Sunday, June 27, 2010

Marvel's Heroic Age review

Marvel has had a few years worth of dark times for its heroes – Civil War, Secret Invasion, and Siege. Norman Osborn is removed as the world’s top cop and replaced by Steve Rogers, the original Captain America so the Marvel Universe’s heroes won’t have to worry about the Super Human Registration Act anymore. Now it’s time for heroes to be heroes and fight the bad guys without worrying about fighting the good guys.

Of course everyone is going to get Avengers Prime and the new New Avengers titles because they feature characters that are well-known. But what about the slew of new titles featuring less or unknown characters?

I’m going to review three of those titles, Avengers Academy #1, Secret Avengers #1 (and the related story in Vengeance of Moon Knight #9), and Young Allies #1.

Avengers Academy #1 by Christos Gage and Mike McKone
I’m not familiar with any of the characters on this new team so I’m not sure if this is their first appearances. This issue reveals that during Norman Osborn’s reign, he convinced young people with emerging powers to let him ‘help’ them. Instead he tortures them to get their power to manifest and test them – this experimentation leaves many of them with powers strong enough to kill casually or with conditions that are slowly killing them.

The book is mostly told from Veil’s point of view as she discovers that the damage Osborn did to her ability to turn into different forms of gas has resulted in her body beginning a process of losing cohesion. Along the way, Veil is introduced to Hazmat, a girl so damaged she has to be fully contained in a suit at all times or risk accidentally killing someone, Finesse, Mettle, Striker, and Reptil. Overseeing this group is founding Avenger, Hank Pym, Tigra, Quicksilver, and Justice.

What I like about this book is the premise: Norman Osborn’s most damaged subjects relearning how to control their power. One of their first lessons is with Speedball (no longer known as Penance and wearing a costume more like his original). While Striker reminds the team that he was “the guy who killed half the city of Stamford,” Mettle insists that Speedball’s lessons will be valuable because, “One wrong move and any one of us could be a murderer.”

I also like that the adults overseeing the group all have histories that none of them are completely proud of (with the exception of Tigra) and know the price for their mistakes and may be best equipped to handle this group.

Speedball is my favorite Marvel character from back in the New Warriors days. Even he gets a moment when Hazmat takes off her glove during a practice and Speedball freaks out about it, “You want to…accidentally incinerate a bus full of kids.” This is obviously a flashback to the incident in Stamford that resulted in Civil War because that explosion was right next to a school.

As for the surprise ending – it’s not Thunderbolts big but it’s interesting enough to bring me back for #2.

Oh, and in the back of this book is a roster of these new characters and their abilities.

Vengeance of Moon Knight #9 by Gregg Hurwitz and Juan Jose Ryp
I picked this book up because Spider-Man is in it and I love a good team-up. Spidey and Moon Knight faced off against Sandman. Gregg Hurwitz may be new, but Sandman’s ‘I’m depressed and trying to steal money to take care of my kid’ story was old before he was a member of Silver Sable’s Wildpack. When (and why) did Sandman give up on being a good guy? The artwork was great – I hadn’t heard of Juan Jose Ryp before but I’m a fan now – the midair collision between Moon Knight and Spider-Man is hilarious and well-drawn. Speaking of great art, J. Scott Campbell did more than just the cover to this book – isn’t it time for an ongoing title for him?

The end of the book shows Steve Rogers approaching Moon Knight for membership on the Secret Avengers roster which leads into…

Secret Avengers #1 by Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato
One of the reasons I was excited about New Avengers was because it had a diverse group of well-known characters who have never been on a team together (and I was looking forward to many funny Wolverine/Spider-Man interactions). It’s the same reason I was looking forward to this book – Steve Rogers, Sharon Carter, Black Widow, War Machine, Valkyrie, Antman (the former Thunderbolts member), Beast, Nova, and Moon Knight.

This first issue is a little rough in introducing the team. It starts with Black Widow and Valkyrie on a botched (and boring) undercover job when Steve Rogers busts in and cleans house. Then we’re introduced to Beast. Then we get to see a mission with just a few of the members, then they go off to join Nova in space who hasn’t interacted with any of the team yet.

The premise of the book is simple: Secret Avengers is a covert team that goes after emerging threats, hunting down villains before they attack heroes, cities, governments, etc. It’s a familiar premise but one that might have been better served by having a rotating cast of characters from all over the Marvel Universe, recruited depending on the mission.

