Friday, September 30, 2011

Planet of the Apes (via Boom Studios)

For prose, I have been reading Tim Willocks' The Religion, which is great so far.  But it is a thick, meaty read, so I've been knocking off some comics when I don't have time for a deep reading session.

Somewhere I had read about the new Planet of the Apes comic from Boom Studios, and read that it was set in the timeline of the original movies.  Even though I am a huge ApeHead, this information slipped to the back of my mind (as did the new movie, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which I have not yet seen.)

I was at the comic store, and spotted the back issues on the shelf, and figured, why not?  I bought the first issue.  I bought #2 & #3 the following week.

I'm glad I did.  I like this comic.  It remains faithful to the original setting, while creating its own niche.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Green Lantern Corps #1

Green Lantern Corps #1

Well, that was disappointing.

My third taste of DC's New 52 has left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I was hoping for some fun space opera with this title.  GL stories not bound to Earth.  Spaceships, aliens, etc.  I'm not against the stories having dramatic weight, either.  I've always been interested in John Stewart as the Green Lantern (blame Bruce Timm.)

This issue opens with an evisceration, a beheading and a finger being sliced off - all in graphic detail.

Since when did the Green Lantern Corps become Lone Wolf & Cub?

Violence is right in its place, even graphic if you want - a samurai movie, a hard-edged sword-&-sorcery tale, but in a space opera comic?

Am I missing something?

I can't say I'm very interested in following the rest of this one.

Here's hoping Superman #1 is enjoyable - it's due out tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The New 52 - DC Comics

I gave in.  I bought these two issues from DC Comics.  I had sworn off individual issues a while back, but I just got too curious about the new Superman revamp.

I would have bought the e-comics.  And maybe, with my tired, getting-older eyes, being able to see frames on the big screen probably wouldn't hurt.  But the price is the same as print right now (where's the incentive, DC?)  I have extra cardboard and bags from when I was still collecting issues.

So, I figured - why not?

I haven't bothered following the news and myriad comments whether this regeneration of most of the DC line has been good or bad for their business.  I am sure there are fans.  I am sure some were alienated.  I might as well decide for myself if I like this new paradigm or not.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword #2

"El Borak: The Incident at Hakim's Rest"
Written by Mark Finn

Good self-contained El Borak story.  At the very end, though, I did get a little confused as to which side was controlling the fort and who were the besieged and who were the attackers.

"Dark Agnes: Storytelling" (Part 2 of 2)
Written by Marc Andreyko

Back at the tavern, the swords come out.  Agnes draws some blood.  That's it - story over.

"A New Game for Costigan"
Written by Joe Casey

I enjoyed this one, though it is a humorous tale.  Costigan takes up fight reporting, and proceeds to offend both boxers in the upcoming big match.  Hijinks ensue.

"Sea Curse"
Written by Robert E. Howard

Not a comic, but a printing of the horror tale with some b&w illustrations.  An old hag curses two vile sailors as they embark on another sea outing.  A young boy witnesses the Flying Dutchman bringing one of the men home.

"The Valley of the Worm"
Written by Robert E. Howard Adapted by Roy Thomas & Gerry Conway

A reprint from 1972, this is an excellent, chilling adaptation of the original Howard story.  Niord, an man of ancient times, kills a Cthuluian "worm", and creates the race memory of all the stories of a single man vs. dragon - St. George, Perseus, Beowulf, etc.

"Conan and The Jewels of Hesterm" (Part 2 of 3)
Written by Paul Tobin

The story goes right off the rails in this part. Conan breaks into the Temple of the Elder Queen and sneaks past a roomful of guards. Then, he pauses, says, "No, you will know that Conan of Cimmeria was here!" He turns around, marches into the room and kills all the guards but one.

(nitpick rant follows)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Geek out - The Cult of Timm

(more Speak Out With Your Geek Out)

In Hollywood chat among 'geeks', Joss Whedon fans have been referred to as "cult of Whedon" and some t-shirts are emblazoned "Whedon is God."

