The Pile Challenge Part 2

So I’ve just gotten through the first 8 issues of Mister Miracle, and am now a third of the way through my comic book pile.

Wow I am blown away. What a great comic. The series centres around Mister Miracle (obviously) from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World tetralogy. It’s written by Tom King who has written a ton of stuff for DC and the recent The Vision series for Marvel. I love his style of writing where he blends the super with the mundane making him one of the most compelling comic book writers out there. I found myself enjoying the day-to-day monotonous parts just as fun to read as the war and bloodshed. And damn it’s funny.

The art is by Mitch Gerads who draws in realistic style that really accompanies King’s writing. The stand out issues for me were #5 which was a sweet romantic tale of a man awaiting execution and #8 which showed us that it’s possible to both raise a child and fight in an epic war between gods.

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As I make my way through the pile I’m worried that everything will fail in comparison to this smart, funny series. I guess we’ll wait and see. But if you haven’t been reading this wonderful series get on it NOW!

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The Pile Challenge Part 1

Over the past month I’ve been busier than I have been all year. I’ve moved into my new house, travelled to the coast for my friend Ross’s 40th and worked more late nights than a man on my salary should. I’ve still been a good husband and taken my wife out to dinner and to the movies. I’ve managed to get my 30 minutes of cardio. But one thing I’ve neglected and that’s my comics.

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My challenge for the week: to sit and read comics. I know how to aim high!

It’s been eating away at me over the past month. All those great stories I’ve been missing, the escapism I only get from a comic book, and how huge my standing order must be at my local comic shop. I still prefer paper comics. They keep comic book stores in business, and honestly if there weren’t comic book stores I’d have one less reason to leave the house. It was giving me so much anxiety I even stopped reading my regular emails from the comic shop that list that week’s new comics – something I love doing when I receive the email on a Tuesday afternoon. It’s great. I’m sitting at my desk, then my phone buzzes and I spend five minutes not thinking about deadlines as I go down the list seeing what will be in my order and seeing what else might tickle my fancy. But when you haven’t been to your store for weeks, it starts to feel more like a list of expenses you have to worry about. It’s like bill after bill coming in.

Well anyway last Friday, despite the terrible weather I went to my local comic shop and forked over the $120 to pick up my bloated standing order. I left skipping down the street like only a person with a bag full of comics does to my wife’s office where I talked her into having a night in. The weather was horrendous, so it was an easy sell. We had pizza on the couch and watched the first two episodes of Safe. It was OK, but it’ll still take a while before I can fully except Dexter with a British accent. Full of pizza and glued to the couch, I pulled my stack out of my backpack and put them on my bed side table and had that dreaded thought – when am I going to have time to read all of these. I still hadn’t even started my pile from free comic book day from a week ago (the queue at my local store was too crowded so I went to another to pick up my free comics that weekend).

So that’s when I came up with my pile challenge. In one week I will make my way through the pile of 30 comics and be able to go back to a more manageable number. I know what you’re thinking, ‘dude it’s only 33 comics, you can do that in a couple of hours’. But not me I’m the type of guy who needs to get all his stuff done before I can just relax and read a comic. It’s my treat and I can only enjoy a treat if I feel like I’ve earned it. Damn you Eastern European grandparents!

I’ve made my  through five comics so far. DC Nation # 0 (one of the comics I picked up on free comic book day) and (this is really embarrassing) Mister Miracle # 1-4. I know Mr Miracle #1 came out in October last year, but I was too dumb to pick it up then, and when I saw my local store had reprintings of # 1 & 2 I grabbed them along with the six other issues that had come out and said add this to my total.

My thoughts on DC Nation #0 are that it’s a fine preview comic. I like how DC put these out each year. I’m not a regular reader of their mainstream superheroes so it’s nice to get a free update on them each year. This issue was divided into three stories one previewing Batman, the other Man of Steel and the third Justice League: No Justice.

The Batman preview covered the Joker holding a random man at gunpoint in his own house awaiting an invitation to Batman and Catwoman’s wedding. It all took place within the confines of the house and Clay Mann’s art was amazing. His Joker looks like a cross between Crispin Glover and a syphilis victim. Totally creepy. Especially after he cracks a bad joke, then waits for his victim to laugh.

The Man of Steel preview was focused in the Daily Planet newsroom and focused on Clark Kent’s skill as a journalist. It was great to see how he and Perry interact and Clark’s inner monologue on how he sees the world was compelling. It’s amazing that after 80 years that this character can still give us something new and fun. The story ended on a cliff hanger that is making me strongly consider buying Man of Steel #1.

