Black Knight #1 (2015): Comic Review

Picture it– A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Weirdworld

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Weirdworld …

It would be interesting to compare and contrast this issue with the recent Weirdworld series from Secret Wars. It’s not just that both take place in this (relatively) new location to the Marvel Universe, but they both feature a sword-and-sorcery vibe, with a sword-slinging hero out of his element who is full of world-weary frustration. So why can you be so taken with Weirdworld, while Black Knight leaves you cold?   

For one, this series isn’t content with allowing just one or two elements to round out its narrative. There’s already two strong elements — Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, is stuck in Weirdworld for one, and for two, well, it’s Weridworld. But that’s not enough for this book. More and more things start piling up. There’s tension in the Knight’s ranks, he’s ruler of New Avalon, there’s a major mysterious enemy in the Fangs of the Serpent, the ghost of his ancestor is haunting him, he’s probably-but-maybe-not already succumbed to the curse of the Ebony Blade, and, oh yeah, the Uncanny Avengers are showing up. With all of these things happening, it’s difficult to tell which is meant to catch readers up on exposition, which is meant to be developing into our story’s central conflict, and how any of it is meant to work together.

For example, the Black Knight and a team of scouts he employs find Yet Another Weirdness— a German U-Boat atop a giant cliff, with more mystery inside. But that’s only for a couple of pages, since everyone returns to New Avalon with nary a mention at all about the submarine. I can accept random world-building strangeness like fire-breathing trolls attacking the Knight, but that’s all in context of the flow of a fight scene meant to be the action that leads into our story. Setting up the discovery of a submarine feels like it’s meant to be a dramatic narrative moment, and it’s abandoned as quickly as it’s introduced.

There are some nice choices with the art, which handles some montage of flashback, fight scenes, landscapes of wonder, and moments of reflection. There’s a darkness and heavyness to the figures and landscapes, as if shapes are defined by shadow and not simply by outline. There are times when the faces, in particular, are a bit too roughtly hewn, maybe, like when Dane Whitman’s face slightly shifts off-model, even within the same page or two. It’s pretty impressive, though, in range and with the sheer number of elements that are demanded. Another thing that’s so simple but I appreciate so much? The fact that everyone actually uses their right hand when using his weapons. That looks like I’m prejudiced against lefties, but really I’m just saying that the simple detail of right-handedness is usually guaranteed to be overlooked by artists.

The colors are well-rendered, of course, although perhaps a bit too dark to help the eye navigate at times. For example, even on the first splash page with the Black Knight and some Serpent guy in the middle of the battle, there is a sameness to the values across the page, and a subtle difference to the main characters, whereas a more dramatic spotlight could help highlight the central action. In terms sequential art, though, it’s great. Care is taken to illustrate panel-by-panel, and various scene shifts and flashbacks flow together thanks to the color design.

I do think that the Black Knight makes for a great character in this kind of story. He’s a man of science and technology (he made his own lightsaber at one point) and of specatuclarly bad decisions about his love life. Neither of these aspects of his character is touched upon, though, and instead the introduction we’re given is about how he’s just a normal guy thrust into a life of legacy, Avenger’s membership, and New Avalon. Oh yeah, and the curse of the Blade, of course. (“Of curse?”)

So, it guess it’s all just another “more is more” kind of storytelling, with too many elements competing for narrative attention, even though they are all necessary to build this new world. The result is that the stakes are not clearly defined, and the relative importance of things are confused. I like the Weirdworld setting, but I don’t feel properly introduced to it, and the setting itself isn’t allowed to come the fore with so many other things to consider. As a character study for the Black Knight, it’s fairly strong, and perhaps we’ll get to see some opportunities for more aspects to be explored. Otherwise, as of now, it’s just a pretty typical, but nicely drawn, lost-in-a-strange-world kind of story.

Black Knight #1: 
Writer: Frank Tieri; Ariist: Luca Pizzari; Color Artist: Antonio Fabela; Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino 

This review was originally published for weeklycomicbookreview.com. Be sure to check in there for the world’s best comic book reviews!  

Buy your comics at Comixology.com or use Comicshoplocator.com to find a local shop near you!

Marvel Flipside

Welcome to the FlipSide!

In what could only be described as a grand experiment, a personal hobby of drawing and writing became an nearly three-year weekly project. From 2006 – 2009, I drew and PhotoShopped a “faux-cover” and wrote a “ficlet” featuring characters from Marvel Comics that were inversions of the hero/villain dichotomy.