Now, I am not here to slam Whedon or compare, at all.  I just use this example to illustrate those who love everything he touches.

Personally, I'd like to start a "Cult of (Bruce) Timm."  Because, I thoroughly enjoy any animation project he does that involves the DC Comics universe.

I didn't get into comics until I was well into adulthood.  Oh, I had the occasional horror comic, or old Conan comic, (Later, I would acquire graphic novels, collections and issues when Dark Horse revived the Conan line.)  But, I never really appreciated the superhero vein.

Then I watched Cartoon Network's Justice League, produced by Bruce Timm.

I was hooked.  I still am.  I have all the series he produced, Batman: the Animated Series, Superman: the Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League.  I went back and caught up.  I also have a shelf full of the action figures in my home office.

Since 2007, Timm & company have been producing DC Universe Animated Original Movies.  These feature a rotating cast and crew and even changing animation styles.  They don't need to have continuity, each stands alone, and I enjoy the mix up.  All the movies have been from good to excellent.

I've delved into the occasional comic title, or graphic novel of DC superheroes now.  Either because they were directly adapted or because I was curious to learn more.  I will continue to do so.  I've even picked some issues of the New 52 reboot.  I know DC are probably losing some longtime fans, but for me - still a relative newbie - it's exciting to get in the ground floor.  As a writer and fan, it will be interesting to see how the line is revamped - and what works, and what doesn't.

In short, I'm excited about superheroes and I don't think I would be saying that without Bruce Timm's work.

I don't know if this is a full geek out because I am not an expert on the history of the DC line, and I don't know minutiae about Bruce Timm.  But, he opened the world of superheroes for me like no one had before.

If you haven't seen any of his DC Animated work, do yourself a favor.  Pick an episode or a movie, any one should do.  If you want a starting point, my favorite of the movies so far was Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword #1

"Conan and The Jewels of Hesterm" (Part 1 of 3)
Written by Paul Tobin

This story opening left me cold. It really felt like Dungeons & Dragons. "Hesterm"? "Temple of the Elder Queen"?  Jewel thieves chased into the streets by fire-demon guards.  Conan's first appearance is cliche as they come, sitting in a tavern, flirting with the bar wench.  There is a very large stolen jewel and vague references to it being the temple's second greatest treasure.  It's extremely easy to guess what the first greatest treasure is.  So, not very Hyborian Age and a predictable storyline.

"John Silent: The Earthbound Dead"
Written by Scott Allie

A sequel short to Allie's adaptation of "The Castle of the Devil". Not too bad a horror tale.  The cursed book Silent acquired has driven him mad.

Six Guns and Scimitars: The Wild West in The Middle East
Written by Mark Finn

An illuminating treatise on El Borak and his world at the very start of the 20th century. No comic here, just a setup for a story in issue #2, which is also written by Mark Finn.

"Dark Agnes: Storytelling" (Part 1 of 2)
Written by Marc Andreydo

Another tavern tale.  This time setting up the arrival of Agnes.  Nice use of conflicting backstory imagery against the tale being told.  Not much else going on.

"Worms of the Earth"
Written by Robert E. Howard, Adapted by Roy Thomas

This is a reprint of an old b&w Savage Sword of Conan comic. I wasn't sure about the colorizing.   I know from some of the Roy Thomas introductions to the Chronicles of Conan collections that occasionally they would colorize a SSOC issue to cover the main Conan comic if something fell through.   I always thought the coloring made the pictures too busy, with all the b&w lining already on the page.  I'm happy to say "Worms of the Earth" looks great!  The colors are earthen, muted and dark.  They really fit the tone of the tale.

So, that's it for issue #1 contents.  Probably worth it for the "Worms of the Earth" reprint, if you don't already have it.