With a team book like this, I understand that some missions can only have a few of the members on them (because members like War Machine aren’t built for stealth) but the book should have started with the entire team doing something, whether being introduced to one another or bringing down something like a Hydra cell. It’s more interesting to see this new group together than to introduce them a piece at a time. The flashbacks to Steve Roger’s talks with some of the members was interesting and I wish Brubaker had shown his talk with Beast (who was so disappointed by what was going on in the X-Men books that he quit). The Nova conversation would have been the most interesting considering the last time he visited Earth he found out that his old team was mostly dead, Speedball was fundamentally changed, The Thunderbolts tried to arrest him for being unregistered, and his father criticized him until he decided to leave and not come back.

Still, a bad start is still a beginning and I’m really interested in seeing these characters bond and interact – I just hope this first ‘Serpent Crown’ story-line isn’t dragged out for 5 or 6 issues or I might not stick around.

Young Allies #1 by Sean McKeever and David Baldeon
This is probably the best book of the lot. While the characters are introduced a piece at a time, it makes sense because there isn’t a central figure like Steve Rogers putting them together. With the exception of Firestar, none of these heroes is well-known but they have been around long enough that readers have probably seen them in other titles.

Firestar, Nomad, Araña, Gravity, and Toro are featured going toe-to-toe with The Bastards of Evil who are – apparently – the kids of villains. Their only motivation is destruction to gain notoriety and the five heroes find themselves coming together to fight them. There’s a lot of great setup to introduce the readers to each team member. While Toro’s situation is a bit of a mystery that’s foreshadowed at the beginning of the book, McKeever does a great job of introducing the rest of the team. He shows Nomad and Araña fighting crime together and letting us know that they’re good friends, introduces Gravity via a conversation he’s having with his college friends, and introduces Firestar rushing to make a college class on time.

It’s a great start, well-written and drawn and I’ll be back for Young Allies #2 to see if this roster’s reason for staying a team is good enough to carry the series forward. As a bonus, in the back there’s a short write up on each team member to catch the reader up on who they are and give a list of trade paperbacks that each character has appeared in.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Movie Review: The A-Team and Killers


Quick synopsis: Hannibal, BA, Face, and Murdock are The A-Team – a military unit that “specializes in the ridiculous” in Iraq. When the team is framed for a crime they didn’t commit they escape from maximum security prison and try to clear their names. Gushots and explosions ensue.

Good: Like George Peppard before him, Liam Neeson brings confidence and humor to the team’s cigar-chomping leader.
Bad: Shoots BA in the arm right after meeting him.

Good: Sorry Mr. T, but this BA has more range even if he’s less threatening.
Bad: Let’s see…becomes pacifist, weird Mohawk origin, and was he some kind of car thief at the beginning of the movie or something (I didn’t catch it)?

Good: Face is still the guy who can get anything he wants with either his looks or his charm.
Bad: The Captain Sosa subplot distracts from the fact that Face is supposed to be a ladies man.

Good: Over-the-top Howling Mad Murdock worked in the 80’s but the toned down crazy man is just right for the film.
Bad: Not enough stuff for Murdock to do. As the pilot, he usually comes in after the action. Even the final fight only shows Murdock at the end even though there’s no aircraft in it.

Good: Great to see BA’s ride for a little while – great homage to the original.
Bad: Gets destroyed – which I guess is okay because for the rest of the film there’s no opportunity to use it anyway.

Good: She serves as great back-story for Face while becoming a large source of support for the team.
Bad: At first, when she and Face are reunited, it’s the typical, “We dated and I’m angry,” stuff. As the story progresses though, you discover that it was Sosa who’s at fault which is a refreshing change from the usual “it’s the guy’s fault” subplot. So while it starts bad, it becomes good.

Good: The TV version spent his time chasing the team, always getting outsmarted. The movie version is usually one step ahead and has superior numbers, firearms, and tech than The A-Team.
Bad: I don’t know if this is bad – it’s probably just because I saw a similar bad guy in The Losers – but the happy-go-lucky villain annoyed me.

Good: Nice to see Gerald McRaney (another staple of 80’s television (Simon & Simon anyone?)).
Bad: More plot device than character, General Morrison is the one who okay’s the team’s final mission and is killed before he can vouch for team.

Good: He should have been the main villain – a bad ass who’s the only character in the film to take BA down.
Bad: As with Captain Sosa, I think seeing a little less of him would’ve added to the impact.

Good: There is a scene with Dirk Benedict and Dwight Schultz (the original Face and Murdock).
Bad: The scene was cut and only runs after the credits.

