Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra Issues 1-4 Review

My third stroll through the Ultimate Marvel Universe brought me through the origins of Elektra Natchios. Once again her origin has been ‘updated’ to become more accessible to different types of comic book readers. However unlike Iron Man’s new origin Elektra’s seems to work against her. Her mother’s death due to breast cancer caused her to become depressed so her father enrolled her in martial arts classes because she was a fan of Bruce Lee. Her father now is a simple dry cleaner who is just trying to make an honest living and have enough money to send his daughter to college.

That’s right; Elektra has been de-aged down to eighteen years old in order for them to be able to successfully play off the college freshman aspect of the story. We get a few supporting characters, which I find a bit odd. I don’t like the idea of Elektra having friends, a roommate or a support system; and in this case she has all three and that’s even before she meets Matt Murdock.

This is where the plot loses me it took away all of the best dramatic aspects of Elektra’s story and replaced them with a cross between a Lifetime TV Network’s movie of the week and a Lifetime Romantic Comedy. You have the love at first sight aspect with Elektra and Matt, even a slumber party type scene between Elektra and her two friends Phoebe and Melissa where they’re taunting her for having feelings for Matt. Thankfully the love-y dove-y aspect isn’t the main story line, but the b plot does drag out too long in my opinion.

The other plot is something that honestly I am sick of. It could be a good plot if done correctly but it just gets used way too much and it’s sort of the ‘go to’ plot in order to do female vigilante storyline. There is Trey Langstrom who is a stuck up entitled character who thinks he can do whatever he wants. He constantly harasses the females on campus until messes with Melissa, Elektra intervenes only to have Trey later attack and (it is implied) rape Melissa. Elektra is furious and takes Melissa and their friend Phoebe to her sensi in order to teach them self defense.

Trey’s family gets the charges dropped but Elektra doesn’t want to let it go. In order to teach her a lesson Trey hires two thugs to burn down her family’s dry cleaning business. Naturally Elektra’s father is inside, only he doesn’t die. She insists that it is Trey and is even more furious when he gets released from police custody yet again. Now we’re in for yet another over used plot device here, we meet Trey’s father who appears to be more abusive than Trey is. In the brief time we see him all he does is beat Trey around, yell at him, call him a failure and let him know how ashamed he is of him and essentially orders him to ‘take care’ of Elektra. Well Trey tries to attack Melissa again and this is ultimately the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The whole time unknown to Elektra Matt has been investigating the arsonists and Trey, so we do get a little bit of Matt’s early outings as Daredevil, if not his first outing. At this point I would rather have seen more of Matt than Elektra which is a shame because I am a huge Elektra fan – but this plot and her new origin does absolutely nothing for her at all.

We get a bit more action in the final issue of the four issue series which is good, but almost too little too late. Elektra set up an ambush in the park for Trey where she intended on killing him; they fight for a while, not long though considering Trey is no match for her. Just when Elektra is about to kill him the masked man that Elektra has been running into stops her, again we get more fighting – nothing really special there -. The masked man reveals himself to be Matt and that sends Elektra over the edge, she can’t stand that he lied to her and thinks he was lying about everything. The issue ends with Elektra stabbing Trey in an artery and giving Matt a choice: save Trey’s life or run away with her. Matt chooses to save Trey which leads us to Elektra vanishing but not before she leaves her father a letter, Melissa and Phoebe get one too, Matt doesn’t though, instead she leaves him flowers that were just like the ones she gave to him when they first officially met.

I wanted to like this, I really did; and I went in with high hopes after how much I liked the two Iron Man series but Elektra and Daredevil left me disappointed. It was like it was trying too hard to be more important than it actually was. I don’t get Elektra’s quest for vengeance for Melissa at all. It would have made more sense if Trey had attacked Elektra, the attack led her to become involved in the martial arts world, he gets off due to his family buying him freedom then he hires the arsonists and then Elektra goes after him. I have a hard time believing that this character who is supposed to be so ruthless and cold blooded was suddenly turned into a shy love sick teenager who all of a sudden wanted to murder someone because her friend got hurt. It was too drastic of a change in Elektra and it happened too quickly for it to work.

Rating: C -

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Happy Town Review / Q & A

'In This Home on Ice'


This week in TV land could be seen as somewhat of a downer with the absence of LOST, but thankfully the god's heard our cries and gave us an amazing new program, Happy Town. In the beginning, I wasn't quite sure what to make of the program. I first began to hear of its existence when Amy Acker dropped from series regular to guest star in season 2 of Dollhouse to begin production. The previews we have seen up until this past week were vague in nature. Sure they let you in on a few scary details but the main plot of the show was muddled behind spooky imagery. In return for generic yet heavy handed marketing, fans got what I believe to be the start of an amazingly intriguing series. Happy Town follows the story of Tommy Conroy (Geoff Stults), a family man and deputy of the small town Haplin, Minnesota, just trying to keep order as death and mayhem once again surface from what citizens believe to be The Magic Man. Once kidnapper, now killer it's up to Tommy to try and figure out this mystery while protecting his family, including his lovely wife Rachel (Amy Acker). I had a chance to catch a pre-screening of Happy Town from ABC and I could not have been more pleased with the series. Happy Town has been compared to new age shows such as Harper's Island or Reunion, as well as the classic Twin Peaks. Although the main plot of the story seems to be the over used “whodunnit,” the richness of the quirky characters really pushes it to new heights, which I hope fans will latch onto. It still has enough genre storytelling to keep you mystery fans happy, but it also offers much more to those thinking it's just another generic piece. The show featured great performances from it's core cast, most notably Geoff Stults, fresh off his run on the short lived October Road, of which I was also a devoted fan. Geoff, showing the true kind of star he is, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me through twitter:

Q & A

JM: Thanks so much for agreeing to answer some questions for me. I really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule. First, how did you get into acting?

GS: Actually, my brother got “discovered” walking down the street and we started acting. Always wanted to, but didn't know how to start.

JM: Is there anything else you had thought of doing instead?