I am no artist, I can't draw, and I feel weird critiquing art but the cover leaves a lot to be desired.  It seems, to me, crude.  And the bloody face evokes more thoughts of a bloody nose than a hard fight, to me.

The interior art is well done, though.

Notice something about all the stories?  We have a comic book named Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword with one Howard adaptation - and that is a reprint. Everything else is "pastiche".  I guess part of the charter here is to explore REH's characters further, but shouldn't they start off with adaptations of the original stories and then move into new tales?  I can understand keeping the Conan stories for the main comic but no "Blades for France" for Dark Agnes?

Maybe they're saving them for later.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Geek Out - Daleks

I don't have the ambition to post every day this week on geek subjects, but I figured I'd try to get one in, at least.

With Doctor Who, there are many facets to discuss - various Doctors (he regenerates, you see, becomes a new person & personality with the memories and core values he's always carried), various eras, so many aliens and villains.

I figured I would focus on one aspect that still captivates me to this day, the Doctor's oldest enemies, the Daleks.

Recently, Grognardia asked what was your favorite non-humanoid aliens, and my answer was still the Daleks.  In fact, I think that very question highlights one reason I enjoy the Daleks.  When you consider all the television scifi from the early days, almost every alien seemed to be either a ball of light (scratched onto the film) or aliens that looked an awful lot like humans in foam rubber masks and gloves, or - my favorite - aliens that take human form for convenience of plot and budget.

The Daleks look nothing like that.  For all the FX short comings of the original Doctor Who, the Daleks were an original look.  Machines without legs, and yet - they aren't machines either.  They aren't robots.  They are humanoid, but they were so mutated by nuclear war (and genetic experimenting) they became blobbish, tentacled balls of hatred and malice, and withdrew into "travel machines" to survive.  Later, these self-contained life supports systems became weapons in their own right, each cyborg Dalek becoming its own self-contained tank of death & destruction.

Yes, I own a bit of Dalek and Doctor Who merchandise; episode novelizations (which, are great because some of the earliest episodes' tapes were recycled by the BBC and are lost forever), original novels, VHS tapes, DVD upgrades of VHS as they become available, audio dramas.  And yes, some of the toys, too.

One thing I have not yet tried are the Dalek Empire audioplays.  These dramas feature stories about people battling the Daleks, without the Doctor's involvement.  I am not sure I am interested in the Daleks without the Doctor.  But, I guess I should give one a listen sometime.

Recently, the Daleks underwent a fairly big redesign.  They are now more colorful and physically larger - I guess to be more threatening.  (Cynic in me says they were revamped to make the online game more colourful [British spelling intentional.])  I kind of like the new design, but many long time fans are unhappy.  Not surprising.  Perhaps a balance of old-design Daleks with new-design would have been better than a wholesale swap out.

However they look, I hope they stay around, and are put to good use in strong stories. (Truth be told, the story in which they were revamped was really weak, which is why I have a cynical view that it was rushed to tie-in to the video game.)

The Daleks have changed before, they can change again.  Ain't time travel great?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

recent read - Sung In Blood

Summary from Night Shade Books; Protector Jerhke has kept Shasesserre peaceful for hundreds of years. After his brutal murder, his son Rider tries to discover his father's murderer. Rider is helped in his search by his companions, as they battle against the agents of the mysterious Kralj Odehnal. But the murderous dwarf turns out to be an introduction to greater terror, as they match wits with Shai Khe, the powerful sorcerer who wants to rule Shasesserre.

That is exactly what you get in this short novel (novella, really.) I am a fan of Glen Cook, so I enjoyed this quick fix between longer novels. Rider and his team read like Doc Savage and his crew (though, Rider is no Doc.) As usual, Cook plunges the reader into a setting seat-of-the-pants, and it's a fun ride. The opening assassination is darn near worth the price of admission alone.

Rider protects Shasesserre via a Web of magic that also allows communications with his team. Airships powered by ensorceled demons wander the skies.

