Archive for May, 2012

Comic Book Round-Up

Posted in Comics on May 26, 2012 by thebigsmoke

Shit, my WordPress custom CSS subscription has expired. Oh well, black text on white is a bit easier to read, so I’m going to leave it for now.

I have read some intereting comics recently, which made me want to spread the word. Actually, I’ve read tons of comics including all my regulars, but my reading is all over the place and I’ve fallen behind here and there. In fact I have completely lost track on the Green Lantern and Avengers titles, which are my mainstays. Hence, I’m going to ignore them and write about some more interesting stuff.

America’s Got Powers 1 (of 6)
By Jonathan Ross and Bryan Hitch

Unfortunately, I posted about meeting Jonathan Ross and said I would have to be nice about this title, so now anything positive I say is going to sound phoney and forced. Nevertheless, I shall plough on.

I never bothered with Turf partly because I didn’t find Jonathan Ross all that credible as a comic book writer, partly because it looked somewhat verbose, partly because the premise didn’t appeal. Really, it’s not that I was put off by his writing, because I’ve always been at least curious enough, but I figured it was his first title and I knew he would need to find his feet anyway.

I didn’t pay much attention to the release of America’s Got Powers either, but the Bryan Hitch artwork is a big attraction. I had just had to pick it up after I had an opportunity to flick through its pages. Now I’m really glad that I did as this is a seriously great first issue. It’s helped along by the beautiful art, but there are lots of hooks to the plot and it kept me engaged a hell of a lot more than most of the output from DC and Marvel has managed recently. I will definitely pick up the second issue and unless there’s a serious decline in quality I will be onboard for th rest of the series. I know this recommendation will probably go ignored, but pick it up if you get a chance.

Well played, Mr. Ross.

Secret Service 2 (of 7)
By Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons

I never find myself very disappointed by Millar’s work. Even when it’s not great, like Secret Service, it’s still entertaining.

Millar made a big deal out of working with Gibbon prior to the release of Secret Service, saying he wrote him fan letters when he was a youngster and it was a dream come true to be collaborating with one of his heroes. I can understand that as Gibbons is the guy who drew Watchmen after all. His artwork is still pleasant to look at, but I don’t think it lends itself very well to Millar’s style of writing.

Alan Moore has a dense writing style and broke up Watchmen into very text heavy panels, often with nine panels to a page. Millar on the other hand rarely if ever puts more than five panels on a page. It’s okay, this is the way comic book writing has gone and today’s writers tend to opt for a lighter more reader-friendly style. Millar’s writing typifies this development and I usually like that his comics are fast-paced. However, Gibbons’ strong point is that his art is very clear and he can handle detail. It worked in Watchmen because Moore was asking him to communicate so many little things to the reader per single page. Millar doesn’t ask so much and consequently Gibbons’ art looks blown up and a bit crude. He’s not a dynamic artist like Lenil Yu or Bryan Hitch, artists whose work fits Millar’s writing style much better.

I wouldn’t expect Millar to write like Alan Moore, but he could have played to his hero’s strengths and written something a bit more complex. Secret Service reads like something Garth Ennis might write without putting much effort into it, which is to say it’s fun and full of shock value, but not great.

Super Crooks 2 (of 6)
By Mark Millar and Lenil Yu

This is more like it. Millar doing his high concept thing as he rolls out a super-powered heist story. Two issues in and I am completely hooked on this one.

The first issue introduces failed villain Johnny Bolt, freshly released from prison and looking for a big score. Between the first and second issues he then assembles a string of super-powered criminals in order to carry out a caper, the nature of which is revealed at the end of the second issue. It’s like any good heist story, except instead of looking for a locksmith, Johnny looks for an “intangible” and so on and so forth.

Super Crooks is fresh and the characters are great. Dip, check it out, because this comic was made for you.

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man 7
By Brian Bendis and Chris Samnee

This title almost deserves its own post given how much there is that could be said. The death of Peter Parker in the Ultimate universe caused a lot of controversy and the letters column of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man continues to provide a platform for a chunk of fans unwilling to accept that he’s been replaced by Miles Morales.

The big attraction of the Ultimate line for me has always been its unpredicatability and seeing what fresh spin the writers and artists will be able to put on established characters. I therefore have no problem with Marvel killing off Peter Parker and replacing him with Miles Morales. In fact, if they had not done so then I would probably still be ignoring Ultimate Spider-Man the way I did previously.

However, having read most of the current line, I’m not all that impressed by the new Spider-Man. To begin with, for all the hype about his ethnicity, if the colourist got confused and coloured him and his family pink I don’t think it would affect the story telling. I mean he might as well be white because his preoccupations are the same as if he were and not once so far has his ethnicity really played a part in the stories or the character’s personal life. So, if you’re going to kill off an established character and add some ethnic diversity to your range of characters, at least go ahead and do it properly. I’m not saying I want to see Morales as some kind of racial stereotype, but it would be nice to see his ethnicity reflected in the story rather than just the colour palette.