In other words, I took all of Marvel’s villains and made them heroes, and all of Marvel’s heroes and made them villains. One issue at a time, starting with Marvel’s first, the Fantastic Four #1–  er, 4-Victory, #1, I mean.

I haven’t really done anything with them since then, but as I write this, Marvel is currently publishing an event that ties together nearly all the books in their publishing line-up, in which– yes, you guessed it– the heroes and villains are “inverted.” It’s called “Axis.” DC has done it, too, of course, most recently with their “Forever Evil” event, featuring Earth-3 and the Crime Syndicate, which are “flipped” versions of the Justice League. (That did have its roots in comics from previous decades, to be fair.)

What better opportunity to dust off all my old stuff, re-package them in a new blog layout for anyone to enjoy (or re-enjoy)?

So… here you go. Enjoy.


The four “families” of titles include:

4-Victory

Ani4Victory

The World’s Greatest Science Heroes, banding together to fight for justice, for life, for VICTORY!

Witness the rise of Mr. Victorious, the love between Fantasti-Girl and the Mole Man, and, of course, the wondrous wingless Wizard! Jump in here to explore the cornerstone of the FlipSide universe.

Green Goblin & the Gremlin

AniGreenGobGrem

How far would you go to protect your city and your only son? Norman Osborn has taken on the urban legend of the Green Goblin as a force for good, but his driven passion may threaten to turn his son into a version of himself. Can Harry grown into his own man while also keeping the city safe from the likes of the Kingpin of Crime and Spider-Man?

AvengersAniAvengers

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are quite the celebrities! From Ricky Jones’ Emerald Heights penthouse or the Avengers Lodge, no crisis is too large, no cast is too large, for our celebrity heroes to save the day! Mythology, science, and time-crossed heroes collide to provide high-octane and high-stakes action!

The Brotherhood

AniBrotherhood

There’s a secret sub-group of humanity whose only means of survival is to keep hidden among the throngs of everyday people. The Brotherhood tells the story of a secret society of mutants determined to unite the disparate underground and to keep the world safe from the evil Mutant X and his X-Men!


FULL MENU OF PREVIOUS FANFICTION:

4-Victory     ~     Green Goblin & the Gremlin     ~     Avengers
     The Brotherhood     ~     FlipSide Marvel Presents
FlipSide: The End     ~     FlipSide Handbook

Movie Review– X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

 

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) Directed byBryan Singer, Produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker; Screenplay by Simon Kinberg; Story by Simon Kinberg Matthew Vaughn Jane Goldman Based onDays of Future Past  by Chris Claremont John Byrne

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) Directed by Bryan Singer, Produced by
Lauren Shuler Donner, Bryan Singer, Simon Kinberg, Hutch Parker;
Screenplay by Simon Kinberg; Story by Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman;
Based on Days of Future Past by Chris Claremont and John Byrne

Good news! If you liked X-Men: First Class, then you will really like X-Men: Days of Future Past.

The same things that a lot of people love about X:FC show up again in X:DoFP. For example, having the movie largely a period piece, in 1973, rather than the present day or some vague “not too distant future.” For another, having the focus on a core group of conflicted characters, namely Xavier/the Professor (James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart) and Erik/Magneto (Michael Fassbender and Ian McKellen) and Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence).

In fact, I appreciate the last one the most, as it creates a very personal drama that is balanced by a very epic scale. The setting ranges from both past and future, and all over the globe – Russia, China, New York, Paris, Washington DC. The stakes are quite high, too – nothing less than the destruction of life on earth, after all, and the conflict of human/mutant is not left to some abstract reference; we actually get to see this very-real conflict in a framing device as Sentinel robots battle older-Professor and older-Magneto and other familiar X-Men.

And what a battle it is. There is a creative use of powers, here, as characters use their powers in genuine teamwork for the most effective moves. Watch for Blink’s (Fan Bingbing) portals to play around with physics, a visualization of power that is more effective on film than on a comic’s page. And I never knew I was so excited to see Warpath on the big screen, here played by Booboo Stewart, along with Storm, Iceman, Sunspot, the Professor, Magneto, Colossus, and Wolverine. The oppressive and hopeless tone is exaggerated here. Heck, their final stand takes place inside a tomb! But thematically, they hold their own because of their teamwork, best expressed with Bishop (Omar Sy) who can absorb and redirect others’ energies, and, of course, Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) whose out-of-phase powers can also send others’ spirits back in time.

