December 9, 2011

Amazing Spider-Man's New Poster

I have to say, I love this poster. As far as posters go, this actually gets me excited. It's very, very simple. The spider symbol is something that is recognizable. I remember when the first Batman movie came out and the poster was simply the Batman symbol. That was all that was needed. For Spider-Man, the spider symbol is almost as recognizable, and everyone who is going to see the movie knows that this symbol means.
But I look at this poster and I know what this movie is about. It's about the person inside the superhero costume. And in some ways, the spider is a menacing figure in the poster. This poster tells me that this movie is meant to be about Peter Parker dealing with the whole "with great power comes great responsibility" idea, like the best comic book stories. In theory, if not in execution.
The imagery of the poster makes me want to see this movie. But . . .
The words! As a writer of comics, I often get caught up in the question, "Which is more important in a comic book, the artist or the writer?" "Writing or art?" (Answer: yes.) But the art and the writing should work together, and words on the page should serve to enhance the art and tell you something the art cannot. And the words on this poster, well, the something they tell me that the art cannot? "The untold story"? What's that supposed to mean? What story are they trying to tell? Are they trying to say they are going to tell a new story? Well, I hope so. Maybe they are trying to reassure people that yes, this is going back to tell the origin story but they are going to tell it in a different way? I hope so!
(One other thing makes me want to see this movie: Andrew Garfield. Everything I've seen him do, he has done phenomenally.)
Anyway, this poster looks great. If you want to see a bigger version, you can go to Superhero Hype here.
What do you think? Do we really need another origin story for this character? Especially considering he's got about the easiest origin to tell: dude gets bit by radioactive spider, dude gets spider powers. There, I did it . . . on with the story! 
~ Ben

November 22, 2011

11/22/63 ... a book review, but not THAT book!

So today is the anniversary of three deaths. JFK was shot on this day in 1963. Also, Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World, among other books) died of an intentionally lethal overdose of LSD. In 1963. Finally, C.S. Lewis (author of the Narnia books) died on this day, as a result of a long battle with kidney disease. In 1963.

A couple weeks ago, one of the best-selling American authors of all time released a book entitled 11/22/63, about a time traveller who intends to stop the events of that date. You've probably guessed it has to do with the Kennedy assassination, not the two British authors. I haven't read the book (it's a brick -- seriously, a couple hundred copies of that book and I could build a garage) but that's okay, because that's not the book dealing with this date that I'm writing about for this blog post.

No, the book I'm writing about -- and recommending -- is called Between Heaven & Hell: A Dialogue Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C.S. Lewis, & Aldous Huxley. Written by philosopher and C.S. Lewis scholar Peter Kreeft, the book is a modern Socratic dialogue between these three men.

Kreeft uses each of the men to express a different philosophy and a different view of who Christ was. Kennedy represents a modern American "Christian", or "humanist Christian" as Kreeft puts it. Someone who believes Christ existed and was wise, but that Jesus was not God and miracles were exaggerations of Christ's true actions. Huxley represents a universal philosophy, one that makes Christ's teachings an expression of universal truth, but not THE expression of THE truth. And Lewis represents "mere Christianity", the common and essential beliefs of Christians and the catholic (little "c" is intended here) church.

The book itself is brilliant. Sometime after these deaths on 11/22/63, these three men meet . . . somewhere "between heaven and hell". As the title suggests. Of course, their actual location becomes a matter of debate. As their conversation continues, they begin discussing "life, the universe, and everything" (not in those words). Questions arise about Jesus' divinity and whether someone can be intellectually honest if they merely believe Jesus to be a good teacher, the historicity of the Bible, free will, and what does "truth" even mean?

The book tackles deep questions and gives deep answers. It's a dense book, too, packing a lot into its 100 pages. But it gets you thinking. It gets you asking these questions. It gets you mulling over the answers.

It's all imaginary. Yes, yes, I know, obviously it is imaginary. But that's not what I mean. This isn't a matter of Kreeft creating a true "dialogue" through the manipulation of three men's writings. Rather, he casts these three men in representations of an argument, as opposed to the arguers themselves. Using these three famous men, who all happened to die on the same day, as a storytelling device, he crafts an engaging and dramatic conversation. In Kreeft's own words, "the purpose of the dialog is not historical accuracy; the argument is all, as it is with Plato's Socrates." Thus, Kennedy, who rarely spoke publicly about his religious beliefs becomes a symbol for modern "casual Christianity". Only when reading Lewis' lines, which contain numerous allusions to his famous writings about why Christianity can claim to be Truth (capital "T" also intentional), did I feel that this might actually have been what he would have said. (I've not read anything by Kennedy, and my knowledge of Huxley is limited to a few readings of Brave New World over a decade ago.)

So I do recommend it. I recommend it to people who are Christians and want to explore answers to some of the questions being posed to them about their faith. (And these are important questions. Christians are, too often, afraid to approach some questions. Perhaps because they are afraid that the answer might invalidate their beliefs?) I recommend it to people who are not Christians, but wonder how anyone could possibly believe such hogwash as a man who claimed to be God.

But beyond saying it's a good book, with a lot of meaning, I'd also like to recommend HOW you read it. Take your time. Reread some of the passages. It's a short book, perhaps an afternoon read. But I said before it is dense. Every sentence builds on the last, as arguments are made, challenges given, and answers explained. But don't let that deter you. Rather, embrace that and use exercise some of your extra brain muscle.

