Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Batsgiving!

I saw this on Electric Sheep's Facebook page today and had to share it. This is apparently at teaser to the new Batman: Eternal weekly series.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pirate Latitudes: Michael Crichton's Last Literary Voyage

When I heard the news in 2008 that Michael Crichton had passed away at the age of 66, I was both shocked and saddened.  I read most of his novels as a boy, when (like many precocious young lads of my generation) I devoured his science fiction within the span of a year.  He was an important totem of my childhood.

But because I read his work during my pre-adolescence, I've always had an association of juvinelia with his writing, just as I have a (perhaps unwarranted) connotation of "sophistication" with the authors I read in college – the sweeping dark pathos of Joe Haldeman, the stark existentialism of Alex Garland, the epic scope of James Clavell, the gleeful whimsy of Douglas Adams.

In any event, the passing of Crichton led me to re-evaluate this mental generalization I'd given his work. When I saw Micro on sale at a bookstore for five dollars, with a pronouncement that this was Crichton's "last published novel," I decided to pick it up and give it a read – and let the author's last work fix or re-color the mold I'd cast for him in my mind. 

Well, to make a long story short, that was a mistake.  A big, big, big mistake.  Micro featured flat characters, a cartoonishly evil (and Avatar-like illogical) villain, and a clunky narrative oscillation between action and wikipedia-like explanation of "science stuff." I fell into a depression, of the sort I had not felt since I saw X-Men 3.  Was this beacon of my childhood really just a dusty flashlight?

As it turned out, no.  Crichton had only penned about a third of Micro before he died, which means what was Crichton's in the novel was the rough beginning of a rough draft of a rough concept.  The rest was written by Richard Preston, who's overrated non-fiction novel The Hot Zone gave a dramatically incorrect picture of the nature of infectious disease (which an unfortunately small number of people were able to clear up with Laurie Garrett's magnificently comprehensive The Coming Plague).

Then, thanks to the effervescent knowledge font that is Wikipedia, I learned that Crichton's actual last finished novel, the manuscript for which was found in complete form on his computer when he died, was something completely different for this scribe of popular science fiction.  It was a book about pirates.

And as it turned out, it was really, really, really good.  Really.

Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton
From the opening pages of Pirate Latitudes, you know that you are in the hands of a master storyteller.  Set in the English settlement of Port Royal in Jamaica, Crichton delves into the world of "privateers."  Instead of the stereotypical tobacco chewing yar-spouting seamen we've come to associate with pirates, Crichton's pirates are British gentlemen (and ladies), who have quasi-legal sanctioning to attack Spanish holdings.  The book's protagonist, Captain Hunter, is just as comfortable at a formal banquet as the galley of a ship (just be careful not to call him the "P" word, or you'll end up with your face in the pudding, with a duel pending).  This is a man who approaches battle with a sense of decorum, and abhors the "grenadoe" for the impersonal, cowardly carnage it could produce.

The setup is simple enough – Hunter hatches a plan to attack an impregnable Spanish fort, to retrieve a treasure galleon that is harbored there awaiting a support fleet to return it to Spain.  Then, pretty much everything that can go wrong does.  Crichton does a masterful job writing his characters into corners, and finding ways to extricate them that are both intelligent and delightful.  All the while, he flexes the full power of his narrative strength to, with the most economic of strokes, draw fully rounded characters and a fully realized world.

While at first Pirate Latitudes might seem like an unruly departure from Crichton's main body of work, on further reflection it is not.  He has placed his characters on the cusp of their time's technological boundaries, in much the same way he did with his 20th century books.  And while his pirates have courage, strength, and bravado to spare, their most valuable resources end up being their intelligence and creativity.

Not unlike Crichton himself.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Nerd Word Art

It is a great time to be a nerd. Or geek. Whatever. However you label yourself, if you like things in the sci-fi/fantasy/comic-book realm, this is a golden age. They make movies for us. They make TV shows for us.

And dammit…there is some cool art out there for us too.

I recently stumbled upon this site and…well…it's awesome. It takes iconic phrases from Star WarsLord of the RingsSupermanBatmanThe Godfather, and so on and turns them into word art that depict the characters who said them.

I wouldn't be surprised if one of these wound up on Mrs. Magnetic Monkey's Christmas list for me this year. Here's my personal favorite:

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Evolution of Batman Logos

Awhile back, I was wondering about what characteristics of a superhero cannot be changed without losing the essence of who that character is.

For Batman, I can tell you this much: it's definitely not his logo.

Check out the awesome collection that Cathryn Lavery put together of Batman's many logos over the decades. 1977, 1998, and 2008 are my personal favorites. Which are yours?

Click to enlarge!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Avengers Wake: Weekly Comic Reviews - 11/20/13

A view gems from the new comic books this week:

Avengers #23 (Marvel) - Writer: John Hickman, Artist: Leinil Francis Yu

One of the several cast lists included
throughout the series.
This is towards the end of Hickman's Infinity epic that has spurred a mini-series and affected most corners of Earth 616. (Beware reading if you have not read the Infinity series up to this point) At this point the battle is brought to Earth and issue #23 finds the galactic forces against Thanos' forces. The success of this comic is threefold. The first success is it successfully ratchets up the tension and risk for the Infinity storyline. With the success of Captain America and the galactic forces against the Engineers, I was worried that the ending of Infinity would be anti-climatic. Issue #23 started to put those worries to rest though, for Thanos and his forces may be too powerful for a tired and weakened galactic brigade that just saved the entire universe.