In addition, Morales is so damn young. He is more like Spider-Boy than Spider-Man. This is good for younger readers and I loved titles like Impulse and Robin when I was a kid because I could relate to the characters more. However, he’s just a boy, which limits the type of issues the comic can deal with and necessitates that a lot of his behaviour is unrealistically mature.

Ah well, Bendis knows how to churn out readable comics and this is no exception. For that reason alone I will give it a chance and keep reading for a bit longer. Plus I do love the new costume.

Batman 8
By Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo

Just a quick mention for Batman, which is one of the few “New 52” titles I still care about on any level. Scott Snyder’s Batman writing is fantastic and I adore all of the “Night of the Owls” stuff so far.

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DJ Speedy’s video mixes are goresome

Posted in Film, Music on May 21, 2012 by thebigsmoke

They’re a bit hard to track down now that his site seems to be gone, but I recently discovered DJ Speedy’s giallo and techno-infused video mixes and wanted to share. As a fan of both Italian horror and thumping dance music, these mixes are an automatic win for me.

You can still watch the first seven minutes of The Colors of Darkness and Electro Euro-Trash on YouTube, so do that right now.

Damn, I need to watch Inferno again.

Now that the dust has settled… The Big Smoke at Kapow! Comic Con again

Posted in Books, Comics, Film, Television, Video Games on May 20, 2012 by thebigsmoke

I wrote quite a bit about the Kapow! convention last year, so I figured I may as well put up a few words about this year’s event.

At first I thought it was less popular than last year, but now I’m not so sure. I think maybe it was just better organised, as they used the multiple layers of the Design Centre a little more effectively. The artists (apart from David Lloyd) were not elbow to elbow with the retailers. The queues were managed well and they had a ticketing system for the panels, so there was no chance of queueing up only to be told you wouldn’t be allowed in. I remember queuing to try and see Thor last year was pretty painful, so I’m glad I was spared a repeat of that experience. I still think the Design Centre only semi-works as a venue, but overall they had made some obvious improvements to the planning.

I got to see Nick Frost and meet Jonathan Ross, which was very cool. Wossy was very friendly and patient with my shitty camera phone, so when I eventually get around to reading some of his comics I won’t be able to be anything but nice. Besides, I witnessed his wrestling prowess and am a bit scared of saying anything which might upset him.

Nick Frost was promoting Snow White and the Huntsman, which frankly looks a bit rubbish. Be honest, when was the last time they did one of these fairly tale adaptations and it seemed anything but lame? It might just about be better than the upcoming Jack the Giant Killer, which I thought was some kind of joke at first. That aside, he was pretty entertaining.

Good times then, capped off with lots of excellent food in great company, some drinking, and watching the drama of the Champion’s League final. I can’t write about Kapow! without mentioning the cosplay, and this year it was just as eye-popping as last. Well done to anyone who dressed up and a personal thank you to female Thor and Loki.

Moore controversy surrounds Watchmen prequels

Posted in Comics on May 13, 2012 by thebigsmoke

I have decided I am going to boycott Before Watchmen. I will probably read it at some point out of curiosity and because of my love for the original series, but I won’t pay for it. I have never had cause to boycott a title before, but there you go.

It’s well publicised that Alan Moore himself is vehemently against the spin-off series and has branded it “shameless”. Although I am a huge admirer, I would not side with Moore if I thought there was a suitable rationale for Before Watchmen. By way of illustration, he didn’t want to see the comic adapted, but I had no major issue with the film even when it was in the pre-production phase.

I feel differently about the comic and want to explain why. I have read quite a few comments saying that what DC is doing doesn’t matter, that the time has come and the new material looks of a suitably high quality. I think this misses the point.

Watchmen is a fantastic piece of literature. There are not many comics which you can point to as good literature, but Watchmen is one. Not only that but it’s also generally accepted as being so and, for example, is listed on Time’s list of 100 best novels. The story is wonderfully self-contained and really there is no need for any further embellishment.

Not only is fleshing out the story incredibly disrespectful to the author, it’s also disrespectful to the work itself; which is perhaps a more heinous crime. One of the few flawless literary gems that comics has to offer and DC is willing to risk diluting its appeal and consequently the literary potential of the comic book medium. What frustrates me most of all is that if Watchmen did not happen to be in a comic book format people would quite naturally balk at the idea of a prequel. Imagine the response a prequel to, say, Moby Dick or To Kill a Mockingbird would receive.

I agree with Moore, it’s shameless.

Media frenzy

Posted in Books, Comics, Film, Music, Stuff, Television on May 7, 2012 by thebigsmoke

First with all the publicity surrounding SOPA, and now with BitTorrent site The Pirate Bay blocked by many ISPs, a lot has been written recently about file sharing. I don’t delude myself that any contribution I make to the debate will be especially insightful, but there are a few things which have been bugging the hell out of me.

Let’s first put aside all issues surrounding copyright law. I’m not looking for argument about the ethics of file sharing and am willing to accept the simple truth that file sharing copyrighted material is, for the most part, illegal. I think it’s right that artists and publishers should own copyright and receive some form of remuneration when an artistic work is distributed, so really I have no reason to gripe about the law in principle.