~ Ben

November 17, 2011

U2 and the JLA (thoughts on digital media)

I’m looking through the iTunes store, and something catches my eye. It’s a featured album, it’s only $7.99, and seems to be some sort of benefit for a charity.

The title? “AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered”.

The contents? Every song from U2′s “Achtung Baby”, covered by a different artist. Some of the names I recognized. Others, I have no idea who they are. Most of them — even the names I recognized — were performers that, even though I had heard OF them, I had never heard. NIN and Jack White and Gavin Friday being the expections.

But they were all much more well known that the bands on that old cover album I bought years ago. And I like U2. And it was for a good cause.

And hey, I bought and liked Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark.

So I bought “AHK-toong BAY-bi Covered”. And you know what? It’s not bad. How’s that for a blazing review. My entire review might as well be “it could be worse”.

Truth is, it COULD be worse. I know, I’ve bought worse.

So this gets me poking around a little bit more, and I find iTunes has the Achtung Baby remastered album. Now, I already have the album. I already have most of the b-sides from the singles of this album. But there were a few I didn’t recognize. A look back at my library and I find that, indeed, I do not have two of the tracks.

Well, I do now.

Then I looked at the Joshua Tree remastered album, and there are some tracks there that I don’t have.

Again, I do now.

Some of these are tracks I have heard of, and others of them I didn’t know existed. But here were these songs, songs I will enjoy over and over again, available to me for the first time. Yes, just $1 a piece for a song and a smile and a legal way to listen to what, up until know (to my knowledge) has only been available conveniently and cheaply as illegal downloads. I can;t say for certain, because the truth is I haven’t looked.

What a world we live in! A world of technology and wonder!

And this is where digital comics need to start catching up! For just yesterday, I was looking for a way to read (again, legally) an old storyline from the Justice League of America series. It’s a long story, but basically I heard some guys on a podcast talking about the story, and I realized they were talking about a comic book I owned when I was a kid! I had always wanted to know what happened — I had part one of the story, and it ended on a cliffhanger. I thought it was a two part story, but here I find out it was actually a five parter! A mini-series. A graphic novel length story involving time travel and alternate universes.

I wanted to read it.

ebay had the other four comics I was missing for $5 each, plus $5 shipping. And that was the cheaper sellers. I wasn’t paying $40. Mile High Comics was more reasonable, with the comics coming in at $3 to $6, and My Comic Shop had about the same pricing.

Then I had an epiphany. What about digital downloads? How cool would that be? Just look it up in DC Comics’ Comixology app! Download and read ‘em on my iPad.

No luck. The catalogue just doesn’t go that deep. And then I thought about the pricing. For this storyline, I probably would have paid the $1.99 they are charging for old comic issues. But as I started digging around and looking at some of the other, older comics they had, I just wasn’t inclined to buy a digital file for $1.99 to $3.99. I don’t know if that says more about me than it says about them.

With U2, I made an impulse buy. I didn’t think twice about buying a small handful of songs for $.99 each. These are things I will be going back to, maybe not over and over again intentionally, but they are now in my U2 playlist, and they will get randomly played when I’m in the mood for some U2.

With the comics? Am I just a cheapskate? But the truth is, unless a comic makes a big, big impression on me, I’m not going to go back and re-read it. That $1.99 price (or $2.99 or $3.99 for new comics) is just high enough to keep me from making an impulse buy of something I'm never going to read again. And their catalogue is just limited enough (“limited” to well known characters and stories — it’s just not deep enough to get to the obscure kinds of things I like) to keep me from finding the things I would pay more for. (I do understand there are technical details that set price tag and content where they are.)

Meanwhile, in other media, we have movies. Netflix is a science fiction lovers dream, with complete series like Dr. Who and Stargate and every single Star Trek episode from every single series. But for movies and television, with much more dollars at stake than anyone else, they still seem to be dragging their feet in fully embracing the brace new world of digital media. (I can’t speak to books, because I really haven’t bought any books to read on my iPad, so I haven’t searched or browsed. But I do know that my own books from Zondervan are available as digital downloads.)

As for the story? Justice League #s 207, 208, and 209 and All-Star Squadron #14 and 15 (I think)? I can live without them. But maybe I can find them on the cheap at a comic convention in the near future . . . maybe even for less than a dollar . . . and on paper!

What do you say?How has your “media consumption” changed in the new frontier of the digital age?

~ Ben

For $15 and $13, I honestly recommend both of these albums, even if you already have the albums, because of the extra 14 tracks of rare material they come with. These are two of the greatest albums ever, so if you don't have the albums, well, you should. Or, do like I did and get the individual tracks you may not have through iTunes . . .

November 15, 2011

You Know What? I'm OK with (some of) DC's Character Redesigns . . .