GS: I thought I was going to be a lawyer, actually. Planned to take a year off after college and then go to law school.

JM: Is it different acting in genre type shows as opposed to things like October Road? Do you have a preference?

GS: No preference at all as long as I am interested and like the people involved.

JM: You served as producer of the 2006 film 'Deceit,' do you intend on producing or directing any upcoming projects?

GS: Nothing in the pipe line right now, but I hope to produce again.

JM: How is it working with Amy Acker who has become a staple of the SCIFI world? You two seem to have great chemistry!

GS: It's easy to have chemistry with Amy. She is the nicest girl in the world. Good mom, good wife, good actor, and a good cook.

JM: You were very genuine in your portrayal of a family man on Happy Town. Do you enjoy playing this kind of role?

GS: Again, no preference at all as long as I am interested and like the people involved.

JM: Finally, are you The Magic Man?

GS: No comment. ;)

JM: Again, thanks so much and so sorry to bombard you all day! It is greatly appreciated man!

Everyone be sure to catch Happy Town tonight at 10/9c on ABC. It's a great watch and you guys definitely won't be disappointed!

Rating: A-

Everyone be sure to follow the cast and crew of Happy Town on Twitter for the latest information:

Geoff Stults Twitter

Amy Acker Twitter

Happy Town Twitter

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ultimate Iron-Man Volume 2 Issues 1-5 Review

Well I’m still in a Marvel state of mind so today’s review will cover Ultimate Iron Man Volume 2. Let’s get this out of the way already: ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m not a fan of Iron Man.’ Before we get into the plot I want to take a minute to talk about two things that bugged me. First off it’s a five issue mini-series just like the first volume, however for the first three issues of the series it is boldly displayed on the cover that it is ___ of FOUR and only on the fourth issue does it say that there is another issue coming out. When the story was first published I can imagine that being quite annoying, especially since I find it annoying and it’s been over three years since the 2006-2007 series first ran.

Another thing that bugged me was the art. I’ve never been a fan of this particular style (the first run of the Buffy comic series also dabbled in this style near the end of the run.) It makes it difficult to appreciate it the way it’s meant to be because it ends up being all over the place. One panel can look amazing and the next really gritty in a way that almost makes it look like it’s done by a different artist who is trying to simulate the style of the original. Granted this could possibly be the fault of the colorist and inker, in fact I’d place it more on their shoulders since it looks to be over stylized and textured when they’re trying to define where light meets shadow.

While the art appears to be a downgrade from the first volume the story is actually better. They still play up the dynamics between Tony and Obadiah but the whole soap opera aspect of the drama between their parents and the generation long family feud and attempted company stealing and the gold digging ways of Howard’s ex-wife Loni are gone. Instead we get new characters like Deloris and Whiplash, foreign terrorist plots, stolen nuclear weapons, Tony and Obadiah getting kidnapped and an assassination attempt on the imprisoned Howard Stark. There is definitely more action in the second volume than there was in the first, this is obviously because the focus clearly shifted from interpersonal struggle and family dynamic into dealing with the consequences of those things.

One thing I’m not too sure about though is the change in Tony’s origin. I know that Marvel launched the Ultimate line in an attempt to make their characters more accessible and relevant to the next generation of comic book fans, but that model doesn’t hold water here. In Tony’s ‘canon’ origin he has a heart defect that is made worse by his alcoholism, in Ultimate we have the very beginnings of Tony and his battle with the bottle – it can’t be that big of an issue since he’s still a teenager in the second volume – Tony’s heart defect is a thing of the past, instead replaced by altered DNA as a result of a lab accident.  I don’t know about you but I know a lot more people with heart problems than I do know people who had their DNA altered when their mother accidentally ingested blood from a genetically altered test monkey. How is that more ‘relevant’ and ‘accessible’ than someone with a heart problem? Seriously, can some one explain that to me?

I liked the twists and turns the plot, when the series was over I was left wanting to know what would happen with Tony and to see how the new dynamic would play out between Obadiah and Tony once Obadiah experiences his change of heart. Nifara’s death was abrupt and not really expected – it certainly shows that this isn’t your daddy’s Marvel comics, if you’re being held hostage you won’t get shot in the hand and then say ‘oww’ and act like nothing happened; in fact you’re more likely to be shot at pointblank range right between the eyes.

The main villain of the piece isn’t Deloris or even Whiplash; instead it turns out to be Loni. This somehow manages to work and not work at the same time. I can easily buy that Loni would be willing to sacrifice her own son and let him die in order to get money and power; I can buy her misguided passion fueling her hate for both of her ex-husbands for their inability to satiate her bank account. However I just can’t buy that she’s essentially the head of a terrorist cell and manipulating multiple factions just so she can get a hold of the armor suit and nuclear weapons. That’s where it lost me; a gold digger with aspirations of world domination is a little too hard to buy. Although the art makes her look a lot more like a generic knock off of Black Widow than how she looked in the first volume, the drastic change in appearance just ends up serving as more of a disconnect from the persona the character had in the first run.

This run had a little bit more flaws and ups and downs than the first run did but it still left me wanting more. I wanted to read more stories of the teenage Tony Stark. I wanted to see Rhodes’ reaction to Tony telling him that Loni brutally murdered Nifara. That’s saying a lot considering that I’m not a fan.

Rating: B-

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ultimate Iron-Man Volume 1 Issues 1-5 Review

For a while now I’ve wanted to get into Marvel Comics’ Ultimate line – unfortunately the longer I put it off the less likely it seemed that I would ever get into it.  That was until Marvel decided to launch a new title Ultimate X.  I picked up the first issue, and without going into detail I liked it but was left confused by what was going on because I hadn’t had any prior source material to read.  That was when I decided to go back and read the entire universe in chronological event order, which is different than the order the individual series were published in.