If you are hoping to see more of these characters, however, you will be disappointed. Because the key to their teamwork is in the past, when there wasn’t a team at all. So Wolverine gets sent back in time (his spirit is sent into his past-self’s body) in order to make sure younger-Xavier and younger-Magneto can play well together and stop Mystique from making a big mistake.

Let me just say BEFORE THE SPOILERS that it’s a good thing you’re smiling so much at the look and casting and costuming and sets and CGI/animation and everything. Because these smiles are enough to distract you from squinting a bit at the plot. Don’t look to too hard, or annoying things like QUESTIONS will come to your mind.

SPOILERS! Now in Question Form!

So… in the future, why do the X-Men try to send someone’s spirit back AT THAT POINT? Surely they would have had this conversation prior to their, uhm, Really-The-Last-Stand-This-Time. They’ve been using Kitty Pryde’s power for a while, right? so maybe I missed the point where suddenly it seemed like a good idea to use it THIS way.

Also, WHY does Magneto say they need his past-self when clearly they don’t “need” him since they reach Mystique in the moments she first tries to shoot Trask? I suppose past-Xavier needs him since he won’t know where Mystique is, but older-Magneto wouldn’t have known that, right?

Are we REALLY supposed to expect that Mystique has NEVER killed anyone prior to her confrontation with Trask? That’s a LOT of action for her to have seen to have “never” killed anyone.

Why is Trask in some random meeting with the President’s cabinet to be “glad he asked that question” about the Sentinels? Isn’t he just a businessman?

How many days was Wolverine in the past, and why doesn’t it take the same amount of “time” in the future?

And, of course, it’s best not to think about the whole time travel thing anyway, as it leads to questions like: how does Old-Wolverine return to his body which will become New-Wolverine the moment the timeline is “fixed” into it’s new version of history? It’s a neat idea, like your time travel is all a dream and doesn’t become “real” until the moment you wake up, but there are some philosophical implications to physics and identity and paradox which I guess you just have to accept in a superhero movie.

And which I guess pretty sums up the answers to any of my questions above, which is: “just because, OK?!”

Kind of like the answer to why Wolverine doesn’t “lose it” every time he doesn’t “think calm thoughts.” There’s only one time when it would be dramatically important for him to do, and so that’s when he does, despite clearly many other opportunities to do so. The film takes these moments as it needs them to keep the plot and characterization flowing. It’s quite impressive that it gives the audience an important emotional or expositional beat just at the right time, so thank you screenwriter Simon Kinberg and director Bryan Singer, although it’s not glowing praise as I’d appreciate a bit more logic to the flow as well.

News Flash! Professor X Is a Jerk! (But Gets Better)

Clearly, this film is really all about Professor X/Charles Xavier, as played by McAvoy. Despite this film’s billing as an ensemble cast filled “with the most X-Men characters ev-ah!!”, it really all comes down to Xavier’s heroic journey. His is the character arc that starts him off in the lowest place for him to be: crippled emotionally but not physically, a man who once helped mutants is now one who has no mutant powers. He must receive help from his fairy godmother, here played by Wolverine, and must go on a series of quests to return him to his rightful place.

To be clear, yes, this means that Wolverine is actually more of supporting character in terms of plot, despite his placement on a movie poster. The guy has good lines, helps move the plot forward, and is recognizable/ marketable, but in fact he doesn’t have any sincere motivation, character growth, or internal struggle. He does what he needs to do so the plot can advance, which again is pretty much like all those “Just Because” things I talked about.

Thematically, it’s interesting that Xavier’s turning point is in a big speech about how “good” pain and suffering is. Turns out, it has something to do with hope, or at least that what he says out loud, but I think the film overall makes a better case that it’s about teamwork. Magneto “loses” for example, because he breaks from the group to take matters into his own hands. Mystique “wins” because she joins Xavier’s side, if only for that moment.

And both antagonists have a warped idea on what teamwork/community really is. Magneto’s ideas is more about blindly lashing out, uniting as a force for war and vengeance, the best defense a good offense. Trask’s ideas is about how humans will need to come together with mutants as their enemies so each side will make the other strong. Or something. His big villain speech was one of those “oh cool! … oh wait” don’t-squint-too-hard-or-it-won’t-look-right kind of moments.

BUT WAIT! There’s More!

Usually, movies like these have some pretty definitive endings– namely, the antagonists die. In this case, however, Magneto flies away after his battle is lost, and it’s more of a philosophical battle, to boot. Trask, also, is spared– obviously, of course, or since that’s pretty much the nature of the quest in the first place. Certainly, that can only mean one thing– sequels!