So, yes, I'm mainly talking about Superman.
Because I don't care about, say, Animal Man. He was never an icon. And yes, Harley Quinn's redesign is pretty atrocious. I don't even know about the character and I hate the redesign.
And Batman, Flash, Aquaman . . . they're basically the same. But for Batman, his costume has changed over time. He has benefited from the movies (starting with Burton's Batman until, most recently, The Dark Knight) because having your character in front of millions of people worldwide and looking different in the comic . . . well, the comic has to follow that example. Batman has followed trends and set trends.
Superman? His costume barely changed for the television series and the first four movies and Lois and Clark and the cartoons, and Superman Returns didn't do much to push forward the character's fashion sense.
To be clear, I love the classic Superman design. I truly, truly do. But, that said, I understand why they redesigned him. And I somewhat agree.
The original Superman outfit was based on (my opinion) circus strongmen and trapeze artists. It was, like the character, very much a part of the times. And in that time, it was cool.
The costume has changed a little since he first came on the scene . . . but not much. (For an overview of the costume change over time, check out these guys: The Superman Costumes.) I would almost say the costume became something timeless, but that's not quite true. It was became somewhat ridiculous until Christopher Reeve managed to wear it sincerely and without irony. He made it work, and he made it work well, because he believed that a man who could do all the things Superman can do and wanted to do all the things Superman did do would wear those clothes.
That was the good old days, though. The days when people could be earnest, not cynical. The days when someone could wear tights and a cape and colored briefs that matched the cape over those tights . . .
No. They couldn't. We were forgiving. We accepted it and moved on, but now we've seen it all before and seen it all a lot and as talented as artists are, truth is, we just don't suspend our disbelief in the same way.
So we get armored Superman. And I'm okay with that. I'm not reading the comic (hey, I'm not MADE of money!) but I'm okay that they've changed my Superman.
Although I still think Wonder Woman should wears pants. Because, as impractical as it is for men to wear underwear on the outside, it's absolutely practical for woman to ONLY wear underwear. Right?
~ Ben

November 10, 2011

Green Lantern is a movie about Hollywood . . .

I finally saw Green Lantern. For those who don't know, it's a superhero sci-fi fantasy action movie about Hal Jordan, who is given a ring (and a lantern, which charges the ring) that can create anything Hal can imagine using the power of green (also known as willpower) . . . which comes with a price: he is now a member of an intergalactic police force.

The premise has a lot or promise, and could easily be something really fun and interesting or truly awful. Amazingly, though, using the Hollywood power of green (also known as money) it's not either.

Here's my review: you know that kid that was always in your class who just coasted through school and never went beyond what they had to do in order to get by, even though they were talented and intelligent and maybe good looking? Who could have really contributed to society or been very successful if only they had applied themselves? But who slid through and never really did anything to live up to their true potential?

That's Green Lantern. Not the character, the movie. End of review.

But thinking about it, I had some more thoughts I've been trying to sort through. Green Lantern embodies something beyond a simple "good" or "bad" statement of opinion. (Don't get me wrong -- the following is still opinion. I'm fully aware of that.)

The movie itself is half-hearted and goes through all the motions that superhero movies are supposed to go through . . . and tries to be both Superman the Movie and Iron Man (the first one), but does so without really knowing what made either of those movies work. On a purely technical level, it works, and on a conceptual level, it works, but all the in between stuff -- you know, scripting and acting and filming and effects -- just doesn't gel.

An outline of the basic storyline would look good. "A" happens, then "B", then "C", which was caused by "A", and "B" and "C" together make "D" happen. But four people wrote the movie, and it feels like it has four different tones and four different characterizations for the main cast.

This bothers me. It doesn't bother me as much as the kid I was talking about above (who I sometimes WAS when I was in school and who I came across many, many times when I was teaching school . . . and still do, even out of that setting). Because that kid is a living human being with a future and with a family and who is a part of society. No, Green Lantern is a story. A $200 million story. And if you've read my blog at all, you know that I believe that stories have power. Sadly, the power this story had was wasted.

That's my general feeling about Green Lantern, and as I was thinking about it and all the wasted potential I started thinking about something more metaphorical. Green Lantern is a movie about itself. Green Lantern is about big, expensive, Hollywood movies.

Here is a character who has the power to create whatever he can imagine, and when he does imagine things it just lacks . . . imagination. I know that something like this runs the risk of looking like a Looney Toons cartoon, and we already have a superhero movie like that in The Mask. But I just found myself being underwhelmed by it all. Once or twice, I thought the things he was doing were clever. The other times, it just felt bland.

And, going to that other power of green, the one that the movie's producers have, they could have done anything their imaginations dreamed up as well. But I just found myself being underwhelmed by it all. Once or twice, I thought the things he was doing were clever. The other times, it just felt bland.

That's when it struck me: Green Lantern, in all it's mediocre blandness, is a movie ABOUT ITSELF! And, in a bigger picture sense, about Hollywood blockbusters.

I have a long list of things that should have been done differently to make Green Lantern better, but what scares me is that there are a LOT of people who are MUCH smarter than I am who worked on this movie . . . and this is still the end result.

So instead of Green Lantern, I recommend the follow movies that Green Lantern is trying to be:

Superman, which has the heart of heroism and all ages appeal . . .

Iron Man, which is edgy and has a strong, sarcastic, and confident "hero" at its core who has a lot of life lessons to learn:

The Mask, which has a more wacky, abut also more organic, variation on the superhero who can make anything he can imagine come into being:

Each of these films have flaws . . . but they also have a lot of heart.