For those of you not in the know the Ultimate universe was, well to put it bluntly, Marvel’s attempt at making their properties such as X-Men and Spiderman (since they launched the universe) younger, more hip, grittier, more up to date with the way the ‘modern’ world is.  Essentially it was Marvel’s attempt at making themselves much more relevant in order to increase their fan-base. It must have worked, the line launched in 2000 with the previously mentioned Spiderman and X-Men and now near the middle of 2010 and the universe still exists and is publishing ongoing series: Ultimate Spiderman, Ultimate X and has more ongoing series and mini series scheduled to come out later this year.

Like I said earlier I intend on reading the entire universe in story order, not publication order so I won’t be starting with either Ultimate Spiderman or Ultimate X-Men, I’ll be starting with the 2005-2006 Ultimate Iron-Man Mini Series Volume 1.  Honestly this starts off as a major problem for me since I make no apologies over my personal distaste for Iron-Man, Tony Stark and roughly 97% of his cast of characters.  Seriously all of this blog’s readers should start a drinking game and take a shot every time I say something negative about Iron-Man.  You’ll be drunk for half of the time I cover anything non X-Men in the Marvel Universe.

There are differences in Tony’s origin which personally work better for me.  His tissue is a ‘living brain’ due to his mother’s exposure to the blood of a monkey who was being used as a test subject.  A side effect to the ‘living brain’ aspect is that he is in constant pain, which is why he needs to armor to help ease the pain of his over stimulated neural cells.  Another side effect is that he can regenerate his limbs and heal from physical damage and injury.  I like this aspect of the character, and I really like that we got a peek into Tony as a young boy and a teenager; which again is the whole point of the Ultimate line.

The story doesn’t feature too much in the way of super-heroics or action; in fact it has more of a soap-opera quality to it for the majority of the five issues.  Tony’s father Howard is in the middle of a bitter divorce with his gold digging wife who is already with Zebediah Stane and they are attempting to take control of Howard Stark’s company.  They are ultimately successful in getting the company (at least for a while) only to find out that Howard never put anything on paper so the company is essentially worthless.  Howard begins a relationship with a brilliant scientist Maria Cerrera, Tony’s mother.  Like I said she gets the monkey’s blood in her mouth while she is pregnant with Tony, not much to go into here other than the fact that she dies in labor.  Howard arrives and places a blue substance that he had been developing on Tony to act as a biological armor.  The armor is what Zebediah was after all along.

To make a long story slightly less long Zebediah manages to track down Howard while he is on the run and kidnaps and tortures Tony.  Zebediah is taken into custody and remains there for several years. Years later Zebediah and Howard’s ex-wife comes to Howard announcing that she has left Zebediah (who is still in prison) and wants Howard to put her and Zebediah’s son Obadiah into a special school, he agrees and that’s the last we’ve seen of her.  Tony, now a teenager is going to a private school and befriends a young man named Rhodes who is being beaten up by a group of kids who were later hired as de-facto hit-men and told to throw Tony into the school’s furnace. They actually almost get away with it but Rhodes and his friend Nifara, partly in thanks to the suit of armor Tony had built wand was testing with Rhodes when they were attacked; manage to stop them and keep Tony alive until Howard comes along.

Howard convinces both Rhodes and Nifara’s parents to let them go to a new school along with Tony, this turns out to be the same school that Obadiah goes to.  They aren’t there long before Tony witnesses something truly horrific – Obadiah murders two other students by throwing them off of the building, he gets away with it too by claiming that the two students committed suicide.  This only helps to strengthen Tony’s resolve to make his suit of armor more effective.

That wasn’t the last of Obadiah’s evil acts though. He manages to get his imprisoned father brutally murdered apparently successfully frames Howard Stark for the murder.  Howard awaits trial for the crime he never committed and turns over control of the rebuilt Stark Enterprises to Tony, who has now turned to alcohol to help dull the pain of his altered neurological system.

The mini-series ends with Tony officially donning the armor to stop a ship at sea that has been taken hostage and is full of explosives, and the final panels are of an unconscious Tony being pulled from the water after the explosives detonated.

Now given that I’m not a fan of Iron-Man this was a weird one for me, especially since this story takes place first in the Ultimate line – it made for an interesting introduction.  Like I said I do like the twist on Tony Stark’s origin. The soap opera-esque subplot with the parents does move the story along but it also sort of makes it a totally different story as well. I enjoyed the fact that the mini-series ends with a cliffhanger without really being a cliffhanger.  I can only imagine that the wait for the second volume would have been difficult for the hardcore Iron-Man fans, especially given the fact that at the end of Vol. 1 Issue 5 they announce that there will be a follow up to the series, but that it would be a year away. I actually ended the first series and wanted to read the second volume, which is saying a lot.  If the second volume is anywhere near the same quality as the first volume I could imagine becoming a fan of Iron-Man, Ultimate Iron-Man that is.

Rating: B

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Movie Review: Kick-Ass

Well Geek Culture has been featuring a lot of comic book reviews recently, last night we even took a step out of our comfort zone and reviewed something that had absolutely nothing to do with Joss Whedon’s body of work.  Well we’re going to go for another first here, our first movie review.  Don’t worry though the comic reviews will be back soon.  But for now we're going to cover the new movie Kick-Ass.
Now I went into this blind. I had never read the comic book, honestly I didn't even know about it; the only thing I knew was this was a comic book movie. As a whole comic book/super hero movies have gotten a lot better, but we still have our ups and downs.  For every X-2: X-Men United there's an X-3: The Final Stand, for every Batman Begins there is a Batman Forever, for every Superman there is a Superman IV The Quest for Peace and for every Iron Man there appears to be two Hulk movies.  So history has clearly shown that you can't form an opinion of a comic book movie, ultimately what can make or break a comic book movie isn't its body of stories it’s what the director does with it.
I'm glad that Matthew Vaughn was the director. He isn't a 'comic book movie director’ so there aren't any existing opinions of his style in that respect.  However he did also direct Stardust that was along the same vein as Kick-Ass, it was material that was so out there that it could have been over the top and impossible to take seriously because of its outlandish nature. I think that's part of why the movie is as good as it is, aside from the source material that is.  The movie has its comedic moments where it's not meant to be taken seriously because it's intentionally funny instead of it coming off as a two hour movie about a teenager running around in a wet suit that is trying to hard to take itself seriously that it becomes unintentionally funny.
Let's get into the cast for a minute.  The main character Dave Lizewski (Kick-Ass) is played by Aaron Johnson, now I can't judge him too much because I've never actually seen any of his other work - but ultimately I think he did a really good job with what he was given.  Clark Duke does a decent job playing one of Dave's best friends Marty but he wasn't given much here.  I actually think that paid off because to me he fell flat.  On all of his scenes it felt like I was watching his character Dale Kettlewell from Greek, only more sex crazed. Lyndsy Fonseca plays Dave's love interest Katie; I still don't know what to make of her. She’s kind of a throw away character, the movie could have moved along just fine without her at all.  In fact quite a few times the character actually slows the movie down because the pacing around her scenes is very odd.  Especially the scene where Dave reveals that he is Kick-Ass.  While the scene where she attacked him in her bedroom was funny, the pacing throws it off.  One second she's scared, then she realizes its Dave, then she's angry and upset that he lied to her about being gay and then three seconds later she's ready to sleep with him.  It all happened so quickly that any emotional effectiveness that it was going for becomes unbelievable.