The second success of the issue is the reader gets to see the "galactic council" actual fight. This is some of my favorite action scenes in the Infinity story, second only to Thor's defeat of the Engineer. Hickman has been able take some of the Avengers worst enemies and make them desirable allies that I now root for and, to a certain degree, sympathize with. To see this council (not all pictured in the lineup on the right) battle together against a formable foe is a highlight of the issue. Hickman also writes a great heroic speech that a Super-Skrull gives, which I felt inwardly awkward about but loved at the same time. The third success is Yu's artwork. I am a fan of his work and love his fight scenes. To see the diverse fighting styles represented of the galactic council is great (even on my small iPhone screen I was captivated by his detailed pencil work).

While the plot is not moved very far, the stakes have been raised and hence my anticipation for the Infinity finale has greatly risen. For this reason I think that it is essential issue for anyone reading Infinity.

I recommend this issue for those reading Infinity, fans of Hickman, and those that want to see some action. 
I give this issue an 8 out of 10. 

The Wake #5 (Vertigo) - Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Sean Murphy

The rig is under attack!!!
Scott Snyder (writer for Batman, American Vampire) and Sean Murphy (artist for Joe the Barbarian, Punk Rock Jesus, American Vampire) have put together a fascinating book that combines folklore, science fiction, and even some horror. When The Wake first came out, I thought that it was too slow and a little directionless in the beginning and I actually did not pick up issues #3 and #4 when they first came out. Now I take all of that back because Snyder was slowly building the characters and environment in the first two or three issues which now pays off in this issue. There is action, mystery, revelations, characters development and fear that permeate this issue for issue #5 reveals more about the nature of the deep sea creatures and their full potential. What started as a localized mystery has now become a world-changing crisis that will have deep affects for the future of Earth and humanity. 

Promo for The Wake: Part 2 coming
in February 2014
One of Snyder's biggest successes in this comic is the main character, Dr. Archer. Snyder has made her a character that I care for and am concerned about. In addition to this, Snyder revealed certain mysteries about Dr. Archer's past (which has been teased since issue #1) through the current crisis, which become some of my favorite panels of the issue (which were drawn beautifully by Murphy). The other success of this book is it's mystery. The inclusion of folklore only makes this story better and shows that this is a story that Snyder has thought long and hard about. While there are several revelations throughout this issue, there are plenty of mysterious that are left unknown. The biggest revelation in this issue is that this is the end of "The Wake: Part 1". The last five issues of this mini-series (#6-10) will take place in a far future that is a direct result of the events that took place in issues #1-5. This future was hinted at in the first issue and while it created a lot of confusion at the time, I can honestly say that it makes sense now and I am very excited to see where Snyder and Murphy will take this story. 

I recommend this for fans of either Snyder or Murphy and for those that may have originally passed over The Wake. 
I give this issue an 8.5 out of 10. 

Harley Quinn #0 (DC) - Writers: Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner, Artists: (See picture below)

Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti brought Harley Quinn to life and in the process let her interact with the whole creative team. From the writers, to the artists, to even the reader, Harley Quinn breaks down the forth wall and enjoys doing it. The issue finds Harley going through some of her old stuff, teddy bears, toys, and a box of comics. At this point she imagines what a comic book about her would look like and here is where the fun ensues. Each page is drawn by a different artist and usually Harley, Amanda and Jimmy have a great time mocking that artist. The best part is them making fun of Jim Lee, who actually did not drawn a new page but just repurposed pages from Batman: Hush series (they had a lot of fun with that). There was comedy on every page and it was fun and entertaining. I do not usually enjoy comedy comics, and I am still a little unsure what the rest of the series will be like, I rather enjoyed this issue and excited that Harley has her own book.
Starting at the Top (L to R): Becky Cloonan, Adam Hughes, Dan Panosian, Art Baltazar,
Dave Johnson, and Tradd Moore. 

While the comedy was great, the real highlight of the book is the art. With art by some of the industries best, including Becky Cloonan, Tony Daniel, Darwyn Cooke, Bruce Timm, Tradd Moore, Adam Hughes, Charlie Adlard, and new artist Jeremy Roberts, this issue was beautiful as it was diverse. I especially enjoyed how each artist was completely themselves. They did not change their style to accommodate the book, which in turn made the contrast between pages so apparent and fun. It is a weird and fun experience to follow Harley on one page drawn by Adam Hughes and then to flip the page and see Harley drawn as a child by Art Baltazar.

Conner and Palmiotti say that this will be the only issue where Harley breaks the forth wall and I'm not sure how I feel about that. I enjoyed that aspect of the issue but I don't want it to be over used. The only downside to this issue is that it gives no indication what the tone or feel of the series will be. It functions well as a stand-alone issue (hence the zero number rating). I believe though in Conner and Palmiotti that they will take Harley, and the reader, on a fun ride.