~ Ben

November 3, 2011

Good News on the Planet of the Apes

Hmmm. The title sounds like a pretty awful movie. "Good News on the Planet of the Apes".
But the truth is . . . I'm pretty excited about this little tidbit of news I saw people talking about on ye ol' internet:
Actually, it's two bits of news. First, they've signed Serkis to do it. Which means they're getting ready to do it. Whether they do it or not is another story -- a Hollywood story in which nothing is certain until it happens, and even then sometimes it's not certain. But they are getting ready to. This is good news.
The other good news is that the main team behind bringing Rise of the Planet of the Apes to the screen is going to be behind the sequel. The writers, the director, and of course, Andy Serkis.
I really, really liked Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It was a quiet, thoughtful character driven sci-fi action film. It felt like an independent film with epic scope. And almost everyone I talked to about it (all six or seven of them) were ready to see more when the closing credits came. And the ending of the movie was a game changer, promising a sequel that pushed the character of Caesar, and the story of the world, into new places.
As much as I love the originals (and I do, very, very much) I'm ready for this sequel . . .
What about you? How did you like the new sequel? Is this good new or bad?
~ Ben

October 27, 2011

Yesterday Was Wednesday ... and that meant new comics!

So here's what interested me from the comic shelves yesterday . . .
Oooo, scary . . .
Surprised that Aquaman was on my list? You wouldn't be if you read my initial thoughts on DC Comics going back and starting over all their series. Aquaman is one of my favorite characters and I'm glad to see him get a bit of a new life.
But after reading the second chapter, does this look like this series can float? (Sorry . . .) The answer is yes. I enjoyed it. The threat that was briefly introduced last issue (to make room for introducing the main character) is front and center in this issue.
The one thing I'm waiting for, though, is a character arc. I'm not seeing where the character of Aquaman is going or growing yet. I just don't know what's at stake for the character. The plot of the story should reflect and push the growth of the character. That doesn't mean it won't happen, because this is a weakness of any serialized storytelling, as chapter builds on chapter.
The other problem I had? This was SHORT! Twenty pages for $2.99.
So I'm intrigued and interested and ready for chapter 3.
Oh, and look into the eyes of the creature on that cover . . . do you see it? Yes . . . it's issue #1's cover! Apparently, creatures from the Trench are reading DC's new 52 as well . . .
See that ring on his hand? I got one with my purchase of this book! Of course, the rings don't actually appear INSIDE the book. Guess they needed to put it on the cover for the promotion to make sense . . .
Last week was ALL Legion of Super-heroes. You can read my thoughts about it here. And when I picked them up last week, I thought those three series (yes, there are three series about these character: two ongoing, as part of DC Comics' New 52, and one mini-series crossover with Star Trek -- yes, I don't understand it either and after reading the first issue I still don't understand it, but it's there) were it. Well, turns out there's a fourth series -- a mini-series that will explore and explain the origins of the Legion of Super-heroes.
I'm hoping that it will explain everything I need to know to really be able to understand and follow the Legion of Super-heroes, but so far not so much. This story felt choppy and again, I can't help feeling that it has fallen prey to the "twenty pages of a longer story at a time" weakness.
But it does have some interesting elements -- the science fiction universe that is home to a legion of super-heroes premise is infecting me, I think.
Still, I feel that this one will be better if read as a whole story instead of chopped up into chapters.
I'm a casual fan of the Western and it's tropes. I've worked on a couple westerns in the past, and I read them occasionally, and enjoy a good Western movie. So All Star Western piqued my interest, but enough for me to buy it until I started hearing good things about it.
By then it was too late. The New 52 was sold out.
However, as I mentioned in an earlier post about the New 52, this month when each second issue arrives on shelves, reprints of the first issue are also being sold. Yesterday, All Star Western #2 came out . . . so I thought I'd give the first two issues a look.
First, these books were littered with references to modern day superheroes. It takes place in the 1800's, but the story itself focuses on bounty hunter Jonah Hex arriving in Gotham City to track down a serial killer. The mayor of Gotham City? Mayor Cobblepot (an ancestor of the Penguin). One of the city's wealthy elite? Alan Wayne. Issue 2 references a "Crime Bible", something I heard about in some mini-series or other a couple years ago. Hex's city slicker helper in Gotham? Amedeus Arkham, a psychologist (if not the founder of Arkham Asylum -- I don't know the Batman lore well enough -- than an ancestor of the founder).
It's a tense, gritty, violent book. Prostitutes are the killer's targets. Issue 2 features a bloody shoot out.
The art is highly stylized, though, and I don't find myself taking time to really absorb artwork unless it is really, really good, but here I did find myself looking at the bold line work.
It's a $3.99 book, unlike most of the other New 52 books. And it has a longer page count. Issue 1 was a longer first chapter, all Jonah Hex. Twenty-eight pages of story. Issue 2 had a twenty page Jonah Hex story continuing from issue 1, and an eight page El Diablo story.
El Diablo, also known as Lazarus Lane. (Any relation to Lois Lane? Can't help wondering.) It's an "Indian curse"/"zombie" story about Lane, who, when unconscious, has some sort of dark spirit that takes the physical form of a whip wielding Zorro clone? I don't understand, but since I'll probably be getting #3 to get the next chapter in Jonah Hex's story I may be finding out more.
Also this week:
Haven't read this yet, but it's a bunch (100 pages worth!) of short Jack Kirby stories from the beginning of his career. I love reading these kind of books. And I can't sing the praises of DC Comics Presents 100 Page Spectaculars enough!
And my kids LOVE the Smurf comics. More than the cartoons!
The movie, you ask? What movie? There's no Smurfs movie . . .
~ Ben

October 22, 2011

Round Up

I haven't posted in a while, and thought I'd do a little round up sharing what I've been u to lately.