In a very intriguing move, the nature of this time-travel story means that any sequel we get next, however, will be pretty much a brand-new movie. If you didn’t like any of the previous movies in this X-Men film series by 20th Century Fox, then don’t worry. All of that has been erased, for all intents and purposes. Even that woman who Wolverine was so angsty about in over four films spanning nearly 15 years is back– Jean Grey, with a cameo by her original actor, Famke Janssen.

I’ve Run Out of Room…

and maybe you didn’t get this far anyway. I didn’t get to talk about the acting in general (very good,) the effects (ranging from good to OK), and the score (also good.) I didn’t get to talk about Quicksilver stealing the show (which I found fun) and becoming an audience favorite, judging from the theater I saw it in. I didn’t get to talk about the somewhat “choppy” feel of the film (which I didn’t like), as if each sequence of the film felt like it’s own mini-movie or series of related vignettes. But overall, I enjoyed the film and it’s balance between the epic scale and personal struggles. I think it’s even better than its predecessor, X-Men: First Class, which I rank among the X-Franchise’s best.

On the scale of Yes to No, I recommend X-M:DoFP with a hearty “Heck Yeah!”


By Danny Wall

 

The Hellcatmobile

Batman, you got nothin’ on this slick ride…

from Defenders #63 (Marvel Comics, 1978) by David Kraft and Sal Buscema

from Defenders #63 (Marvel Comics, 1978) by David Kraft and Sal Buscema

Then it’ll be back to the Hellcatcave for Hellcatcookies and milk!

To recap:

Hellcat wants everyone to “boogie on into the Big Apple, lickety split!”

Havok holds on for dear “life.”

Black Goliath gets on board while still 15′ tall.

And there’s no room for Cap’n Ultra, who’s probably calling out “hey, guys? Come on, wait up! Guys?!”

By the way, they’re off to fight Batroc the Leaper, Sagittarius, the Blob, Plantman, the Beetle, Porcupine, Electro, Meteor Man, and Whirlwind from making off with big bags of gems from the Diamond District. It all started with the Defenders making a TV documentary and spurring the heroes of Hellcat’s carpool to come together, but also hordes of villains to swarm the streets.

See what reality TV does for you?

 

Design Challenge – Captain Marvel’s Sidekick

Every Captain Marvel needs a sidekick!

Every Captain Marvel needs a sidekick!

A long time ago, I joined an art contest modeled after Project Runway, but this time with superheroes!

Here was my entry for the challenge to take a current superhero and give him/her a sidekick. The result was Binary Mary!

As you may remember, Captain Marvel was once known as Ms. Marvel and even at one point had the code-name Binary. I took that moniker for inspiration, along with the idea that another Captain Marvel had a sidekick named Mary, and ended up with Binary Mary.

I probably would go with a different design if I had to re-do it now, but I still love the color combo!

 

 

Movie Review- The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014): What’s Bad

蜘蛛人惊奇再起 2: 电光之战

What’s Bad

What I love most about superhero movies is the visceral way that imagination is made “solid.” It’s why most people prefer movies in general over books or something– to see and hear and sometimes even FEEL every blast of superhero power, every explosion, the crunch of fists into concrete (or villains’ faces) is experienced on a different level.

If that’s your test, then this movie does rise to that challenge and even succeeds, as I said in my previous post on “What’s Good.” So I would recommend the film purely in terms of summer blockbuster moviegoing experiences. If you feel that narrative structure and clear development of main characters are important, then this film won’t be for you, however. I can certainly sympathize with your decision and won’t fault you if you want to skip it entirely.

Spoiler Alert: Orange

There are no plot holes, necessarily, but neither is the plot logic very strong. In other words, there’s no reason that character’s decisions MUST necessarily follow from their choices, and the result is that these characters are strange to us. This is happens not only with our leads but it’s even moreso a problem for the villains, who seem to exist in a weird, B-plot alternate reality that somehow finds its way into the main storyline at a couple of points. Also, while I’m indeed a fan of non-linear storytelling, having Peter and Gwen be together, then break up, then be together, then break up, then be together, is really an example of that. The through-line of the narrative is just a mess, with the exception of the very final decision at the end of the film– Spoiler alert! Peter Parker chooses to be Spider-Man. In this case, to be fair, it felt like an appropriate decision of the character and did help to establish a theme for our story.