Su-Cha, a shape-changing, wall penetrating imp, the familiar of Rider, is particularly fun side man. Cook always manages to give everyone just the right quirks and camaraderie. And yes, his team includes a strong man "barbarian" character, too.

This novella originally appeared in 1990 at a convention. Whether it was specifically written for that, or a "trunk" manuscript rescued for the event, there are some weaknesses.

The biggest is the abrupt ending. Some reviews argue Cook should have filled the tale out to a novel. I think--given that is was aimed as a novella--it should actually have been cut shorter. It feels like act one ends, act two starts and stops within a few pages. It might stand alone better with a cleaner cut and no bits of act two.

Fleshing out to a novel might have worked, but it already suffers from some repetition - a lot of chasing, captures and escapes and recaptures. Maybe this was a sly satire on Doc Savage novels but I haven't read enough to be sure on that point.  The story might just have needed more editing.

Given that, if you are interested, seek out the ebook (which is considerably less than the limited edition hardcover) or find a used copy.

I enjoyed it, but I'm a fan. It might not be a bad quick introduction to Cook's style, but understand he has much more interesting and stronger works available - the original Black Company trilogy first and foremost.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hollywood vs. source material

One thing about Conan the Barbarian (2011) that is not ripe for argument is that the movie was not in any way a direct adaptation of any single Robert E. Howard original Conan story. That is fact. Beyond that all seems matters of opinion. Personally, I felt that even as Howard 'pastiche' it didn't deliver. The setting did not feel to me much like the Hyborian Age. Jason Momoa, as Conan, felt mostly right although even there he might have been closer to the comics' Conan than the Robert E. Howard character. Naturally, any adaptation from one medium to another must make changes to present a successful story. You cannot film a book word-for-word, it doesn't work. You need to adapt. But, there is adapting and then there is "buying a concept at high level and not going any deeper and doing whatever you want."

I know movies are formulaic (I was in a screenwriters group for many years) but Hollywood seems so hung on formulas now that they always seem to believe they know what is better for a story, for getting butts in the movie cinemas. They buy concepts and run (Conan is a brutish guy with a sword in a fantasy setting) instead of examining the finer elements (civilization vs. barbarianism, historical eras lumped together with adventure and sorcery.)

I want to caveat the rest of this post with a big disclaimer - I am no Jonah Hex expert. But, I have read a handful of the original comics via the DC Showcase collection. Last night I caught parts (yes, only parts, not the entire movie - but I'm posting about it anyway) of the movie Jonah Hex and darned if I didn't feel like the same thing had happened to Jonah that had happened to Conan.

Josh Brolin felt like Jonah Hex, from what I saw. But the setting and plot were so far afield from the source material. Jonah Hex, the comic might have been billed as "weird Western" or "strange Western" but in the end, they were always westerns. The "weird" was more like strange murders or hairy hill men who were setup to seem like Bigfoot. I don't know - in the later tales I believe maybe there were more supernatural episodes (or the occasional Batman time-travel crossover) but in essence, they were clearly spawned from the "Man With No Name" Eastwood movies.

The movie took the concept - scarred Confederate bounty hunter - and smushed it into an Wild Wild West (the movie, not the t.v. show) almost-steam-punk extravaganza. Hex armed with a grenade shooting cross bow pistol? Explosions galore. Weird glowing ordinance destroying entire towns. The U.S. President recruiting Hex?

Compare that with the 11 minute short cartoon of Hex DC did direct-to-video, if you can. That cartoon succeeds in 11 minutes where the theatrical movie fails for 81 minutes. Hex hunts a bounty. The bounty has already been killed by a murderous prostitute. She nearly kills Hex. Hex delivers on the payback in appropriately grim fashion.

So, I guess, on reflection, at least Hollywood got a little closer to the source characters on these two movies. But getting the character right doesn't pay off if he doesn't seem to belong in the movie. Next time Hollywood buys on concept alone, maybe they should invest a little more time in exploring what they have.