First, I've been writing a couple different books for Kingstone Comics. I just finished a graphic novel documentary about the history of the Bible -- the actual book, how it was written, translated, and comes to us in its different forms today. I'm also writing the fourth, of twelve, chapter/issue of The Christ for Kingstone, which will be a comprehensive "life of Jesus" story.

Second, I've just finished writing a graphic novel about the life of Paul for Lamppost. The artwork has just started.

Watch this space for more details about when these books will be published.

Or you could watch this space: Ben Avery - storyteller. This is my Facebook "fan page" or whatever it is they are calling it. If you're on Facebook and you're interested in details about what I'm up to, this is the place to go. Just click "like". (I think that's what you're supposed to do . . . I'm still figuring it all out even though I've been on Facebook how long?)

I've also been involved in a a podcast -- which isn't news. Also not news -- we haven't recorded a new episode for a few months. What IS news is that we are going to be "rebooting" the podcast, and new episodes will be showing up early in November. The podcast is called The Fanboy Tollbooth, and it's a clean geek related podcast. I've been posting over there . . . although perhaps I should be posting some of those posts over here instead, since I've been letting this blog go a little.

But here are some posts that may be of interest:
Digital Comics: What They're Doing Right (sort of)
The Avengers Trailer - Meh? Or Yay!
DC's New 52? Giving comics and characters a facelift (about the DC Comics reboot)
New Comics: Legion of Super-heroes (reviewing four different Legion of Super-heroes comics)
Mama, just killed a man . . . with this SONG! (be careful with this one, once you see it . . . you can't UNsee it)

Visit to read other articles and listening to our previous podcasts. You can also "like" the podcast on our Facebook page.

~ Ben

October 21, 2011

New Comics: Legion of Super-heroes

When I was a kid, I had a couple Superboy and the Legion of Super-heroes comic books. I liked them. They had Superboy and a bunch of cool looking characters. It was in space and in the future and, to someone excited about Star Wars and Superman it was a cool convergence of both.
Of course, I knew nothing about the cast of characters and the continuing story and I was very, very confused about what was going on. Both comics started in the middle of something . . . had some cool action . . . and ended on a cliffhanger.
I still like the concept, though, but like X-Men comics I never got into any of the many series because of all the backstory and the huge cast of characters. Reading comics over time I got to know some of the main characters and concepts.
In the comic shop yesterday, there were four different Legion of Super-heroes comics . . . and I thought this might be a chance to give it a try. Two of them, after all, were from the new 52 . . .
I decided to read this one first, since it was a reprint of an older Legion story.
I was very confused when I started reading it, because NOTHING went along with what I already knew about the characters, until I realized that it was actually an Elseworlds book: a stand alone story that has nothing to do with any continuity and is set in its own universe.
In the "real" Legion stories, super powered teens from the future are inspired to become superheroes by Superman's exploits in the present. In THIS story, Superman never existed because the rocket ship that carried him to Earth as a baby somehow went off course and wasn't found until the far future. So Kal-El lives in the future, has taken to calling himself Superboy (inspired by the OTHER superheroes from the present, who died early because Superman wasn't around) and Superboy now wants to build a "legion". Of "super-heroes".
I'm sure if I was more familiar with the Legion characters, I'd have found it even more clever than it was because of all the appearances of all the many characters. But as it is, I still found it quite interesting. It's a fun story, with super heroics and sci-fi ideas.
Recommended. The DC Comics Presents . . . series is a great deal. Each of these books is a 100 page "graphic novel" reprinting various classic and/or obscure story arcs from the past.
So this new series is one of the "new 52", like I mentioned in this previous post, and is supposed to be a great jumping on point.
It wasn't.
That's not to say it wasn't good. It was. And they worked to make it accessible, by carefully introducing characters as soon as you see them the first time, in both issues. But, just like my old Legion comics, coming into the first issue, the reader is coming into the middle of a story.
I did appreciate the science fiction elements, and it is well written.
But unlike the "Superboy's Legion" book I read just before this, where the initial confusion was intentional, here it was unavoidable because it is still tied to directly to the old Legion of Super-heroes stories.
Recommended if you are familiar with the characters and storyline, but not if you are coming in with no knowledge like me.
LEGION LOST #1 and #2
Coming into this series, I found the same problem as the previous series . . . but this time, it worked.
The first issue opens right in the middle of a story. A handful of the huge cast of superheroes from the future of the Legion has found itself trapped in the present. It's picking up from the same storyline Legion of Super-heroes picked up from, and the careful character introductions aren't there and somehow . . . I was drawn in.
Maybe I was okay feeling lost because "lost" was in the title?
Supposedly, time travel is no longer possible in the "new 52" DC universe, and these characters are stuck. "Men out of time", so to speak. I liked it.
It's geek fodder. "Who would win in a fight, Freddy or Jason?" "What if aliens fought predators?" "Wouldn't it be brilliant ifIron Man, Captain America, and  Thor met the Hulk, a red-haired woman, and a guy I'm pretty sure I recognize from something who shoots arrows?"
I can't imagine ANYONE has ever sat down thinking . . . "what if the futuristic Captain Kirk and crew teamed up with superhero teens from the further future?"
But here it is. It's a classic Trek trope -- the old "alternate universe timeline" story, in which Kirk and crew find themselves in a mirror universe. And so do a small group of the Legion heroes. The same mirror universe. The two teams haven't met yet, in this issue. I guess that's in the next issue.
But is it good? Surprisingly, it is.
Recommended? If you like this sort of thing.
~ Ben
PS -- The last one, of course, reminds me of this:
Yes, Star Trek/X-Men. This one, also as un-needed as the Trek/Legion, at least had a couple moments in which iconic characters meet and do iconic things. Like this:
Spock giving Wolverine a nerve pinch? I like it.
But I like this more:

October 20, 2011

Mama, just killed a man . . . with this SONG!