 Mark Strong does a good job as the movie's main villain Frank D'Amico. There's not much to judge him on considering he was playing a character who is an unapologetically evil mobster who will kill anyone and do anything to get what he wants. I know a lot of the plot had to be used for the development and origins of Kick-Ass, Big Daddy, Hit-Girl and to a lesser extent Red Mist, but I wish that we would have gotten a little bit more of a back story to Frank.  It's obvious that his wife Angie, played by Yancy Butler, and son both know he is a mobster and accept it but that seems to be the end of it. The fact that Frank is essentially ashamed of his son, and was willing to risk Chris getting himself killed would be so much more powerful if we had more exposure to their personal dynamic other than Chris looking up to his father and eavesdropping.
I really loved Damon Macready/Big Daddy which surprised me a lot considering no one would ever accuse me of being a fan of Nicolas Cage. But what won me over were the flashback scenes that explained why he was waging war against Frank D'Amico.  The scenes between Damon and his daughter Mindy were exactly what I wanted to see between Frank and Chris; we got to see his world and the relationship he had with his daughter without it taking over the entire movie.  Chloe Moretz blew me away as Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl.  I was not expecting anything anywhere near as awesome to come from such a little girl.  Chloe Moretz is going to be the next big thing, if she's pulling off something this good at such a young age imagine when she's old enough to have Joss Whedon or Quentin Tarantino.  She has acting chops of a more talented Dakota Fanning (although Chloe doesn't make me want to point at the screen and scream 'EVIL! EVIL!") and the brutal honesty and ability to pull off Indie cred right up there with Christina Ricci.
 Christopher Mintz-Plasse does an excellent job as Chris D'Amico/Red Mist. Much like Chloe Moretz Christopher Mintz-Plasse was also a casting stroke of genius.  I actually found myself wanting to see more and more of Chris/Red Mist and Mindy/Hit-Girl than I did Dave/Kick-Ass.  I'm sure they will make a Kick-Ass 2 but I'm telling you right now unless they can get both of them back they need to put the movie on hold until their free.  Re-casting them would be a massive mistake.
 The plot are interesting but with the three different plots that are all running it does run the risk of becoming overcrowded and losing some of its power.  If you dissected Kick-Ass it could easily have been three movies right off the bat.  The evil mobster with his son desperately seeking his approval and his disinterested mother could carry its own weight, so could Damon's career being wrecked by an evil mob boss and his quest for revenge after his wrongful imprisonment and his wife's suicide.  In fact these are actually stronger plot lines than the main plot.  The idea of someone who is so fed up with the way the world is that he just wants to change it because he can't understand why anyone else doesn't is strong enough on it's own.  The problem comes in when they try to find a balance between the other two plots.  There simply wasn't enough room for it to be as important as it should have been.  In fact the best part of that story - when Kick-Ass was trying to save the man from the gang attack while everyone watches and he argues with the gang member that in a world where people can stand there and watch three men nearly beat another to death and do nothing he would rather die risking his life to save the man than be one of those in the crowd - should have been focused on more than it was.
The movie is catching a lot of flack for being too violent, which honestly I don't get.  The main problem seems to be surrounding Hit-Girl's age and the acts of violence she commits. I can understand people being uncomfortable about the character's age however they don't seem to understand that just because it's based off of a comic book doesn't automatically mean that it's meant for children.  The movie has already been made and seen by many people; no matter how much complaining people do the movie won't magically cease to exist.  If I had kids would I take them to see it - honestly, yes, because I want my kids to know the difference between reality and fiction and trust that they know enough to understand that just because you see someone else doing it that doesn't automatically make it alright.
 I'm the type of person that I can tell within a few minutes if I'll like the movie or not; but I’ve got to be honest Kick-Ass kept me guessing. One thing I do know for certain is that by the time the movie was over it left me wanting more, for all the right reasons. Once I see a movie it usually takes me a while before I can ever rewatch it.  Most movies I can only watch once, the rest I can but it takes a few years before I can ever rewatch them however when Kick-Ass was over I wanted to turn right back around and watch it again - and that is something that I've never done.

 Rating: A+

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Supernatural 'Beginning's End' Review

Issues 1-4

Being a monster fan of the Supernatural television series from day one, I decided to give this new prequel series a shot. I believe there have actually been both novelizations and comics prior to this series, I however have not delved further than the show. I was pleasantly surprised by the writing of the comics, the dialogue and story lines of the first four issues fit very much into the style of the series.