I recommend for anyone that wants a laugh and some great art. 
I give this issue a 7.5 out of 10.  

Do you agree? Disagree? What did you love or hate about these comics? 
What comics do you read and why?

Let us know down below in the comments section. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Her: Your Normal Human/A.I. Love Story (Movie Review)

I had the great opportunity to see an early showing of Her, the new film written and directed by Spike Jonze staring Joaquin Phoenix , Scarlett Johansen, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, and Olivia Wilde. In short, the film follows Theodore (Joaquin) in a not-too-distant future Los Angeles where one can buy a new operation system which is the first to have an artificial intelligence. The goal of the software is to help organize one's life. Theodore, who has recently been divorced, purchases this software with the hopes that he life, which is in disarray, will become orderly. His software, which is self-named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett), is a joyful, funny, and helpful companion that not only helps Theodore with organization but provides friendship, self-esteem, and even love.

Theodore and Samantha (the phone in his pocket) at a
crowed SoCal beach.
The genius of the film is its ambiguity. There are several moments, throughout the film where I had an internal struggle because I was not always sure how I was suppose to respond to a scene. For example, there were several scenes where a number of people in the audience would laugh out loud and while I understood why they laughed because I could see the comedy in the scene, I simultaneously was not sure if it was actually funny or rather dark and sad. A lot of scenes, for me, blurred the line between (1) awkward/funny and (2) sad/dark. I think an individual's response to a scene is dictated by how one understands society today. I think one could easily find several scenes laugh-out-loud funny but only if you think the idea of a man falling in love with an A.I. program to be totally far-fetched and unbelievable. Yet, if you think that this idea is not actually far-fetched and see strong parallels between this story and how our society today interacts with technology (instead of humans) then you may find those same scenes to be sad and dark because they actually resemble the present. This ambiguity resulted in me contemplating the film days after I saw it and has become a highlight of the film for me.

This ambiguity can also be applied to the film's genre. Is this a sci-fi film, a romance, a tragedy, a comedy, a commentary on technology, on commentary on relationships? There is obviously no definite answer to this genre question (even though Netflix in a year or so will probably put it in the Sci-fi category) but that I walked away asking this question is evident of it success to be a story that stirs multiple emotions and ideas in the individual viewer.

Robot & Frank: the antics
of a retired cat-bugler
and a geriatric robot.
As a fan of Issac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, and science fiction in all its forms (from video games, to movies, TV, books, comics, etc.) I found Her a great depiction of the possibilities of A.I. One of the most enjoyable parts of watching the film was following Theodora and Samantha as they discover the potential and capabilities of the A.I. software. While at times, the way that Samantha acted as a self-aware A.I. was predictable, it was also captivating to see how this affected Theodore, which was less predictable. This idea of A.I./robots interacting with humans is not new, as evident by the recent 2012 film "Robot & Frank".  Robot & Frank, and other depictions of A.I./robots often create an unequal dichotomy where the human is clearly the superior, either because of physical quality, mental quality (i.e. the ability to lie), relationship quality, or some ethereal quality (i.e. soul, spirit, etc). Her surprised me by not creating this dichotomy. Samantha has abilities that Theodore does not and the reverse is true. To see how the to grapple with coming to terms with who the other was and their capabilities and in turn how that affects their relationship was what made Samantha and Theodore's come alive.

Theodore's orange jacket
While I was captivated by the story, its characters, and the intellectual conversations it spurred after the credits rolled, the film was also visually captivating. The colors used through out are warm and bold, which is hinted at in the main poster (above). The most consistent explain of this is Theodore's orange jacket that pops out of the frame to grab the viewer's attention throughout the film. This is not only exhibited in the main character's clothing but also throughout the world that Jonze made, either within Theodore's office or in the futuristic Los Angeles (which was actually shot in Singapore). Also, the music in the film was enjoyable and felt appropriate for a slightly futuristic story. The soundtrack is done by Arcade Fire and has a lot of similarities to their new record, Reflektor. The score ebbs and flows well with the movie and its pace.

A large part of the film's success at captivating the audience is in the acting of Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlet Johansson. I am not surprised that I enjoyed their acting but it wasn't until a couple days after I saw this movie that I realized that 60%+ of the movie is either a close up of Theodore's face while he talks to Samantha or watching Theodore walk around Los Angeles while talking to Samantha. Without the great acting by Joaquin or the great acting from Scarlett and the range of emotions that she is able to convey through her voice, this film would not be successful as I believe it is.

Samantha can see the world through this iPhone-looking
device that Theodore carries in his front pocket. 
While I believe that this film achieves a lot and it probably going to be one of my top 10 films for 2013, it does have it's faults. With a running time of 120 minutes, it had a good pace up until the last 20-30 min. My wife, who saw this film with me, was disinterested with the last section because it noticeably slowed down in its pace and for some plot reasons. While I was not disinterested with the last section, its slower pace was noticeable and distracting. In addition to that, the ending, while I think was good and adequate for the story, was not as creative as the rest of the film. I was pleasantly surprised with how the film approached A.I. and its interaction with humanity, I was not surprised though with the ending. In the larger picture, this did not take away much from my experience of watching the film.