The third installment previewed DCs next big event. It’s a threat so big that all our heroes must team up with villians to defeat it. We have four teams – Team Entropy led by Batman, Team Mystery led by Superman, Team Wonder led by Wonder Woman and Team Wisdom led by Cyborg – who are going up against the Omega Titans – Four giant beings who absorb galaxies for energy. Large enough to crush Earth in a fist (damn comics are cool). The crossover looks epic. I might wait for the trade to read this though. If I still remember it by the time the trade comes out. It’ll take a big stretch of the imagination to accept that Robin (Damien Wayne) and Harley Quinn were the best candidates for Team Wisdom, surely you could pick someone better than a rebellious teenager and an insane criminal.

So far the first four issues of Mister Miracle have been..wow. Hopefully I can give you my impression of all the first 8 issues tomorrow.

On my Block – Serious Fun

A few years ago the Netflix ‘deng deng’ was the mark of quality. You knew you were going to get something that stood out from the crowd, something more akin to art than mass appeal. It was the same mark of quality that the HBO ‘kshhhhh’ symbolised. For me the change came when The Ranch was released, it was no Beasts of No Nation, so it’s with trepidation that I start a new Netflix original.

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My reaction when I saw that Netflix were making Fuller House

At first when I saw On My Block in my feed I was cautious. I was looking for a new comedy, but was certain that I was not the target audience. But now four episodes in I’m obsessed.

I know it’s been out for a while, but I’m not much of a binger. If I sit in the one place for too long I end up napping. It’s a good skill to have when you’re travelling, but not so much when you’re watching The Lord of The Rings Trilogy Director’s Cut. Plus, I learned something young that has served me well in life – savour things, draw them out and get the most out of them. You’ll enjoy something more when you make it a treat.

This lesson came in my early 20s when I was volunteering in China. I had been eating rice and vegetables for about 2 months when a Chinese friend, noticing I was homesick, took me into the city and took to me to McDonalds. The second I bit into that Big Mac my home sickness dissipated. It tasted just like a Big Mac back home and I realised everything back home was still there and would be waiting for me. I had never enjoyed a Big Mac so much and I learned that they way to enjoy something is to take it in small bursts. That way you won’t get sick of it, and that is the same way I choose to view things. I always leave wanting more.

Anyway, back to On My Block.

On My Block is a charming coming of age dramedy set in a working class part of LA. It features a diverse cast of kids trying to grow up amid the poverty and violence all around them. They’re all likable dorks who try their best to be cool while staying out of trouble, but it doesn’t downplay what it’s like to grow up in such an environment. So far it seems to balance the dorkiness and danger well. The last episode I watched set in Halloween managed to balance two very different themes, one about cultural appropriation and discrimination and the other a hair-brained scheme to uncover buried treasure at a roller disco. The episode was both funny and tense, and this young cast played all their roles beautifully.

No once I get all my chores done I might treat myself to the next episode.

Don’t be a 40 Year Old Virgin Virgin

My favourite comedy of all time is 40 Year Old Virgin. It’s that one film I’ll put on if I have a bad day and need to forget about the world. It’s a such a sweet tender movie about a lonely man (Steve Carrel) opening up to the world and learning to let others in. He’s not a depressed shut in or some creepy sociopath, he’s just a guy who doesn’t deal with challenges well so he chooses to keep his life simple. It when he finally makes some friends that his life gets more complicated and improves.

For me the most touching part of the film is the friendships he forms with his coworkers – Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan and Romany Malco – who all gain as much from the friendship as he does. At first you think these guys are a bunch of jock jerks Rogan’s character Cal mimics suicide due to the pain of having a short conversation with Carrel’s Andy. A great little bit that I can relate to on both sides, either being the one with nothing interesting to say or listening to the one with nothing interesting to say.

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From co-workers

 

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to friends

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to interpretive dance troupe

Later when it’s revealed that Andy is a virgin, the rest of the guys band together not to make fun of him, but to help him and over time this group of coworkers become close friends being brought together for a common goal – getting Andy laid. The moment in this film that displays that this friendship is  truly genuine when Andy reveals that his love interest happens to be a grandmother (a very young one mind you, and not the rapping kind either), he reveals it with no embarrassment and is met with a ‘that’s cool’ with no sarcasm – these guys are so close they don’t need to make fun of each other to avoid emotion.

The cast is amazing with all roles played by some of the most charismatic and charming people on earth. I won’t list them all but you have Kevin Hart, Jane Lynch, Mindy Kailin, Kat Dennings, Jonah Hill and even Stormy Daniels, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The film also has those long and wonderful Apatow style scenes where he just keeps the camera rolling allowing the performers to improvise some great material and giving the actors in smaller roles the opportunity to share some truly funny stuff. I love the way Apatow does this, and it’s what separates his comedies from others.