And life had just begun . . .

Here he is! The one and only Shatner, doing the Bohemian Rhapsody:

Wow. It's impressing me and depressing me at the same time.

There's a part of me that loves seeing Shatner so much, especially with his run as Denny Crane on Boston Legal.

There's another part of me that wishes it wasn't so much self-parody.

And let's face facts, as awesome as Shatner can be . . . he just doesn't hold a candle to THIS Bohemian Rhapsody:

Still and all, his new album, Seeking Major Tom, an album of space themed classic rock songs, just might be finding its way into my iTunes library . . .

~ Ben

October 18, 2011

DC's New 52? Giving comics & characters a facelift . . .

Well, DC is in month two of their "new 52" initiative, in which they have completely, only not really, rebooted their entire universe to start over at the beginning.
Unless the character was popular. In which case, they aren't starting over from the beginning and instead they are continuing with their popular elements.
So Superman? Starting over from the beginning. Green Lantern? They just finished an epic storyline with him, so that still happened. Same with Batman.
I find it interesting how they are trying to make things less confusing by making things more confusing . . . but, snark aside, this really seems to be a good thing.
First, comic shops are having a hard time keeping titles on the shelves. Orders for the second month of the New 52 saw their second issues in the top one hundred sales rankings, side by side with REPRINTS of their first issues.
Second, it seems that people are mainly buying them to READ, not to COLLECT. I'm not sure if this is industry wide, but the owners of, my local shop, said that unlike other "events", people are buying one copy of the books. For reading, it seems.
Third, some of the characters were in need of a little more than a facelift. There comes a time when trying to cover up aging results in something like you'd find in Terry Gilliam's Brazil:
No one really wants their heroes to look like this, even metaphorically, do they?
Besides, Superman has a movie coming out and he needs to be more hip and happenin'. While I don't agree with some of what they're doing to update the characters, the truth is every single one of these books is more accessible. Mostly.
Fourth, Aquaman! Yes, I know, with that one word I have destroyed ALL credibility. But it's good to see Aquaman in his own book. And I'm buying it. For a few issues, anyway.
The first issue of Aquaman illustrates exactly what DC is trying to do. In trying to pull in new audiences, but satisfy old audiences, they start a new storyline with new enemies.
At the same time, Geoff Johns tells a story that introduces the character nicely, and sets up his place in the DC universe. It's a little bit tongue in cheek, wink and nod, but all the things that people make fun of the character for are addressed.
It's a low key issue, meant to bring everyone up to speed enough so that when the story really gets going, readers care about the character. Whether this succeeds or not is up to the reader, of course, but I felt like it succeeded. I want to see where this goes, so I'll be buying the next two issues to see if I like where it's going. It was a good start.
I only bought two other comics from the new 52. People who know me should not be surprised that I bought Aquaman. And I mentioned in my digital comics post that I had bought the Justice League #1 that came with the print comic and the download code for the digital copy.
What I didn't mention was that I wasn't all that impressed with the actual comic. It was serviceable, but it was meant to be a "how we met" story, and how do Batman and Superman meet? Well, they fight, of course!
I won't be buying any more Justice League. As impressed as I was with Geoff Johns' writing in Aquaman and other books I've read of his, this didn't do anything for me. I get that the book is a "how they met" thing, but I'd rather the book had opened with the team together and looked back at the other stuff over time. This is a team book, and at the end of the first chapter there's still no team, just the cliched "heroes meet, there's a misunderstanding, so they fight". I mean, honestly, this plot is the reason I don't like romantic comedies.
If Aquaman comes as no surprise to people who know me, Swamp Thing should do the same.
I love swamp monsters.
Especially in well made movies and comics.
Now, first off, let me say: I have never, ever seen a good swamp monster movie. "Creature from the Black Lagoon is as close as I've gotten, and that doesn't count.
But there have been some very good swamp monster comics. What makes a good swamp monster comic? Interesting characters doing interesting things that involve a swamp creature of some sort. (This is the same criteria I use for swamp monster movies . . .)
So is this a good one? I don't know. Why? Because I had no idea what was going on. For a comic that was supposed to be an accessible story, I found myself really, really confused. I felt like I was coming into the middle of the story. I don't like giving bad reviews, so I'm just going to leave it at this: issue one and two left me cold, and I'm going to give it one more issue. I don't expect everything to be explained in a story, but I would like to have some idea of what's going on. This book seemed to tie into plot lines from before the "new 52" relaunch, which I am not familiar with.
I almost picked up Animal Man, but flipping through it I was reminded of '90's Vertigo comics. That's not a knock. I really, really liked '90's Vertigo comics. But it's not for me right now.
There is a western title coming out, from the team behind Jonah Hex. When the second issue comes out at the end of the month, so will a reprint of the first issue. I plan to buy both, give those a try.
The bottom line: the new 52 has a wide variety of different titles and styles. If you want to get in on the ground floor, this is the time to do it. Most of the titles have first and second issues in comic shops now, or first and second issues available through the Comixology app. I was skeptical, but DC seems to have hit the right notes.
~ Ben