Her tells a funny, awkward, sad, and hopeful love story which expands one's definition and understanding of love and relationships. While it is set in the future, it does not take one long to see the present, which will probably make you pause the next time you pick up your iPhone or use Siri.

I give this movie an 8.8 out of 10

Marvel® Meets Myers-Briggs®

I am a big fan of personality tests. They're not everyone's cup of tea but they certainly are mine. Lately, several Myers-Briggs® charts with fictional characters have made their way around the internet. The Lord of the RingsStar Wars, and Harry Potter charts are my personal favorites. As lifelong fans of Marvel, Elephant Robot and I really wanted an MBTI® chart that featured our favorite superheroes. We also hoped that the Marvel Universe would help alleviate four inherent limitations that result when pairing these other franchises with MBTI®.

Size matters

The charts I named above are built on universes that have a small-ish canon: there are only three Lord of the Rings books, six Star Wars movies, and seven Harry Potter books. I'm not trying to diminish any of these franchises, all of which I love. It's just that almost no single franchise, no matter how deep, has 16 major, well-rounded characters in them. That leaves some holes when trying to fill in the Myers-Briggs® types, which brings me to my second point.

Not all planners are evil

In fiction, evil characters tend to dominate the future minded dimensions, especially those that have TJ. This is primarily because in a classic good vs. evil story, good sits by passively and only acts when reacting to the long-term planning that evil has done. Saruman plotted his return for generations whilst the heroes sat around, as an example. Good reacts to evil, which means planning types, like INTJ, often get stuck with bad-guy characters in these MBTI® charts because there are no heroes that fit that description. Again, there's just not enough character variety in these universes to complete all the MBTI® types with major heroes. And the idea of variety leads me to my third point.

That is a lot of white dudes

I'll say it again...I love Star Wars. I'm also an avid fan of The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. But each of these franchises focus almost exclusively on caucasian men. That means hardly any woman or characters who aren't white are on these charts . That's not a knock on the chart makers...I can't think of any minorities in any of these franchises with the exception of Lando Calrissian. That means when you read through any of these charts, you generally only have a white guy to identify with, and maybe only an evil white guy at that.

Marvel Myers-Briggs

Unlike these other franchises, the Marvel Universe has decades of stories, hundreds of characters, and countless stories that have shaped its many heroes. This resolves each of the three issues I listed above as well as a fourth: the MBTI® dichotomies are a continuum, not four binary options. An extremely extroverted person and a mildly extroverted person can behave quite differently. But both would get an E when taking the test. When you only list one character in each slot, that doesn't fully reflect the diversity of behavior present in each type. Because Marvel has so many characters, Elephant Robot and I included four characters for each MBTI® type to embody the range of personalities we thought each type represented.

So! With all that said, here are some disclosures and caveats:
  • Neither of us has any professional MBTI® or psychology training.
  • MBTI® very nicely asked that their copyright be reflected in this post. Seriously, they were so nice about it!
  • While we are both life long Marvel fans, we don't expect everyone to agree with where we slotted each character.
  • We did not solve each of the issues identified in this post but we certainly tried!
  • We obviously own no copyrights to the characters or images in our chart. The chart reflects a commentary on characters that are part of the public consciousness.
That's it! We hope you enjoy what we've made. If you don't know your Myers-Briggs type, you can take the official MBTI® Complete for the best results. There are several free, shorter tests as well that are not affiliated with MBTI® but will provide you with the same four-letter personality type.

Click the image below to enlarge!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Zero Unity: Weekly Comic Review - 11/13/13

This week I was able to read and review three comics.

Batman #25 (DC) Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Greg Capullo.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are one of my favorite comic book teams currently working. They continue to elevate Batman and his mythos with every issue. Issue 25 is the start of the second mini-arc within the 11 month Zero Year story. Riding off the heeling of the extra sized issue 24 with its large confrontation with the Red Hood gang and the conclusion that the Riddler puts the entire city into darkness right before a hurricane hits Gotham, issue 25 is centered around character and relationship development. We see the first moments in the Batcave, more conversations/relationship building between Alfred and Bruce and more development of Gordon and his perceptions of Batman. This issue introduces what seems to be the New 52 version of Dr. Death (who first appeared in Detective Comics #29 in 1939 - the third comic to ever feature Batman) and an early look at Poison Ivy. I finished the issue wanting to know how Gotham and Batman are going to survive the dark city and end the Riddler's rule.

I love the colors used here. 
The pencils by Capullo and the colors by FCO continue to amaze me. They are both noticeably approaching Zero Year differently to set it apart from the current Batman look and feel. While the story and writing in this issue is paced much much slower then #24, one can easily see that Snyder is getting the characters in order for a large confrontation months down the road.

