Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It's Been A Pleasure...Part 1

The following are Guilty Pleasures in Pop Culture that offer an enjoyable experience in ways that must be explained:

(You'll notice that I wrote 'part 1' in the title. This post will be ongoing and yes, there is a comic book in this list)...

1. Knock Off - In 1997, Jean Claude Van Damme appeared with Rob Schneider in this action-comedy flick set during the Hong Kong Handover, in which the UK took their Union Jack off the flagpoll and let China replace it with their flag, under the proviso that the status quo in Hong Kong remain the same...ish. The muscles from Brusseles played Marcus Ray, a clothing manufacter with a shady past linked to bootleg merchandise. Schnieder played his business partner, an undercover CIA agent who was assigned to keep tabs on Marcus. Paul Sorvino played Schnieder's boss. Lela Rochon played a CIA agent working undercover as ... well, the whole point of the film is a series of double and triple-crosses concerning nano-bombs small enough to disguise as buttons on bluejeans or watch batteries, with Jean Claude being the guy who has to spot the real ones from the fakes (I'm quoting the trailer). The film is the forerunner for the Rush Hour movies, only less leaden and a better ensemble and some really good action sequences and showy camera angles using practical effects. I can watch this anytime.

2. The Life and Death of Peter Sellers - oh boy. You know the saying, "Never work with your heroes"? I knew what I was in for because I had read the Roger Lewis biography a year before seeing this, which was the source for it, as well as Ed Sikov's more sympathetic Mister Strangeglove, which I had read before the former. I had bought the DVD of this for the nice price of $1.99 last month and never regretted it, because I enjoyed it a lot. However... I must inform you that Peter Sellers, in real life, was an abusive, insecure, paranoid, egotistical, negative, drug-addled and self-destructive man-child who may have only been kind to Sophia Loren (who he was gaga over) and members of his old comedy troop, The Goons, though you'll get an argument from me that he kept them around as little more than his entourage. Once you get over that hurdle, you'll find how the screenwriters and director and the stars of the film (Geoffrey Rush actually becomes Sellers in some places, Charlize Theron and Emily Watson are terrific, Stanley Tucci awesome as Stanley Kubrick) are able to bring this actor to life one more time. BTW, I wouldn't mind seeing Rush play Clouseau in a Pink Panther film. Perhaps that Romance of The Pink Panther which was originally intended to wrap the series and was co-written by Sellers. This is not the only time an artist belied his/her own work with their personality/private life - it seems like just a matter of course, really. What's interesting is I can still watch any movie with Sellers after this. Hey, he was dead before I turned one!

3. Azrael, Agent of The Bat - I wonder if people picked this book up for kick-ass violence and superhero action. If you did, you probably didn't find it at all satisfying. That's because this book, the thinking man's Spawn , was all about a vehicle for Dennis O'Neil to tell stories. I don't think he was conciously aware of it, but over the course of 100 issues, O'Neil was reflecting on how costumed superheroes go through different incarnations and change in order to stay relevant. Azrael's various costume changes were part of the character's evolution: first as an obvious Spawn-wannabe, then a member of the Bat-family, then finally his own man before reverting back to his own form of "AzBat-Man" by choice. A lot has changed in the DCU in the decade since he was killed off, but some characters are too good to stay buried. I'm still surprised how jolly that book was. More like a dark pulp-gothic comedy than average superhero soap opera fare.

4. Victorious - There are many tv shows out there that have what is sometimes referred to as "The secret weapon" - a character played by an actor or actress whose performance makes it the reason to keep watching - often the only reason. Even if, on average, they get less than 3 minutes of screentime when they do appear - if at all! On Seinfeld, it was Wayne Knight as Newman. On Futurama, it was Bender the robot. In The Electric Company, it was Ashley Austin Morris as Francine Carruthers. In Victorious, it is Daniella Monet as Trina Vega. Every time she arrives, she gets the whole joint jumping. When she disappears, we realize how dull the show - an interchangable carbon copy of most teen sitcoms - and its main cast are. In fact, the producers should consider a spinoff: What Was Trina Doing?, which, just like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (or "The Zeppo" or "Lion King 1 1/2", for those of you who don't know), would show what Trina was doing for the remaining 19 of the 22 minutes she was kept offscreen.
It also doesn't hurt that the talented Ms. Monet wears micro-mini skirts and short-shorts in almost every scene she's in. Nice legs. She's 23 and was 20 when the show started. Of course that means that she was 23 when the show started and is 26 now - that's the way it is.

5. A View To A Kill - This was the first James Bond film I remember watching, as well as the first I remember watching in a theatre. In fact, it's actually the only one I've seen in a theatre! But this is not about nostalgia: I still find it to be an entertaining James Bond movie. It's got gadgets, locations, crazy villains (Christopher Walken before he became Christopher Walken - you know what I mean), literal cliffhangers borrowed from silent movie serials, (the finale looks like a scene from The Perils of Penelope Pitstop), some hot greasy-lipped 1980's Bond Girls ("Hey, it's the other mom from That 70's Show!") and Grace Jones, who, well, fans of Roger Moore say he gets bonus points for having made out with her and lived - few men can boast that accomplishment. It's also got an awesome soundtrack by John Glen and the title song by Duran Duran is a perfect Bond theme, even if the lyrics are ... strange. Bonus fact: if you've ever read the Bond spinoff novels by John Gardner, you'd cry deja vu after seeing this film and Never Say Never Again after reading Role of Honor. Video games and Blimps? Yes.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Technical Knockout

So, here's the big question: who'd win in a fight? Superman or The Hulk?