Good: The action scenes were consistently over-the-top like a James Bond movie so it wasn’t ‘unrealistic’ in that universe (would have been distracting if they mixed ‘could happen’ with ‘could never happen’).
Bad: The fight scenes were that shaky-fast-cut garbage that makes everything look like a three year old is directing.

Good: Pretty decent likenesses and detailing and they’re in scale with Marvel Universe, Star Wars, and GI Joe 3 ¾ inch figures. For anyone stuck playing with the 80’s figures (remember Murdock had the bright orange jumpsuit and goofy grin), this is a real treat. The van is incredible too – it plays different sound clips depending on who you put in the front seat.
Bad: The Face figure has a suit – I was hoping for him to be geared up like he was in Iraq. He looks like a hit man with the suit and black gloves. And no Captain Sosa figure? What’s up with that?

So did I like the film? In the words of one BA Baracus, “Oh hell yeah, Hannibal.” It’s like a big-budget, two-hour episode of the show. It moved quickly and never took itself too seriously while establishing a real, lasting, reason for the team to be on the run. I would have liked a longer ending with Captain Sosa becoming the fifth member of the team (not a secondary character like Amy Allen or Tawnia Baker) on the run with them for her help in escaping. Still, I loved the original series and I still love the characters after all these years. See it in theatres because it didn’t open big so there probably won’t be a sequel. I’m looking forward to putting the Blu Ray next to my new DVD collector’s set of the original series.

The five members of The A-Team: Hannibal, BA, Face, Murdock, and the van.


Quick synopsis: Spencer, a spy, hooks up with normal-girl, Jen, and leaves the business behind to be with her. When Spencer’s old boss dies, he and Jen are endangered by the assassins (all of whom are their friends, co-workers, and neighbors) who come out of the woodwork to claim the bounty on his head, and he is forced to tell Jen about his past.

Good: I could easily see Ashton Kutcher doing more action movies.
Bad: This adds to the string of romantic comedies he’s done that are neither romantic nor very funny.

Good: When Jen does something good during an action scene, it’s fun to see her smile and celebrate a little – it’s rare we get to see that first. The last time I can remember is in True Lies after Jamie Lee Curtis mows down a bunch of bad guys with an uzi she drops and has a moment after where she grins sheepishly as though she’s saying “How about that?”
Bad: Jen was more plot device than character and her reactions became irritating.

Good: Eh. Nothing.
Bad: No personalities. Tom Selleck is severe and unfriendly and Catherine O’Hara has a slightly larger alcoholic beverage each time she appears on-screen.

So did I like the film? Although it had some nice action scenes and one or two laughs, unless you’re a huge Kutcher or Heigl fan, skip it. The story goes from light and entertaining to unbelievable when it ends (at feels like the midpoint) with an explanation (the villain reveal) that made me go, “Wait, what?” There was no big fight against a worthy adversary or big action piece, just a conversation you won’t understand because when Tom Selleck is revealed to be the person who green-lit Spencer, you will want to scream at the screen, “Then why didn’t you tell your assassins not to shoot at your daughter?” Wait until this comes to a pay channel and watch it for free – or better yet, there wasn’t much cursing so you can wait until it goes to cable TV.
Ugh. Definitely wait until it comes to cable TV.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bad Fortune

Today I went to Pick Up Stix (it's won-ton Wednesday and I need my fix) and got this in the fortune cookie:

Next time might I suggest gender neutral pronouns. Jerk.

Just for the record - Speedball likes the ladies. In fact, this seems like a good time to write about them.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favorite show. For seven seasons I got to know and love these characters as the stakes got higher and the bad guys got closer to killing them all. Of course Buffy isn't the only woman I love from that show, there's also Willow, Faith, Dawn, Anya, Cordy, Tara, and Kennedy.
Alias is one of my favorite shows. Since season two it was always on the brink of cancellation but it kept getting renewed until we had five seasons and a complete story. Sydney Bristow was played to the hilt by Jennifer Garner who picked up an Emmy for best actress in the first season.
No list would be complete without the underappreciated gem, Dark Angel. For two short seasons Max kicked ass and tried to help out her fellow transgenics (the closest thing to having an X-Men TV show). It also introduced geeks to their goddess: Jessica Alba.
Of course there's the amazing women of Firefly/Serenity. Each character is so different but each has the other's back no matter what. As far as the list goes, I've met all four in person and they're so much fun and sweet in person.