If you are not reading Batman, then you are missing out on the best New 52 title. 
I give this issue a 8.8 out of 10

Justice League of America #9 (DC) Writer: Matt Kindt, Artist: Tom Derenick

JLA #9 continues to follow Martian Manhunter and Star Girl as they explore the twisted mental prison that has imprisoned the other league members. Those that are bought into the Forever Evil storyline (like myself) will find this issue interesting as it explores the insecurities of the different league members. For those that are fans of Kindt's characterization of Martian Manhunter will particularly love the last few pages of this issue as it touches on Manhunter's weakness to fire and how is a result of Manhunter's self-inflicted guilt.

The original solicitation indicated that Manhke was on pencils but was switched with Tom Derenick's. While Derenick's pencil work was adequate, I am a large fan of Manhke's work (especially his version of Manhunter) and think that it would help elevate the series. Kindt's writing was solid and enjoyable for those following Forever Evil. 

For recommend for fans of Forever Evil, Martian Manhunter, and Matt Kindt.
I give this issue a 7 out of 10.  

Unity #1 (Valiant) Writer: Matt Kindt, Artist: Doug Braithwaite 


This was my favorite issue of the week by far. It was engaging, interesting, action pack, and left me with a good amount of mystery and suspense. I am becoming a bigger fan of the Valiant Universe every month and this is a great time to jump on (there is a chart on the inside of the cover that gives an explanation of XO-Manowar up to this point which sets the stage for the comic).

XO being a badass.
The genius of all Valiant books and characters is that no character is clearly a hero or a villain. All the character's featured in Unity possess this trait of "greyness" when it comes ethics, intent, villainy, and courage. Matt Kindt brings the characters to life and make you sympathize with some of the them (i.e. XO) and leaves you questioning other's (i.e. Harada). I am looking forward the coming confrontation but more interested in how the individuals will work together and how this will impact the other characters of the Valiant U. and the politics of it's earth (Will Russia start a nuclear world war III??). The action was great and well paced and I finished the comic wanting to know more. I thought I was going to just pick up the first one, but I think this will be a regular in my pull box.

I highly recommend for fans of Kindt, the Valiant Universe, or those wanting to know why so many love Valiant and it's characters. 
I easily give this issue a 9 out of 10.

Do you agree? Disagree? What did you love or hate about these comics? 
What comics do you read and why?

Let us know down below in the comments section. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Britain's Favorite Dr. Who is...

Biomechanical Bear and other Elephant Robot writers are larger fans of Dr. Who than I, so I should like to hear them way in on this: David Tennant is Britain's favorite Dr. Who over Matt Smith by an almost 4 to 1 margin. Billie Piper’s Rose was voted to be the favorite of the Doctor's many companions. 

What do you say, Whovians? Is Tennant your man? Is Rose your favorite companion? 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Batman('s greatest voice actor) vs. Superman('s greatest voice actor)

This is the Batman vs. Superman movie we deserve and need. If you ever watched either of the Batman or Superman animated shows in the 90s then this…this is a your little slice of awesome for the day.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Valiant's Unity #1 Signing Event with Philip Tan

Philip Tan's Exclusive Cover. Click here to see some of the process. 
My local comic book store, Collectors Paradise (Pasadena, Ca. location) is having a special signing event this Saturday with comic book artist Philip Tan.

Philip Tan is known for his work on Spawn, Uncanny X-men, and Iron Man and recently known for Green Lantern: Agent Orange,  New 52 The Savage Hawkman, and Morrison's Batman and Robin. He is created an exclusive cover for the new book Unity that Valiant is publishing, which hits the shelves Nov. 13th. The cover will be exclusive to the Collector's Paradise store only. You will not be able to find this cover anywhere else.

Philip Tan will be at the Collector's Paradise Pasadena location Saturday, Nov. 16th, from 4pm - 7pm for signing. There will (1) exclusive prints, (2) blank covers for free quick sketches, and (3) the original B/W art for Unity #1 Collector's Paradise exclusive cover on display.

Valiant is a great comic publisher and they are reviving some great characters and using the best writers and artist that the industry has to offer. I highly recommend Valiant books if you have not already reading them. Unity is a great place to jump into the Valiant Universe.

For more on the event and its location please see the Collector's Paradise announcement here.

Valiant's Announcement of Unity:
"Valiant is proud to present an advance preview of UNITY #1 – the FIRST ISSUE of an all-new ongoing series by New York Times best-selling writer Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT, Justice League of America) and superstar artist Doug Braithwaite (Justice, Journey into Mystery)! On November 13th, find out why Valiant is the must-read publisher of 2013 when UNITY #1 launches the most dangerous, most ruthless, most volatile team of heroes ever united against a foe unlike any other – X-O Manowar!
To kill a king…he has created an army. The world’s most dangerous man, Toyo Harada, has been struck by the one thing he never thought possible – fear. Halfway across the globe, a new power threatens to topple modern civilization and, to preempt the cataclysm that is to come, Harada will unite the most unforgiving team the world has ever known – UNITY. Their mission: defeat the threat responsible for the destruction of MI-6, the decimation of an alien world, and the occupation of Eastern Europe… Unseat the warrior king armed with the universe’s most powerful weapon… Kill X-O Manowar!" (Click here to see this announcement above with a preview of the comic.)