I'm out-of-sorts this week. As I get older, I find that a fever is followed by a cough, then a swollen ear. I can only hear good with my left and I'm watching for sudden gusts of wind.

I was asked the above question on Monday at the library, after I had returned their copy of Justice League Vol. 1, Origin. I thought it was okay, a bit of an obvious attempt at offering a blueprint for anyone producing a live-action film adaptation, including timely bits of characterization (I think Geoff was counting on the Green Lantern film to be a hit, because Hal has a lot more screen time than he ever did in an average issue of JLA). The librarian, a dark-haired and cute, if slightly overweight (Carolyn Keene's unfortunate description of George Fayne & Bess Marvin forever stayed in my head) wanted to know what I thought:

"Superman. Because he has all these powers and ... actually the Hulk fights dirty, so he'd win it."

I can't help thinking that I've been poisoned by 20-30 years of bad comic book writing. Of course Superman could take down the Hulk - he could toss the green giant into space. He could combine his x-ray vision and heat vision and perform laser surgery on ol' jade jaws. He could use his ice breath to give Hulk frostbite. He could run fast enough to make him dizzy. And he's STRONG. He used to be able to move PLANETS! And that's when he's not "holding back", as if we're even sure what that's supposed to mean..

"Used to". That old chestnut of showing how tough a bad guy is by punching out Supey with one blow has done a lot of damage. His rogues gallery is actually better than the Hulk's - one of the few examples in which you can say it is so. know what? Hawkman and The Atom's rogues gallery is pretty weak. Daredevil's is even worse. Does Ant-Man even have a rogues gallery? And then there's that cruel YouTube fan film - a lovingly made, knock-down, drag-out, cgi brawl between the Hulk and a comparatively frail Superman that vaguely resembles Christopher Reeve (talk about pouring salt on an open wound). I'd rather let you guys search for this all-too-convincing brouhaha than offer a direct link. The last few seconds will made even the most hardened fan hide behind the sofa. Hey, if you didn't see it, it didn't happen.

So, for the record, Superman wins. We're just not likely to ever see it. Same thing with a Superman vs. Wolverine brawl - I recall Wolverine slammed The Vision against an ice cream truck once ... isn't The Vision one of the few characters that could kick his ass? Guess not. Hey, is anybody interested in a crossover where Lex Luther replaces Wolverine's adamantium skeleton with a kryptonite skeleton and brainwashes him to go after Superman? Well, I guess that's just me, then...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why Moore Serious?

Commitment is something I like to see in a comic book fan...actually, that's what the publisher would like to see. And the shops. 

If you have $120.00 saved for this summer, then that means you're planning to buy all 35 issues of Before Watchmen. Does it really matter that Moore had nothing to do with this one? We're all used to reading comics featuring characters written and drawn by writers and artists who are not the original creators. The same goes for cartoons, too. It's argued that Tex Avery and Bob McKimson created Bugs Bunny (the definitive version of the cartoon rabbit that had been floating in Warner Brothers cartoons under the same name) and they've been dead for decades. Should we have stopped reading Batman comics after Bill Finger got fired? Should we have quit reading Spawn when Todd MacFarlane stopped writing and drawing every issue? If we did take that hard line,we'd only accomplish saving money to buy other stuff. Why be Moore serious?

We have a way out - we don't need to feel like we're getting caught, we don't need to wear that long overcoat with the collar turned-up. When the sales numbers come in - actually, they're already in - they'll just show copies ordered by the stores. We're not in the middle, the shops are! We're just reading what we like! If we don't like Watchmen, we wouldn't be reading it, would we? We wouldn't pick Before Watchmen up thinking it will turn gold, now, right? Besides, this is no different from when soap operas would dust off old characters. When All My Children brought Angie and Jessie back from limbo in 2008, nobody complained much, even though it's audience had to be aware that this was an obvious sign none of the characters created in the two decades since those two left were clicking. Did it work? All My Children has been cancelled and has stayed that way since last year.

It won't work. Not because Alan Moore has gone on the record in interviews saying that this is a sign of total creative bankruptcy, or that the "talent" involved is not talented, otherwise they could have done something original and not a prequel to someone Else's story. Watchmen is all about telling a story. I did not get a hankering for a sequel about the Minutemen, because Alan had deconstructed them too well to offer anything more. Ditto the rest of the characters - what's Nite-Owl like in his prime? Ted Kord (Blue Beetle)? Daredevil? Batman? Is Dr. Manhattan more interesting than the Silver Surfer or Captain Atom? How about Rorschach and The Question? Or Silk Spectre and Nightshade or Black Canary or Huntress or The Wasp? It might be interesting to see what an Ozymandias comic would be like, but we've already seen what Alan Moore could do with him... This comic was all about a particular story and it accomplished more than it was meant to already. And I didn't care to read it a second time.

But that's not why it won't be a hit. Look at the teams involved. Two of the books involve artists not known for being fast. Two of the books are written by an egomaniac/windbag. Two of the books are written by someone who is better at one job than another. Two of the books are written by a journeyman. It's a very motley crew. If anyone's saving money on this, it's because only the first issues will have arrived on time.
We're in the middle, aren't we? No, I'd argue we're in the space between the middle. We're interdimensional. The whole thing could be a hit or a bomb and because these are planned well in advance, there's another event planned in the horizon that will get our attention. How did we get here? The past is a different country, they did things differently there... And when mistakes are made, they're in the past. The present is always a new country. And I don't miss All My Children or One Life To Live. Will we miss superhero comics?