The first episode finds John Winchester and his son Dean forcing Sam out of school two days prior to graduation, from high school that is. Of course with Sam being furious, battles ensue between himself and his father. Sam just wants to stop hunting, give it all up for a normal life, as he has been awarded admittance to Stanford, while the only thing on papa Winchesters mind is revenge for the death of his wife. On their quest to find more answers in the mystery surrounding her death, we run into Cox, a leader of misfits cleaning out the demon population of NYC. In the end, they are unable to find the answers they were looking for, leading Sam to again question when this will all be over, knowing it likely never will. Dean, surprisingly, is featured very little in the first couple of comics, they mostly center on the relationship between John and Sam. This to me, was the biggest mistake the comics made. Never being a big Sam fan, I find all the arguments between the two a bit much and slightly grating after four issues. Thankfully Dean is featured more in issues three and four, which I found to be much better.

Issue two of 'Beginning's End' finds Sam angry and broken off from his brother and father. Living on the streets, he meets a woman of similar situations and follows her through the subways to find a somewhat underground city. Many have been struck with a mysterious plague, which makes them go mad before it takes their life. Sam soon realizes not only does the woman's father suffer from the disease, but she does as well. This leads Sam to begin a one man witch hunt into the underground alley ways. Eventually Sam finds the cause of the plague and kills the creature who started it, thus ending the cycle and curing it's victims. This was an improvement over the first issue, as it mostly featured Sam alone, as opposed to the constant bickering between the family.

The use of non-linear story telling can be a tricky thing to master, in issue three of the series, it does a nice job of utilizing this plot device. Honing in a bit more on Dean and Sam's relationship, this feels a lot more like an actual episode of the show. Someone inside a mysterious museum has been killing archeologists by lopping off their heads. Initially Sam sees nothing supernatural about the case, but due to Dean's persistence they stick around for the night. Not long after, Sam finds his self headless, yet still alive. After finding a clue, the brothers locate not only the missing, now headless employees but also the culprit himself. Dean battles the villain and magically re-attaches his brothers head. Again, to me this was probably the best issue thus far, focusing more on the relationship of Dean and Sam as opposed to Sam and John. This issues plot also felt very genuine to the canon of the live-action series.

The fourth episode, which came out this week, is another strong outing for the Supernatural series. The family is now together again, searching for answers to their mothers death. Sam doesn't believe their quest will ever be over, but John promises once the bastard who took away their mother is dead, he'll give it all up and let the boys have a normal life. There are a couple different story lines taking place in this episode. On one hand, we have the return of Cox, who asks Sam to join his band of merry demon killers, while Dean is having a night out with one of his troops. Sam reluctantly decides to lead one of Cox missions, as Dean is off killing vampires and attempting to have sex. This issue ends on a cliff hanger, as Sam arrives to the meeting spot only to find a beaten and bloody Cox, claiming it was he who did it.

Again, never delving into the world of Supernatural via comics, I found this prequel series to be quite refreshing while staying true to the characters and plot lines of the series. I look forward to continuing and hope it keeps the upward trend I saw in issues 3-4. Overall it is a good read for any Supernatural fans.

Issue 1: C+
Issue 2: B-
Issue 3: B
Issue 4: B

Buffy Season 8 Episode 2 - 8.02 The Chain Review

Issue 5 The Chain
Buffy Anne Summers is dead, again... again.  The sad thing isn't Yamanh's clan's war-stomp but that Buffy hasn't ever even met herself.  Buffy has a special friend and Tinkerbell she ain't.  This foul-mouthed fairy laid her eggs in Buffy's ear.  That's right folks, Buffy's ear is preggers.  There is some random girl who is trying to be way too cool for school gets whacked by the Slayer magic mushroom and goes on a trip involving past Slayers and the G-Man.  Andrew and Vi are bitten by the Hollywood bug and have their very own infomercial.  Rona and Giles decide who will be on the next episode of Extreme Facial Reconstruction Slayer Edition.  One of Andrew's Slayers of the Vampire, Simone knew the Slayer formerly known as someone other than Buffy and she's still got a big honking boner for packing heat.  Leah, Satsu and Rowena try to rescue NotBuffy-Buffy from Yamanh but don't get there in time but that's okay because NotBuffy-Buffy knows who she is and oh yeah, Dawn is still a giant.
Well here we have episode two, also written by Joss Whedon and let me say boy does it live up to every single bit of the hype Buffy Season 8 has been getting.  Those who are familiar with Joss’ work, and Buffy for that matter knows that  Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a long history of disappointing season openers along with Buffy usually needing a few episodes to really get into the swing of things know to just give Joss a little bit of time before you make your judgment.

While I complained in the last review about it taking four months to tell an entire ‘episode’ slowed down the momentum too much and was frustrating; now I am actually glad that it took us five months to get to the second episode.  All of the usual kinks that Buffy has each season that take about a month to iron out are done and over with starting with The Chain.  This episode feels like it’s the payoff to a season long story arch instead of what it was – a stand alone filler episode.

The funny thing is that this isn’t uncharted territory when it comes to Joss, some of the most powerful episodes have almost always been stand alone episodes: Hush, The Body, Once More with Feeling, and Conversations with Dead People  just to name a few.  The Chain is no exception when it comes to powerful emotionally resonating episodes.  Where Joss takes a risk is that this is the major re-launching of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we’re only on the second episode and the titular character is no where to be found. Not only that, but the main cast is MIA as well.  Giles makes a brief appearance, but Andrew, Rona and Vi all manage to have more screen time.

We don’t even get the new characters, Satsu, Rowena and Leah that were established in the previous episode for more than the very last second of the episode.  Instead we get an entire episode focused on a character that we’ve never seen before and have no idea even what her name is.

There is a line that is shared between Rona and ‘Not Buffy’ Buffy that is the main focal point of not only this particular episode but also manages to reiterate what has always been the message of Buffy’s character in a nutshell.  “I’m lookin’ at you for this so I gotta figure you want the truth.  As in…  Why me? Did I get the hardest, darkest path to walk ‘cause I’m strong, I’m good, I can handle the heavier burden?  Or am I weak, expendable.  The one that won’t be missed.  The truth?  There is no truth.  There’s just what you believe.”