Monday, November 11, 2013

DC/Vertigo Solicitations: Four Long Months till Sandman: Overture #2

DC/Vertigo recently released its February 2014 solicitation and it revealed that Sandman: Overture #2 has been delayed to Feb. 26, 2014. It is also interesting to note that the second issue is 4 pages shorter and a dollar cheaper, bringing it to 32 pages and $3.99.

We now have to wait 4 months to continue Dreams story. Hopefully the other issues won't be delayed this much (fingers-crossed).

Here is a full list of the DC/Vertigo February solicitation with cover art.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Finding the Soul of a Character

Four months ago, Mrs. Magnetic Monkey and I were blessed with the arrival of our first baby monkey and she and I could not have been more excited. As an INFJ, having a child lead me to serious amounts of soul searching, questioning my own life choices for the future, and lengthy conversations with people about how to best nurture this precious life that was now entrusted to me.

And then I thought about Star Wars.

My son has never seen Star Wars but as soon as I can possibly convince Mrs. Monkey...we are doing it. For years, I thought I had the question of how to introduce my children to Star Wars ironed out: start them with episodes 4 and 5, then jump back in time to watch 1 through 3 2 and 3, then end with Return of the Jedi. Boom. Done.

But between then and now, a ton of new content has been added to the canonical Star Wars universe. A new movie coming out (2015!) and there's the Clone War cartoon show. Between now and when Baby Monkey watches Star Wars, who knows what Disney will have done with the franchise? Will they have done a full reboot and redone A New Hope? What parts of the story that I knew and loved will remain intact for me to introduce to him?

Retelling and reimagining the myths that we inherit from our parents is a critical component of human existence. Hercules, Odysseus, and Beowulf are all characters from antiquity that have survived and been reimagined for generations. My son will reimagine and retell the stories I share with him just as I reimagined and retold those given to me by my father.

So all that has gotten me wondering: what are the critical pieces of a character that can't change from generation to generation without losing the soul of who the character is? What are the immutable characteristics that have to remain the same for the character to be the character?

What it isn't

A hero's soul is not the costume. Over the years most characters have had massive redesigns to their basic costume, especially Iron Man and Batman. The X-Men exchanged colored spandex for black leather. Superman recently lost his red underoos on the big screen and no one really cared about that.

A hero's soul is not determined by his or her villains villains. A villain derives her or his identity from their heroic nemesis but the reverse is not true. Man of Steel showed that Superman can still be Superman with nary a hint of Lex Luthor. The first Iron Man was brilliant without Mandarin.

A hero's soul is not bound by an era. The Marvel characters that inhabit the world of Neil Gaiman's excellent 1602 were just as vibrant while living several centuries before the normal Earth-616 timeline.

What it might be

At the end of the day, I think each fictional character's soul is demonstrated on the page in how the character reacts to the dangers and events of the fictional world they inhabit.

If that changes...I think that's when a character's soul is lost. Or, at a minimum, changed to the point of essentially being someone else. The trick is whether each generation will respond and keep the soul of the character they've inherited or whether they will discard it for something new. That's why the ending of Man of Steel was a bridge too far for many fans: Superman's soul, to them, contained a morality clause that Superman...Never...Kills. Personally, I haven't picked up a Spider-Man comic since Brand New Day because I was so horrified and offended that the writers had Peter Parker making a selfish, juvenile choice when he could have made the adult and noble one.

I think the anger comes from people believing that as a group, "we" had all decided these are facets of the character's soul that would never change. But change happens. Just as with my father and my son, as each generation revisits the the myths of their fathers and mothers some things are bound to change. I accept that.

With that said, here are the immutable soul characteristics of my favorite heroes that represent who I think they've been to this last generation and, selfishly, who I hope they will be to my son and his generation:

  • Batman: unwavering self-confidence and belief that his methods and his team will win the day
  • Captain America: unfailing nobility in all choices and dedication to his ideals
  • Cyclops: single minded focus and clarity on the task at hand amidst crushing self doubt
  • Spider-Man: mature choices amidst juvenile joking; chooses the path that secures happiness for someone else at the expense of his own
  • Superman: an overwhelming optimism and serenity in the face of intergalactic challenges
  • Wolverine: a profound, relentless, and unstoppable will to protect those weaker than himself
So to comic book and movie writers of the world I say this: change whatever else you want and I'll be fine. Put Spider-Man in a silver metal suit. Give Superman a mullet again. I will still read your books and take my son to your movies. That's not what makes them who they are. Just please. Please. Be gentle with the souls of these characters. These heroes informed my childhood and the adult I became and I hope that I still recognize these characters when it's time for them to hopefully do the same for Baby Monkey.

See this? This change is fine.

This is not.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Improv Everywhere: From Star Wars to Jurassic Park and More.

Improv Everywhere recreates classic movie scenes all around New York City. Their first one uploaded to YouTube was Star Wars on the Subway. My favorite though is the Matrix in a department store and Indiana Jones chased by a boulder through Central Park.