My only complaint about the film is that they were unable to bring back the cast for Apatow’s next Knocked Up, where it would have followed Cal as he faced impending fatherhood.  It would have been so great to revisit that world. We could of then followed Malco’s character Jay into middleagehood in This is 40 and then followed Rudd’s character after that, and in this timeline the Apatow Universe would rival the Marvel Cinematic Universe for box office domination! But we’ll always have this gem.

 

Captain America – Marvel’s Dad

I’d like to bring up one of my favourite story lines from the 90s. The 14 part crossover from 1993 Maximum Carnage and one panel in particular.

I was relatively new to the universe and most of my knowledge was from X-men comics – it was the early 90s after all. I had gotten into Spider-Man after the debut of Carnage, and that was only because Wizard Magazine told me he was a ‘hot’ character. I remember on a trip to the coast that me and a friend walked to the next town when we realised that the newsagent there had comics and to our luck the first appearance of Carnage was still on the shelf months after his debut. We quickly each grabbed parts 1, 2 & 3 from the shelf, and thanked the old man who owned the small town news agency for keeping them in stock.

It was a year or so later that Carnage came back for the massive cross over and as an abiding Wizard Magazine reader I added the story line to my standing order at my local comic book store. It was my first real taste of Spider-Man and I loved the eclectic supporting cast of heroes backing him up – Nightwatch, Cloak and Dagger, Firestar, Iron Fist (he was pretty obscure in the 90s), and Morbius.

In the tenth installment of the cross over it seemed all hope would be lost. Carnage and his creepy family looked unstoppable. Spider-Man was down, struggling, it looked like he would never get up, then on the second last page a voice said ‘How ’bout a hand son?’ and on the final page Captain America stood above him and said ‘You look like you could use one’. Suddenly I knew everything would be alright. The ‘dad’ of the Marvel Universe was going to make sure of that. It was the first time I had seen Captain America had crossed me in a comic book, and that moment told you everything you needed to know about him.

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I still get chills

Infinity War: Way more right than wrong [SPOILERS]

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(Right to left) The cowboy guy from Boogie Nights, the best friend from Ghost World, the jock from Not Another Teen Movie, the sidekick from Dr Who, and a WWE wrestler

I realise I don’t need to defend Infinity War. I’m sure it’s going to be fine without or without my support, but I just felt compelled to speak up and say as a comics nerd who spent way too much of his adolescence imaging how his favourite characters and stories would look on the big screen (thanks Mum and Dad for sending me to an all boys school).

I am one of those Marvel fans who is quietly irritated by people who like the films but don’t read the comics. I was one of those guys who called The Force Awakens  ‘safe’ and ‘dull’ the first time I saw it. I’m one of those guys who doesn’t really like the Iron Man films because it feels like Robert Downey Jnr is just playing himself and not Tony Stark, who felt Andrew Garfield was too hot to be Peter Parker, who thinks the new Star Trek reboot is too ‘actioney’. But for me Infinity War lived up to all my expectations.

I saw it the day it opened all by myself (my wife decided to have fun with friends) and then the following next night (my wife and said friends preferred to see it that night and I tagged along). For me it took me back to when I first started reading comics and saw the characters from other titles interact, enjoyed the weird team ups, and bit my lip at how high the stakes were. For my wife (who is one of those people I secretly loathe she’s only seen the movies and NEVER read the comics [but she did queue up with me for 45 minutes on Free Comic Book Day and she is the most awesome person in the world]), she was blown away by the culmination of 10 years of story telling which she has been invested in ever since I dragged her to Thor and she saw Chris Hemsworth’s biceps take up the whole screen.

It was both funny and gripping where the humour did not seem out of place at all, unlike last year’s Justice League where it felt like I was watching two different films, and to a lesser extent The Last Jedi which I dug overall, but the jokes did feel ‘prequelish’. Not only Thanos, but the entire Black Order all felt unstoppable and I was on the edge of my seat every time they thought our heroes, and yes this big purple CGI bad guy did feel like a real person to me. I felt the film was paced perfectly and not for one second was I thinking when the hell is Captain America or the Black Panther going to show up? I was just enjoying the ride, pleasantly surprised at every direction it took. I loved the way it told such an epic story by following each of the groups. It just so much captured the spirit of a major comic book crossover.