No matter how outlandish Buffy gets with it’s story telling when it gets back to that very basic point is when the series shines.  A character dies, she sacrifices her life, not to stop a God, not to fight The First Evil; she laid down her life to save the life of a clan of fairies and a slug creature.  And in that one brief act of self sacrifice a character’s -who we had known for all of twenty two pages (which in this case amounts to about thirty minutes of a TV episode)- death every bit as powerful as when Joyce died after five seasons, Tara’s death or both of Buffy’s deaths.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Something is coming!

There is a new thing coming to Geek Culture - it will be here soon, it's arrival will bring in a new Horde of geeks to the universe.  Several clues are contained not only within the above image but in this equally mysterious paragraph as well.  Are you a enough of master of your own mind to figure out what's coming?  Review the clues and let us know.  And no- it has absolutely nothing to do with Lady Gaga - just saying.

Buffy Season 8 Episode 1 - 8.01 The Long Way Home Review

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is back!  Joss Whedon and Dark Horse Comics bring us the official continuation of the Buffy series with Season Eight! Since this blog will cover virtually all things Whedon it would be impossible to ignore Buffy so we're going to start with season 8.  Each review is going to start with a recap of the episode in a very Andrew-esque "Storyteller" way in order to catch you up on the highs and lows of each individual issue that way it will be easier to understand once we get our hands dirty and discuss the events of the episode in question.

Issue 1 - The Long Way Home Part I
We join our heroes years after the events of Chosen.  Willow is off doing who knows what, Buffy is leading a Slayer faction in Scotland where Xander is serving as base commander.  Giles appears to be no where to be seen, we meet three new Slayers who appear to be close to Buffy, one maybe a little too close.  Speaking of Buffy, there are three of her now, one underground, one off disco-ing it up with The Immortal in Italy and our twice dead religious history ignorant Slayer herself.  There's some guy who is all floaty and oh yeah Dawn's a giant.

Issue 2 The Long Way Home Part II
We rejoin our heroes - actually only about 3 seconds after where we left them, only with added Scoobage.  Giles is off being all watcher-y but seems to have accepted the idea that a Slayer works better with others instead of alone.  Buffy is pointing out how overqualified Rowena, Leah and Satsu are to be corpses while totally crushing on Satsu's hair.  Andrew is explaining that guns are evil and how he's Team teddy bear with killer trees yet he can not join Team Leader who wears bellbottoms and a half cape and Xander is desperately trying to keep his one eye from looking at Dawn's... shadow.  Living trapped in the mouth of Hell has led Amy to well, have sex with... who knows what, and seems to have gone retro\vintage, storming castles on dark nights, army of undead at her bidding, ritualistic sacrifice and a true love spell.  Apparently Hell is full of 80s horror movies and teen rom/coms.  Oh yeah Dawn is still a giant, yet couldn't really see our favorite Wiccan formerly known as Darth Willow floating on in at the eleventh hour.

Issue 3 The Long Road Home Part III
Our favorite chaos worshiping no friend of Ripper Ethan Rayne guides our sexually deprived heroine through memories of high school, Mr. Fruit Punch Mouth the Master, Angel, the loss of her mother, The evil smurf the Judge, fallen fashionista Goddess Glory, Dawn, Caleb, some guy named Joss Whedon and frienemy Faith, Slayer of the Vampire - who literally fought with the forces of good for weeks.  Giles meets with a demon and Andrew is bored by watching girls play strip poker.  Willow goes Wiccan y Wiccan with Dark Witch/Army Bitch Amy who it turns out has been boning, well a bag of bones.  Filet-o-Warren is back, skinless of course because why would the government find it disgusting that Amy was 'dating' Warren if he had his skin.  Willow tells Buffy that over the year she had been not in Scotland she was off with Kennedy who died, but its okay it was only for a month.  Dawnie learns that while big girls don't cry they f%&#ing fum!  Oh yeah, and Buffy learns that true love tastes of cinnamon buns moments before Willow is sucked through a vortex of Amy's techy smelling magic.

Issue 4 The Long Road Home IV
Warren explains that sometimes having a stalker can save your life.  Amy is pretty much holding Warren together with her magic.   Warren stabs Willow in the eye while Amy freakaleak that she is enjoys watching, but won't let the government join in her reindeer games.  Willow goes on some trippy trip and is guided by a tree woman, a hairy woman, a blue woman, a two faced woman and a wordy woman.  XXX marks the spot, not with treasure but with dead bodies.  Buffy sees the beautiful sunset that is carved into General Voll's chest.  Satsu also enjoys cinnamon buns.  Giant Dawnie's milkshake doesn't bring all the boys to the yard, but it damn near brings down Scotland Yard.  Oh yeah, and the world hates Buffy.

Alright let’s start off with how amazing it is to even have Buffy back in the first place; the property itself has been around since the early 90s with the Buffy movie, the TV show, the Angel spin-off, the first run of Dark Horse comics which ran for over 60 issues not counting the endless mini-series’ and one shots.  Now Buffy is back and it’s officially canon with Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight.

The format is a little clunky because each issue isn’t technically an individual episode; the episode only changes to a new one once it gets a new sub-header on the cover, sometimes that’s just one episode or it could be up to four or five issues.  That is kind of annoying considering that it is a monthly book and we had seven years of only having to go one week between episodes.

The first episode – The Long Way Home – is written by none other than series creator Joss Whedon and it shows from the first sentence.  We have all the usual players: Buffy, Dawn, Willow, Xander, Andrew and Giles; Joss does what Joss is known for by bringing back characters that we wouldn’t have seen ever again if this were anyone else at the helm.  Amy, Warren and Ethan are all back, and we get a bunch of new characters: Satsu, Rowena, Leah, Renee, General Voll, Simone and the mysterious Twilight.