Star Wars:

Indiana Jones:

Jurassic Park:

Here is their YouTube page. They also recreate Ghostbusters, The Matrix, Rocky, Back to the Future, and Lord of the Rings.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Gordon's 99 Problems: Weekly Comic Review - 11/06/13

Wednesday has come and gone, which means that some amazing comics have been read. This week was quite large for my pull list. I got and read 5 amazing comics and can not wait to tell you about them:

Forever Evil #3 (DC) Writer: Geoff Johns, Artist: David Finch.

Crime Syndicate: (From Left to Right) Owlman, Deathstorm,
Johnny Quick, Power Ring, Ultraman, Superwoman, and a
deceased Sea King.
For those following the aftermath of the big DC event: Trinity War which brought the arrival of (my favorite villain team) Crime Syndicate, you will be happy with this issue. It explains how three justice league teams (Justice League, Justice League of America, & Justice League Dark) were all quickly defeated and it chronicles the beginning of a team of villains led by Lex Luthor (and Batman?) to fight the CS. While that is the basic plot, the comic itself is really starting to spotlight the villains of the DCU and what drives them. For some, the disappearance/defeat of the Justice League teams is not a blessing but a curse, either because they did not personally defeat their hero counter-part and/or they have been replaced by the CS. For this reason, the villains at this point are really more anti-heroes and one's that become easier and easier to identify with and understand. For this reason, this book feels like it is just getting better and better with each issue.

I give this comic an 8 out of 10. 
I recommend this to any DC fan or those that want to see some compelling villain stories. 

Trillium #4 (Vertigo) Writer & Artist: Jeff Lemire

Jeff Lemire is not only a great storyteller but also a great artist. Trillium #4 continues the time-travel story that focuses on William, a WWI vet that is exploring the Amazon in the 1920's, and Nika, a botanist from the year 3797 where humanity has dwindled to a mere 5,000. William and Nika meet through a mysterious temple that exists in the heart of the Amazon and on a distant moon in the future. Through this temple the two meet in the heart of some desperate time. 

This issue continued to ratchet up the action, especially since Williams brother accidentally went through the temple into the future. So now Nika is in 1921 with William and William's brother is in a hostel environment in the year 3797. Lemire is starting to explore the tension that the two main characters are feeling and how they are trying to help each other out, both logistically and emotionally. There was a touching moment in this comic where the two had a close moment, these was soon followed by a surprise ending which leaves the reader wonder what the next issue will have in store. (Here is a link to a four page preview for the issue)

I give this comic an 8 out of 10. 
I recommend this to any Lemire fans and those that are looking for a time-travel love story (really). 

Detective Comics #25 - Zero Year Tie-In (DC) Writer: John Layman. Artist: Jason Fabok
I love this cover because it reflects the story well.

Gordon being a Bad-Ass like usual
Layman is no stranger to detective stories. Not only has he been writing Detective comics for several issues now, but his creator-owned hit, Chew, also features a detective. This issue does not feature the Dark Knight's detective skills but rather focuses solely on Lt. Gordon. This extra long issue is a Zero Year tie-in so it takes place during the huge power black-out that The Riddler causes and follows Gordon fighting against corruption in Gotham and in the GCPD. It also showcases the first time Batman interacted with Gordon. This is a great moment that I really enjoyed because, for me, it strengthen the unique connection they share.

I felt like Layman's writing really fit Gordon's voice and his determination to fight corruption. This issue especially showed how Gordon emulates the vigilant spirit within his own sphere, in this way it showed how close Batman and Gordon are in ideology. Fabok is a great artist and his pencil work here brings to life a kick-ass Lt. Gordon. For a tie-in issue (which are usually sub-par) it was really good because this did not feel like an afterthought. This is an issues that truly broadens the Zero Year story. As a Zero Year issue is also had some great easter eggs and foreshadowing. There was reference to Black Mask and (my favorite part) you got to see a young, non-drunk, skinny Bollock! Great characterization of Gordon and good look into a different aspect of Zero Year. 

I give this issue an 8.9 out of 10. 
I recommend this to fans following Zero Year, who love Gordon, and fans of Layman.

Spider-Man: 99 Problems #2 (Marvel Knights Series) (Marvel) Writer: Matt Kindt, Artist:Marco Rudy.

For those that are against the recent Spidey-Ock itineration of Spider-Man that Marvel is publishing, then this book for you. As a Marvel Knights series it takes place outside the regular Marvel continuity ("regular" seems like stretch to call what Marvel passes for continuity but that is another blog post). The plot, so far, is that Peter is drawn into an elaborate trap, drugged, and now has to fight 99 villains. The first issue highlighted monster-type villains (like Werewolk, Mobiues, etc) and this issue takes place in an airplane filled with Shocker, Sandman, Hydro-man, and Mysterio. 

Matt Kindt is a great writer and brings to life this psychedelic tale that is intermixed with the standard Parker humor and Parker intellect. While the writing is superb, the real star of the issue is Marco Rudy on art. The panel (or lack thereof) design can be described as psychedelic, organic, creative, and diverse. The art is beautifully varied, from fine pencil work to water color painting, to airplane-type instruction manuals scattered throughout the comic. On top of the amazing art, Rudy brings an innovative panel flow. At a glance it looks like it could be hard to read but the flow of the comic is surprisingly intuitive and engrossing. It reminds me of JH Williams III and the flow he brings to a comics (esp. Sandman Overture). From the story to the art, this is hands-down the best comic I read all week. 

