approach to comics is. I honestly believe it has to be the future of writing about superheroes, because it allows you to take them more seriously outside of the the sphere of comics.

ClanDestine

Posted in Comics on July 5, 2008 by thebigsmoke

I was a big fan of the original ClanDestine series, so was over the moon when I found a new mini-series on the shelves. It was just as good as I’d hoped and I can’t wait for the next one.

I’m always sure to check out anything that Alan Davis gets involved with. He is far and away one of the most talented creators in comics, and doesn’t get nearly the respect he deserves. The high quality superhero comics he produces remind me why I started reading comics in the first place.

Wanted

Posted in Comics, Film on July 2, 2008 by thebigsmoke

I went to see Wanted at the weekend, and I have to confess that I loved it. Because Dipesh’s view on the movie is diametrically opposed to my own, I wanted to try to post something up about the movie before he does (if he ever does).

However, before I do that, I want to first talk about the comic from which it was adapted.

I had heard only a little about the comic before I saw the movie. On Monday, I took the next logical step; I purchased the trade paperback and read it in one sitting.

I should start by saying that the comic, created by Mike Millar and J. G. Jones, is very different from the movie. The comic, like most American comics, is heavily preoccupied with superheroes and supervillains. It tells the story of Wesley Gibson, a lonely young hyperchondriac who stumbles into an exciting secret world of crime when he discovers his estranged father was The Killer, one of the most ruthless supervillains that ever lived. Wesley slowly develops his inherited abilities to become deadly and discompassionate in his own right. The story, which chronicles Wesley’s steady corruption, turns the traditional coming of age tale on its head.

Because Wesley Gibson starts off as the archetypal downtrodden loser, it forces the reader to ask some difficult questions. His metamorphosis draws obvious parallels with Neo from The Matrix, who transcends his dull, cubicle-dwelling existence to become a demi-god, winning the girl and saving the human race in the process. In turn, I think it’s fair to say that Neo has his roots in comic book characters like Spider-Man, Superman, Hulk, Daredevil; characters whose identities begin as pathetic and bullied. The change from zero to hero is adolescent wish fulfillment, and what Wanted cleverly highlights is that it’s borne out of violent, selfish impulses. In The Matrix, when Neo walks into a bank and shoots dozens of innocent security guards, we’re told it’s okay to revel in the violence because the security guards are in fact all mindless automatons, their deaths don’t matter. Although it all looks exactly like senseless killing, we’re off the hook. Wanted hurls the reader into an utterly amoral universe and removes the flimsy pretexts. If you enjoy the story and root for Wesley, you’re forced to ask how much morality really matters so long as your adolescent fantasies are acted out.

That’s the comic, so what about the movie?

The movie is exactly the sort of mindless adolescent fantasy that the comic spends its time dissecting. It’s such an ironic piece of filmmaking, it’s hard to think of a precedent; perhaps if Schindler’s List had been filmed by Nazis, or Malcolm X by the Ku Klux Klan. Somewhere along the line, someone completely missed the point. The action and violence in the comic is parody, but in the movie it’s without humor. There is little or no sense that tongue is in cheek (not even when Morgan Freeman waxes lyrical about the “Loom of Fate” or the fraternity’s hideout is destroyed by suicide-bombing rats).

Perhaps if I had read the comic before I saw the movie, I’d be outraged. For sure, it’s kind of sad that Hollywood is so incapable of treating comics with the respect they deserve. The truth is, though, the comic is unfilmable without major alterations. For all that the movie seems improbable, the comic is ten times more silly (despite possessing an intelligent core). It’s just hilarious that they took what they did from the story. I am nothing but amused by the situation. I like to think that Mark Millar and J. G. Jones are able to see the funny side, too, and that they’re chuckling as they spend their royalties.

So why exactly did I enjoy the movie so much?

Well, it was fast-paced, exciting, and full of chereographed violence. That’s usually enough to keep me entertained, because, whether I like to admit it or not, I am fuelled by a great number of adolescent desires. I think most people are (although possibly not to the same degree). The sooner they realise it, the sooner they’ll be able to enjoy movies without getting hung up on little things like reality.

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