October 17, 2011

Digital Comics: What They're Doing Right (sort of)

I got an e-mail this morning from Comixology and Marvel telling me that they were running a "half off sale" until 11:00 AM.
That's half off $1.99. So already, Comixology is offering these comic book issues at a low price compared to current new issues ($2.99 to $4.99). This price covers almost all old issues -- issues that are collector's items in print and may run $10, $20, $50, or more in comic shops and on eBay; issues that were originally $.35 on the newsstand; and issues that are only a few years or months old and originally were $1.99 to $3.99 or whatever.
Comixology is a nice "equalizer" in that way. In digital comics, there is no collectibility. You can't invest, buying a $3 book featuring Obama with Spider-Man and hope that you can resell it sometime for a tidy profit. But on the flip side, you aren't spending $100 because you want to finally read that issue about Spider-Man meeting Obama and you realize that the only way that's going to happen is to buy it from one of those people who want to make that tidy profit. Again, though, because prices are so fixed, you're not going to be able to find that issue on eBay for $.25 starting bid because they finally understand that, really, they aren't putting their kid through college because they bought a comic book with Obama and Spider-Man inside and now they just want to get rid of them.
So prices are "fixed". Sort of. You can buy any of DC Comics' new books the same day they arrive in comic shops, but you will pay full cover price for them for a period of time, before the price drops to that magical $1.99.
And then there are the sales. DC Comics was running some fairly regular weekend sales, with a selection of half off comics. When the Green Lantern movie came out, you can bet that they had a bunch of Green Lantern comics for just $.99. When their big Flashpoint crossover was hitting stores, they ran a sale on Flash comics.
They also frequently have sales for the smaller publishers titles.
And now this e-mail from Marvel. This is the first sale from Marvel that I remember seeing, and like the DC sale, it has a time limit. For this one, all twenty-seven issues of Immortal Iron Fist are $.99 each. If you were to buy these at cover price, that would be about $100 you'd drop. If you were to buy the collections on Amazon, you'd be spending $42 (they have some of those "bargain priced" right now).
And I find myself in a quandary. As of this writing, I have one hour if I want to get in on the sale. This is a series I wanted to read, but my local comic shop didn't have the entire series by the time I realized I might like it (that's the way of things for me -- I'm late to the party, always). But if I'm going to spend the $27, why not spend the $42? I have birthday money, right? And I'll have the entire story on my shelf, in nice and tidy graphic novels. Then again, if I get it for my iPad, I don't have to worry about using shelf space. And really, am I going to read it again?
The truth is, while I have the comic apps, I haven't bought any comics on them. In fact, the only comic on any of those Comixology apps that I have on my iPad right now that I paid for, I bought at a comic shop! It's Justice League #1, the digital edition. Cover price $4.99, it came with the comic book and a code to put in to allow you to download the issue as well.
The clock is ticking. Just under an hour now. There's something else they are getting right: that sense of urgency.
In the end, I think I know what I'll be doing. I'll probably put off the choice . . . not do either . . . and then, if I think of it I'll get them from the library.
If I think of it.
What about you? Are you on the digital comics bandwagon? Or is it paper only for you? Or are you like me, hanging somewhere in-between?
~ Ben

October 12, 2011

The Avengers Trailer - Meh? Or Yay!

First, let me say, The Avengers is a movie that has a LOT going for it, and I have some very, very high expectations. Why? 1. Joss Whedon. He's a co-writer, and I love almost anything he writes. Almost. He's also directing, but it's the writing I'm looking forward to. Zak Penn is also a co-writer, and he hand his hand in a lot of movies -- none of them, except X-Men 2 and Incredible Hulk, movies I've really liked, story-wise. But Joss Whedon, man. When he's good, he's really, really good. 2. Captain America. Thor. Iron Man. The Hulk. Each of these were movies I enjoyed, and they are meant to build up to the massive The Avengers movie. The actors for the first three really owned the characters, and I enjoyed watching all three of them in their character. The Hulk has been played by two different actors in his two previous movies, and a third actor in this one. 3. Captain America. Thor. Iron Man. The Hulk. These are great characters, and The Avengers features all of those characters. That's a LOT of strong personalities and dynamic performers, each of them able to sustain their own two hour movies. Bringing them together, in one story, could be  recipe for disaster. But I echo Jeremy's thoughts: "However, from the trailer, I can assume at least, that Joss Whedon was able to find the perfect balance between them all." It'll be a juggling act, to be sure. So, yeah, I have high expectations. HAD high expectations. Until I saw this trailer. First, I have to say, I'm not impressed with some of the costumes. In the Captain America: The First Avenger movie, they made what really should be a ridiculous costume work. It doesn't work for me now.
Maybe it's the lighting. Then again, he's looking really good here: The helmet looks really cool, but that hoody type mask just feels like something I could make after shopping at Wal-Mart. But enough nitpicking. When I saw that the trailer was hitting computers earlier this week, I got excited. I'm looking forward to this movie and here was, finally, a peek inside. Then I watched it. I was not impressed. At all. This is a good thing. A very good thing. Why? Well, it lowered my expectations. It tempered my excitement. I'm still going to be in the theater opening day, and if it's a good, fun movie I won't be disappointed because it's not a great, ground breaking film. ~ Ben Hat tip to for the screencaps.