Now there is a gap in time between Buffy Season 7 and 8 – exactly how much is unknown, however I’m assuming no less than three years have passed since in season 7 of Buffy Dawn is a Sophomore at Sunnydale High School and now Dawn goes to college in Berkley, well at least she was until she became a giant. There are a few other changes, aside from the major ones which I will get into later in this review.  Something seems off between the gang and Giles; it could just be because the group is divided a little oddly.  Dawn is supposed to be in Berkley without any connection to the Slayer world; Xander and Buffy are based in Scotland where he is sort of the de-facto Watcher, Andrew is off in Europe with his own group of Slayers to train, Willow for the most part is off at parts unknown with Kennedy and Giles has his own group of Slayers but also acts on his own.

The major changes obviously have to be Willow is no longer afraid to use her magic; Buffy and Xander have a home base that is actually an old castle in Scotland.  Faith and Robin are no where to be seen, but this is only the first episode of season 8 so it’s a little too soon to tell what’s going on with them.  Andrew seems to have really proven himself as a true Scooby since he’s been trusted with his own Slayer squad.  One thing that I think deserves to be touched on is the massive amount of tension between Dawn and Buffy.  In season 7 they seemed to have gotten a lot closer and were getting along fine, now all of a sudden Dawn appears to be verging on hating her sister.  I guess this could be explained due to the age problems.  When her body was 16, technically her soul was only a baby, so when she was acting the part of the teenager that the world is out to get, it could be argued that she was going through her terrible twos.  Now that Dawn’s body is that of a 19-21 year old her soul appears to be going through puberty.

I like the idea of Amy surviving Sunnydale’s destruction, but I’m still not too keen on her being evil. Personally I always wanted her to become a member of the Scooby Gang.  Warren on the other hand – I like the idea of Amy saving him and after his body dies bringing him back magically without his skin, they do make quite the pair.  The problem I have with this is that Warren appeared as The First in season 7.  The First could only take the form of someone who had died and now that Warren is back and appears to be a pivotal character I need a better explanation as to why The First could appear as him other than a throw away line from Warren where he says that ‘Bored now,’ where the last words he ever heard in his ‘human’ life.  Also it is a little hard to swallow that Amy turned into the magical stalker version of Big Brother and was following Willow around unknown to everyone.  Another thing that I have a problem with is General Voll and the government being back in play.  I wasn’t a big fan of the Buffy VS the Government in season 4, and I’m even less of a fan of the idea of a do-over.

Don’t get me wrong we do get our handful of classic Whedonverse moments: Buffy wearing a Serenity T-Shirt, one of Andrew’s Slayers reading the Fray trade paperback, Andrew in full on geek mode, a brand new big bad in the form of Twilight and a use of the massive established character pool at Joss’ disposal.  I only wish that they didn’t kill off Ethan so soon, and with it being a natural death – a gunshot to the head – it’s one that will never be undone it sort of makes it pointless to have brought back a character that had been around since the second season only to kill him off so abruptly.

The first episode also gives us more questions than answers.  Who or what is Twilight?  What’s up with the beautiful sunsets carved into the people’s chests?  How did Kennedy die, and more importantly how did she come back to life within a month?  Where was Willow?  How did Dawn become a giant?  What’s a thricewise?  Why does true love taste of cinnamon buns?  How was the destruction of Sunnydale spun in the news?  We get a few answers too.  We find out why Buffy was partying up in Italy with The Immortal and that not everyone who stayed in Sunnydale when the Hellmouth was closed died once the town sank in on itself. We also get a plethora of new characters: Satsu, Renee, Leah, Rowena, General Voll and Twilight all of them manage to have just enough ‘screen time’ and be interesting enough for you to become invested in them.  When Renee felt responsible for the girls getting injured once Amy released her army of zombies it had just as much emotional resonance coming from a character that we’ve only been exposed to for one episode as it would have if Dawn or Buffy were laying on the bed bandaged and bleeding You want to know about these characters because in Whedonverse no one is a simple throw away character, they’re all there for a reason whether you like them or not.

All in all The Long Way Home is a good reintroduction to the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  It will take a little while to work out all the kinks since Buffy had been off the air for so long and that the new season told strictly in comic form is a different venue for the property it will take a bit of patience because it switches from a weekly product to monthly.  I might not agree with things, Buffy does seem a little out of character to be honest; but anyone who knows Joss knows that his strength is in the long term and the pay off, and historically Buffy doesn’t have strong season premieres when it comes to plot and momentum.

Rating: B

Thursday, April 22, 2010

LOST Recap

'The Last Recruit'

After last week's incredible promo for this coming episode of LOST, I must say I was eagerly anticipating this episode more than any other of the season thus far, sans 'Ab Aeterno.' Unlike the latter, however, I could not have been more pleased with 'The Last Recruit,' I dare say it is my favorite episode of LOST this year. This episode featured many things fans have been longing to see from LOST, the reveal of Jack/Claire's relationship to one another, the inevitable Jin/Sun reunion, as well as a possible end to the saga that is Jack/Kate/Sawyer. The last is clearly speculation, of course, as we hardcore fans know, you never exactly know what to expect from an episode of LOST. Here's a small recap in case anyone is suffering from short term memory loss...

Episode 12 of LOST season 6 'The Last Recruit' begins with the somewhat merging of the two main camps stationed on the island. Though several members of “Team Jacob” including Richard Alpert and Benjamin Linus did not join our Losties in the quest to find a peaceful cohabitation on the island, it did not stop the others from following Hurley into the lions den. Although unsure how “Team Locke” would react to their precense in the camp, each had their own reasons for making the trip. Sun longs to be re-united with her lost love Jin, whom she hasn't seen since his “death” at the end of season 4. Jack chose to side with Hurley, who was so much against Richard's plan of destroying the plane, he himself blew up the Black Rock and so with it the dynamite supply, rendering Richard powerless for the time. The initial conversation between Jack and faux Locke signified what most fans had figured for some time, every person our castaways have seen on the island from day one has been the black smoke. From Jack's father, Christian, to the so called Locke we see before us each episode, everyone.