What drives me crazy is that publishers have floundered for the better part of a decade to understand the realities of legal downloading and consequently the possibilities. Even now, I think publishers are incapable of applying common sense in the way they market and sell their product.

For example, browsing on Amazon I can see that the first Game of Thrones book is currently selling for £3.86 in paperback. The Kindle edition is £3.99. It’s actually more expensive to buy it for Kindle than it is to own the paperback. It’s a bit of a kick in the teeth if you have already spent between £89 and £149 on your Kindle. I think Kindle editions are cheaper in many cases, but how many books would you have to buy for your Kindle before you actually clawed back the cost of the Kindle itself? And don’t forget there’s no resale value to your Kindle editions. You might be able to put your old books on eBay, but you can’t do that with the books you bought for your Kindle.

Another thing I have noticed with the Kindle is that Amazon currently doesn’t offer a discount on purchasing the Kindle edition with the paperback. If you could get the Kindle edition for an extra 50p or something, it might be tempting to have it in dual formats and switch between the two. Personally, I feel like the digital copy should be thrown in with the paperback, but maybe that’s expecting too much.

I don’t mean to single out Amazon and the Kindle, but it highlights how the value of legal downloads are perhaps slightly inflated. There is a disparity between the cost and what you actually get for your money, because the publishers are disinclined to significantly differentiate between types of media format when it comes to pricing; even though we do as consumers.

It’s not only book publishers which are out of touch. All the major comic book publishers now have apps which allow you to easily access their catalogue and download comic books at will. It is only quite recently that the comic book publishers really got their act together and started shilling their wares in a digital format. For many years before, comic book fans shared scanned copies of popular series and the comic book industry was initially reluctant to counter this piracy in an intelligent manner. Now they have at least started making high quality digital downloads available, but I am struggling to find a good rationale for switching to digital. Yes, I know it’s cheaper. It’s actually also more convenient, because the digital copies take up less space and it’s so easy to pick up the comics you’re interested in, drop titles, and try new things. There’s no reason for you to miss another issue ever again.

However, there’s something very satisfying about leafing through a physical comic book and in owning a set of comics you love. I suppose I am a collector, but owning printed books carries a particular type of appeal for me. Also, again, we should consider resale. Sure, I might save a dollar an issue, but I’m really not saving anything if there’s a good chance I could sell the printed comic for a dollar or more at some point in the future.

I’ve talked about books and comics, but the same issues seem to affect other types of media, like music and movies. You can, for example, download movies via iTunes, but they’re the same price as they are on DVD. Actually, browsing right now, I’ve noticed Source Code is £6, but I paid £5 for it on DVD a few months ago; so I guess in some instances it’s cheaper to just buy things on DVD.

I go through phases of purchasing lots of movies on DVD (and inreasingly also on Blu-ray). I like to purchase things which I might not necessarily watch again and again but which I will be happy to have displayed on my shelves. I like good quality releases from companies which take pride in putting together definitive editions. Many times I find that buying a particular edition is quite expensive and I will really only get a few hours of enjoyment from it, but I don’t mind if it’s something worth supporting.

Publishers often quantify the cost of illegal file sharing on the basis that the people who downloaded a particular piece of media would have purchased the DVD or the CD had they been able to get the thing for free. This is of course a fallacy. When people are given access to an infinite amount of media, they become undiscerning. Just because a person will watch a film for free, it does not mean under different circumstances they would choose to pay to see the same thing.

I can’t afford to buy everything I want and often cannot really justify buying things which interest me, but I buy what I can and spend my disposable cash on things like comic books and DVDs. If you made those comic books and DVDs cheaper, I would just spend the same amount of money but buy more of what I like. This is probably true of most people to some degree and I think there’s a sort of equalibrium in which people spend what they are comfortable spending, then they purchase as much as they can within that bracket.

If this is the case, lowering the price of legal downloads might encourage more people to legally download the things they enjoy. If I could purchase back issues for about 50 cents or less (as you often can in comic shops), I would be inclined to purchase and read entire runs just for convenience of not having to track things down. If new comics were significantly cheaper in their digital format (perhaps $1 per issue), I might make the switch with some titles. If I could download a new film for £5 or rent it for £2 or £3, I would do that. Until publishers start thinking in this way and making more of their content easily accessible to people with average incomes, there’s too much incentive for people to stick with physical formats for things they really like and illegally download everything else.

Fear of a black planet

Posted in Video Games on May 4, 2012 by thebigsmoke

Black Ops 2 has been revealed and it’s set in 2023.  I really am not sure how I feel anymore about the Call of Duty games.  I still have Modern Warfare 3 sitting around in cellophane waiting to be played (thank you Skyrim for using up all my gaming time).  I didn’t enjoy the first Black Ops game a great deal and another installment doesn’t exactly thrill me the way, say, the prospect of another Batman game would.

On the other hand, the future setting looks pretty sweet.

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