The criticisms I’ve heard are valid – Starlord’s reaction to what happened to Gamora did not feel earned, why didn’t they just kill Vision at the start, if everything can be reversed why should we care, it’s not really a self contained movie.Well, if you ask me, and no one ever does, firstly Starlord loves his family, it’s what he’s been wanting since he was a child watching his mother die and all the suppressed feelings of loneliness, I can’t imagine the Reavers giving him many hugs as a kid would bubble up to the surface. Thanos took away the most stability he’s ever known. Why didn’t they kill Vision at first? Because that’s not what heroes do. End of story. If everything can be reversed, why should we care? Because even if it is, these characters are going to be changed forever. Tony Stark holding Spider-Man in his arms will never be the same again, even if he does find a way to bring Peter back. It’s not really a self contained movie. True. So what? It’s a Marvel movie. It’s a comic book story being preformed by actors. If you haven’t watched all 19 previous films before, I envy you because now you can and you don’t have to wait years between installments.

Anyway no film of this size can be perfect. Even The Empire Strikes Back has its flaws. Why not just blow up the rebel base on Hoth? What’s was the point of going to all the trouble of taking down the AT-ATs, it seems like a lot of trouble to take such huge machinery down there that can be easily tripped up my a tiny plane and some rope, and how did the rebels not know they were there? It would’ve taken a huge ship to drop all that hardware off and forever to unload it all. Still no one (except George Lucas) would change a thing in that film.  The battle on Hoth is pure magic.

Pure magic is what the Marvel films deliver. Each film has a sequence where you just forget reality and feel like it’s all real. Be it in Iron Man where he goes back to Afghanistan to take on his captures, Thor when he finally become worthy of mjolnir, or in Captain America: The First Avenger when Steve Rogers jumps on the grenade. I could list more, but it’s way more fun to find your own.

 

Hey man, I got an idea for He-man

Like most kids of the 80s I was completely sucked in and consumed by the marketing vortex that was He-man and the Masters of the Universe. Now I’m a little older and a little wiser I can appreciate what a dim kid I was, and how fortunate it was for Mattel were that there was only three TV channels. The show is barely watchable these days with its budget animation, corny humour and new action figure of the week format. What does endure for me however is how darn cool the concept is – our hero rides a giant cat and also has a tank that shoots lasers and fights a skeleton who is master of the dark arts and the skeleton has a henchman who is half crab and half man and another one who has two heads and our hero has a bee man on his team and a robot! I love the anything goes nature of the toyline with its mix of sci-fi and fantasy. If you are interested in the history of how this all came to be I recommend the excellent Netflix show The Toys That Made Us.

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And these guys are just minor characters

Since 2007 there has been talk of a He-man movie. There was one back in 1987, made to the high low-budget standards of the now defunct Cannon Films (for more info check out Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films). But if you are to believe comic book writer and artist John Byrne it was more of a New Gods adaptation than an adaptation of the toy line (He-man didn’t even ride a giant cat). Recently news came out that in the script written by David S. Goyer (Dark Knight Trilogy, Batman vs Superman) He-Man and Skeletor are brothers. I don’t want to judge, but this gets me worried. It sounds a little like Thor – a trilogy set in the fantasy/sci-fi genre about two brothers and it quickly ran out of steam before Taika Waititi (Thor Ragnorak) changed almost everything in the third movie.

What I would like to see in a He-man movie is a Lord of the Rings style fantasy epic with lasers and robots, where a young Prince holds up a magic sword and by the power of Grey Skull unites the different peoples of Eternia the bee men, moss men, hairy rocket-pack wearing men (what the heck was Stratoss meant to be?) along with the royal army consisting of cyborgs like Man-E-Faces (I’m sure his powers will come in handy), Mechaneck , Roboto and medival warriors Ram Man, Fistor (yes keep the name), and Teela. He must unite them against Skeletor’s growing army of beast men, mermen, skunk men, and snake men.

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I’m just trying to get a better look to see if there’s anyone to club

The opening scene could show a remote village of beast men who are about to be consumed by a volcano, until a wizard wearing a hood protects them all – he then pulls back the hood to show he has a skull for a head. Cut to years later and there is word in the kingdom that this skull man is growing strong…what can stop him? Certainly not King Randolph’s dorky son Prince Adam who hangs out with a cowardly talking cat and is constantly emasculated by Duncan’s (veteran soldier Man-At-Arms) daughter Teela. Then let the quest start.

As the whole concept is ridiculous, don’t bog us down with back story. Take a leaf out of Fury Road’s book and don’t bother with the set up, just get into it. Us fans want to see all our favourite action figures on the big screen – we don’t need to know why there are bee man and skunk men in the same world, just as we didn’t need to know why the Doof Warrior played guitar as the War Boys went into battle.

Make it funny, make it exciting, and make it a roller coaster ride. If you need to see how it can be done check out Brain K Vaughn and Fiona Staple’s brilliant comic series Saga where sci-fi and fantasy mix and we have a robot royal families, axe swinging half man half baby fur seals, ghost baby sitters and giant trees that are rockets.

And make sure you have the line: ‘Fistor, Ram Man take them from behind!’