This is one of the many two-page spreads that grace the pages of this comic.
I easily give this comic a 9.5 out of 10. 
I recommend this to any Peter Parker fans, Matt Kindt fans, or anyone that likes to read comics while under the influence (just joking...kinda). 

Catalyst Comix #5 (Dark Horse) Writer: Joe Casey, Artists: 
Great Paul Pope cover
Catalyst Comix is a unique comic experience that Joe Casey and Dark Horse are reviving. In short, it is a 9 issue miniseries in which every issue has three rotating stories. All the stories are written by Casey but each one is drawn by a different artist. The three stories all take place in the same universe and it seems that at some future point they will converge.

The main story, which focuses on Amazing Grace (see above picture), was the best of the three by leaps and bounds. It progressed the ongoing story of a strange visitor and his intentions. It created suspense and anticipation for the next issue. The second story, which focuses on the team - Agents of Change, was so short that its hard to call it even a story. The third story, which focuses on the solo hero Frank Wells, a.k.a. Titian, was ok but it was hard to piece together with the larger story being told. All in all this issue seemed rudderless. I have no clue where it is going, Casey is rather vague with the characters and their history and hence I don't really care about the characters or the world they inhabit. I'm not sure if I will continue to buy this series.

I give this comic a 4.5 out of 10. 
I recommend only to those that are faithfully committed to the Catalyst series. All others, just look at the amazing cover and move along. 

Do you agree? Disagree? What did you love or hate about these comics? 
What comics do you read and why?

Let us know down below in the comments section. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Marvel and Netflix are creating four series AND a mini-series event!

Marvel's Daredevil and Heroes for Hire are coming to Netflix. C

From Marvel's homepage:
Led by a series focused on "Daredevil," followed by "Jessica Jones," "Iron Fist" and "Luke Cage," the epic will unfold over multiple years of original programming, taking Netflix members deep into the gritty world of heroes and villains of Hell's Kitchen, New York.  Netflix has committed to a minimum of four, thirteen episodes series and a culminating Marvel's "The Defenders" mini-series event that reimagines a dream team of self-sacrificing, heroic characters.
It is a golden age for nerds!

(Incidentally, if you've never had the chance to read Ed Brubaker's run on The Immortal Iron Fist, you really should take it for a spin!)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review: Grant Morrison's The Animal Man Omnibus

On our anniversary, my amazing wife (after some strong hinting) got me Grant Morrison's Animal Man Omnibus edition. This is a massive book, with over a 1000 pages. It collects Morrison's complete run on Animal Man from 1989-1992, all 28 issues of the series. The quality of the book is great with high quality gloss pages and a slightly oversized size. After three months of night-time reading I have finally finished this story that only a crazy man like Morrison can imagine.

The Story
Animal man seeing the reader for the first time.

The story is very engrossing and engaging throughout. The book follows Buddy Baker (aka. Animal Man) and his family shortly after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths which consolidated several Earth's into a single continuity. Morrison's admittedly injected a lot of his own values into Buddy Baker making him now a vegetarian and an animal rights leader and advocate. While often the inclusion of political ideology in comics comes off as "preachy" this did not happen here for me. This could be attributed to my love for all things Morrison or, more likely, to the engaging writing that made these changes feel natural for the character and not random.
Also, Morrison did not only update Animal Man in just ideology but also in powers. He can now channel the power of any animal, not just those nearby. This updating is probably the largest theme in the book as a whole, for Buddy is updated alongside several other heroes and villains ( e.x., A new B'Wana Beast is chosen and he is a black South African man, whose story is entrenched in the horrors of the Apartheid).

The Art
From the covers to the pages, Animal Man has some of the best artists working on the book. Brian Bolland does all of the iconic and amazing covers and the pencil work inside is done mostly by Christ Truog. I personally do not usually enjoy the majority of comic art from the 80's era, but Truog's work is exceptional work. His art is not only great work for its time but can still stand today as a great piece of comic art. Truog and Bolland's art specifically is superb towards the end of the series when the 4th wall is slowly demolished and Morrison brings back to life the crazy Golden and Silver Age characters that were forgotten/destroyed by the Crisis. The story at this point provides some unique situations to bring to life (my favorite part is when Animal Man starts to bend and break the panel boxes to distract certain characters).
Animal Man (left) and Grant Morrison (right) talking about an Earth
with no heroes.

For Animal Man fans, Morrison fans, DC fans, and comic fans in general, this is a great buy with a great story. I loved to see the early work of Grant Morrison and it was great to see the character Buddy Baker in his pre-New 52 itineration.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Star Wars Myers-Briggs Type

I love me some Myers-Briggs. While I don't think it's the end-all, be-all of describing someone, I do think it provides some helpful framework when working with someone.

And now has a version of MBTI with Star Wars? Come one now. I can't handle that much awesome in one day. This is a free and test you can take if you haven't already so you can see what character you are. (Click the picture for a larger version.)

May the force, and a better understanding of yourself, be with you!

Thanks, @brenebuns!