One thing that stands this episode apart from many of the others, is it's lack of focus. Not so much in the island storyline, but in our flash sideways. Everyone gets a fair shot at a storyline in this alternate realm, making the flashes as interesting as the island story itself, which sometimes is a hard thing to do for LOST. As we see of the castaways interacting with one another, the seams of this alternate world begin to unravel. As Sun recognizes Locke and Kate is arrested by Sawyer, everyone seems to be herded almost by the our mate, Desmond. Though I know this world appears to be false, I almost wonder why he is trying so hard to get rid of it. It's as though no ending for this show can be happy. To erase what's happened on the island, they force an alternate time line into being, yet once it's created, they are all eagerly fighting to destroy it. How can these characters get a happy ending when all they do is wish for something different, something better. Do they even deserve a happy ending? We have murderers, con men, self-destructive alcoholics, all wanting a higher purpose for their existence. Is this island merely penance for their choices? Or is it redemption?

The next revelation series creators Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams throw at us is another fact we as an audience have known for quite some time, but have always wanted our characters to see and that is the relationship between Claire and Jack. Though in the beginning they were merely strangers, two people whose paths may have never crossed had it not been for the crash, their lives are now intertwined in the biggest of ways.

Of course as soon as our camps come together, they once again strategize to break free from the man in black. Though the newly formed group includes our original losties, two significant members were left out of the huddle, Sayid and Claire. These two, once kind souls, well as kind as an iraqi military officer can be, have both now been over taken by the darkness of the island. Claire with her Rousseau like demeanor and Sayid now resurrected into what we believe to be a soul less shell. This episode makes several pleas against that fact. Not only is Sayid following Locke because he helped bring him back from the dead, but also so he can save a past love in the broken mans life. There is some speculation as to who exactly this “lost love” is, Sayid has formed quite a trail of bodies in his quest for romance. The flash sideways seems to want you to believe it's Nadia, a recurring character we have seen interact with him from the first set of flashbacks. I believe, however, Shannon is the one he wants to be with. This could be just wishful thinking on my part, but there is too much evidence to support the choice of Nadia, and if there is one thing LOST producers are not, that is blatant. Shannon and Sayid's relationship was short-lived, but one of the strongest created on the island in all six seasons. Again, two strangers who, if met outside the island, would have taken two glances at each other and written them off as your typical stereo types. On the island, it's a different world, full of possibility and life, where the most diverse people could fall in love. Hence the love of Shannon and Sayid, though it came to a tragic end, I'm hoping for this small window of light at the end of the dark, spiralling tunnel Sayid is headed down. The question remains unanswered, albeit unsure if even noteworthy, as we are lead to believe Desmond was left alive in the well, which was against Lockes only stipulation to bring her back.

Now broken from the camp, our group of castaways are sailing for refuge with Widmore. The resolve Sawyer has to get himself and his group off the island shows more gusto than Jack has shown since arriving back on the island. His unwillingness to bend to Jack's theory of being candidates for Jacob shows how much he despises the hardships this island has brought on him. Sawyer doesn't care who wants him on the island, in his mind it has taken so much, why should he care about it's plan? This sequence of Jack abandoning these people he has protected from day one speaks to both their characters. Jack steps up to do what he believes is right, no matter how misguided, but Sawyer fights tooth and nail until the end. I believe this is why Sawyer will be the final candidate. He's strong, manipulative, and caring in an off-beat sort of way, all traits you would need to be the next Jacob. Jack is the easy answer, has been in every situation from the moment we began this journey, but again the writers are anything but predictable. So we will see how the journey unfolds, but you read it here first, I place all my chips on Sawyer being Jacob 2.0, or maybe 1,000,000,002, who knows! Also, could this be the end of the Jack/Kate/Sawyer triangle? We see Kate choosing to stay with Sawyer, yet she still seems torn as Jack leaps from the boat. I don't know who she will pick or if they will even survive, one of LOST's many unyielding questions.

The final moment this episode brings to light is the reuniting of Jin and Sun. Some wondered if these two lost souls would ever make it back to each other and it was nice to see them finally hold one another again, if only briefly.

The performances from this episode were spot on, most notably from Henry Ian Cusick and Evangeline Lilly. One of the biggest reasons this show remained grounded and people came back week to week were for the character stories. Of course we all love the mythology, trying to figure out what the hell is actually going on, but without solid, relatable characters, it's all for nothing. The two best scenes of the episode weren't shocking reveals or big action sequences, but two emotionally charged moments between beloved characters. The first scene comes as Sayid is sent to kill Desmond in the well. Desmond's speech of how Sayid would explain what he did to bring “her” back makes him feel again. Could he really tell the woman he claimed to love that he murdered a man in cold blood to bring her back? What would she think of him? Would she want to be with him? Or would she be disgusted at the thought?

So what will you tell her?” “What do you mean?” “This woman, when she asks you what you did to be with her again. What will you tell her?”

Albeit extremely powerful, the best moment of the episode was delivered between Kate and Claire. Claire, still angry at Kate for raising her child is furious to find the group leaving Locke. Kate touchingly convinces her to join them, to go home, and get her child back. Evangeline Lilly is incredible in this scene, showing so much growth since season one.

Come with us Claire.” “John promised me.” “No! I'm promising you... I was there when he was born and I never should have raised him. It should have been you. I came back to get you, so you could be with him again. That's the only reason I came back to the island, Claire. So, please come with us. Let's go home”

This scene worked on so many levels, as there was almost a strain to her voice. These people are tired of fighting, tired of running, all they want is to go home. To live and be happy, which I don't think either world, sideways or island, will bring them. That's why I love this show, I've stuck with it through it's best and worst moments, because at it's core, LOST had beautifully flawed characters we could all find a bit of ourselves in. We just want to see them happy, safe and you feel all that emotion in this one 30 second scene. Kudos to the writers for creating such amazing work.

There are questions still left unanswered, even new questions brought to light with each coming episode. But I'm with them until the end. This show has created more than it's share of incredible moments. I have such bittersweet feelings towards it being the end, I am happy to see the conclusion of one of the greatest mysteries of all time, but I am also sad to see the journey for these brilliantly diverse characters coming to an end. Here's hoping for a happy one guys.

Rating: A+

Written by: Justin Marchant