June 4, 2011

REVIEW: X-Men First Class


X-Men First Class is a prequel to the OTHER X-Men movies that manages to surpass them. It's a strong film, and it feels like a movie . . . instead of feeling like a comic book movie. Packing a lot of characters and a lot of action sequences into two hours and twenty minutes, X-Men First Class is exciting and funny and fun.

It's not perfect. The main bad guy, Sebastian Shaw, has an unexplained change in motives and, well, more. (See the spoiler notes below.) But with so many characters, there was very little time for the background characters, yet most of them still have pretty satisfying character arcs. The exceptions: Tornado-man and Azazel, who stand around in the background and look cool and kill people. (I'm sure Tornado-man has a name, I didn't catch it.)

Overall, though, it's a slick movie with emotional pay-off. The acting, for the most part, is good. I've heard complaints about Kevin Bacon -- I really liked him in the movie. A lot. And as much as I loved Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan as Professor X and Magneto, James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were very likeable as the younger versions of the characters.

Overall, a good movie that, for me, is the best of the franchise.


Comic book fans: not sure how you will like it. It is a prequel to the movies, so it has very little to do with comic book continuity. However, it didn't bother me. I knew nothing about Sebastian Shaw before, but I liked what he was in the film (mostly).

I still think it would have been better if, as a complete reboot, it had featured the comic book cast of Angel, Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, and Marvel Girl. As a group,  that's my favorite team of X-Men. Of course, that would have meant a reboot to the movie franchise.


As a writer, I appreciated a lot about this movie. With a few plotholes (a couple elements seemed to be left on the cutting room floor -- it felt like this may have been a two hour and thirty minute film originally, and if my suspicions are correct, I hope it's successful enough to get a director's cut), it still managed to give a satisfying and emotional story.

Any action sequences came directly from the plot and were driven by the characters. Unlike the later X-Men movies, this one feels like a lot of time and thought was spent on the story. In a way that resonated with me, the plot built on the relationships of the characters to push things forward. It all rises to a climax that that, because of the personal character and relationship groundwork laid earlier in the story, becomes more tense and more interesting.

Along with that, the theme of the movie gets explored from many different angles.Almost every scene is about choosing to become the person you want to become, and each character is given a chance to choose what they are going to do. Those choices all have a payoff in the climax of the movie.


I really enjoyed this movie. The 60's setting helped separate it from the other X-Men movies and gave it a different sort of vibe compared to other superhero movies. I wish there had been a bit more clothing . . . maybe it was a budget thing? Not for kids (not just because of content, it's just a more mature film), X-Men First Class is a heartfelt action film, with character development, fun, menace, and action.


How is it that Sebastian Shaw goes from being a Nazi scientist interested in mutants to being a mutant himself? Was he a mutant in the beginning, which adds an interesting level to his character but doesn't seem to be what the story is showing? Or did he make himself into a mutant, which seems to go against the whole "mutants are the next step and regular people are doomed to be overrun" thing? It feels like there was a tiny bit of exposition missing between the 40's and the 60's.

April 29, 2011

Superman . . . Because I Just Had to Say SOMETHING . . .

Back in the late '70's and the early years of my life, this was Superman. It wasn't until I grew up that I understood how cynical things were in that time and that part of what made Superman and Star Wars, as movies, successful was the earnestness of optimism.

So there's a whole lot of talk about Superman renouncing his American citizenship. It's funny -- I was just thinking about how Superman really represents the best of America. He's an immigrant, he believes in good and evil, he believes in using his powers for good, and he's okay looking like a square doing it.

And he stands for "the American way", which is, simply put: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

And now he's saying:

Followed up with this:

Now, I read the story in question. It's an okay story. Superman decides to give up the "American citizenship" because a Middle East government took his participation in a peace rally as an endorsement of the American government in the peace movement. So Supes decides to give up his citizenship to avoid things like that in the future, with his reasoning in the above panel.

In other words, Superman is now a citizen of the world. And the truth is this: Superman, in the stories he inhabits and also in the real world, is a symbol. A symbol of "truth" and "justice" and the "American way". Remember when, in Superman Returns, they didn't say "and the American way"?

This is nothing new.

This says nothing about the symbol Superman has become. It says everything about the people in charge of the symbol.

The same could be said about America. America is a symbol, but what America actually is says more about the people in charge of the symbol than the ideal the symbol represents. The American dream, the American ideal -- these are good things. It's the people who make it look bad.

Anyway, the American way isn't enough? I guess it depends on what you see as the American way. Corporate greed? Political corruption?

Or "truth" and "justice"?

America's not perfect. But the things America stands for? They are ideas worth standing for. Maybe not if you're from Krypton, I guess . . .

~ Ben

PS -- The fact that this is causing a stir, does that mean that comics are still relevent?

PPS -- Is Clark Kent retaining his citizenship? That changes the story a bit if he does, don't you think?