Other parts to the story seem like they were meant to be as purposeful as that, but like jokes that fail to “land,” they ultimately feel completely arbitrary. Harry is meant to be Peter’s friend, but also one that they hadn’t seen for over ten years, so why should Peter suddenly go check on him? Harry’s dad was meant to be behind all the horrors of OsCorp, so why not have him the victim of a medical condition turning him into a Goblin creature, conveniently explaining that to his son so that he can turn into an evil Spider-Man villain, too. And I’m not sure if we are meant to think Harry is smart for figuring out Spidey’s secret identity, or if it’s just a hand-wavey shortcut to get to the final sequence.

I’m not sure about the logic behind having Parker’s parents shown in this story, either. The very first sequence of the film is spent in flashback as Peter is left behind with his parents so they can escape some OsCorp evil henchmen who are after their research, and they even get an action scene! Then, in a weird kind of C-plot, Peter occasionally glances at the reminder of his parents, his dad’s leather man-bag, and grows increasingly angsty about it, maybe even crazed, until he uncovers the clues to lead him to a hidden lair that contains a mysterious lab for some reason, one completely operational and with a message already downloaded and ready to go from 15 years ago/our initial flashback. You’d be hard-pressed to really connect this to any part of the overall story– maybe it helps explain something going on in Harry’s story, and maybe it helps thematically for Peter to “keep calm and carry on,” but isn’t that when Gwen’s supposed to be doing? This is just a weak addition to an already flawed story structure.

It’s too bad that I have to spend all this time before coming to who is supposed to be the main villain of this film, Electro. The film itself kind of forgets about him, too, which is doubley ironic (meta-irony?) since his main characterization is how he just wants to be recognized. He shows up amid the opening sequence that serves as Spider-Man’s introduction/reestablishment of character, abilities, setting, etc., and has a couple of cut scenes in that jumbled, zig-zag plot pattern I already talked about. Great care is made to give this character a lot of pathos, and Foxx does his best to really emote a genuine connection with the audience, so it’s kind of tragic, maybe even oversimplifyingly so, that he degenerates into a more cliche villain and finally into simply being a force of nature by the end of his appearance. Once again, there appears to be some purpose for hammering his origin and its emotional resonance so hard, but in the end the audience would really have to stretch to make a thematic connection to Spider-Man’s own journey.

Overall, the filmmakers seemed very interested in how to set things up, and they also seemed really interested in how the film ended. But in-between, everything is too muddled and disjointed to really say it’s an overall “good” story. Let’s hope all the “What’s Good” I talked about in the previous post is enough to satisfying movie-goers.

In fact, I can report that the audience I saw it with, in Taiwan, felt most of the important story beats, and I’m pretty sure that they were all unaware of the Gwen Stacy story from the comics, judging from their reactions. That scene came off surprisingly well, from the performance to the camera to the music. I even heard some sniffles.

I’m not sure the theme came through, however. My friend told me he didn’t like the movie because of what happened in that scene. I tried to explain the great tragedy of being Spider-Man, but he wasn’t convinced.

I guess he wanted something a little bit more typically Hollywood in the ending.

Move Review – The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014): What’s Good

Amazing Spider-Man in Taiwan

In Taiwan, the film is titled 蜘蛛人惊奇再起 2: 电光之战 (literally: The Amazing Spider-Man Returns: Electric Battle)

What’s Good

Spoiler Alert: Yellow

First and foremost, as a superhero action movie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 delivers. It’s a fun audio-visual party with is mix of action, effects, sound, and creative use of space. There are four or five key action sequences (depending on if you count the last one as two separate sequences) and when Spidey is involved, there’s a good mix of quick action and imaginative use of his powers.

Although I did not see the film in 3D, it’s obvious that this sensibility was used by director Mark Webb (no pun surely intended.) The world of Spider-Man naturally lends itself to this, as the character swoops among the buildings, using the z-axis almost as much as the x and y. This is what makes the action exciting, too, as the production (largely headed by Sony Pictures Imageworks) can take advantage of characters in animation in a 3D space, resulting in genuinely exciting action that you won’t see in any other kind of movie. As one example, the film shows us Spider-Man’s use of his spider-sense when the Electro’s powers threaten a crowd of fleeing bystanders; “time” slows to a standstill and the camera weaves in and out of the people and up and down some stairs before returning to Spider-Man and playing out the scene. In the most significant scene, the climax taking place in the long neck of a clock tower, the 3D I’m sure adds to the depth of field and thus heightens the tension and so serves an important storytelling moment. Of course, there are more examples of the egregious kind, like an electric eel flying out to the audience, which just serves the “jump atcha” factor and little else.

I usually don’t notice music or soundtrack during a show, and it’s probably an overlooked but critical part of any filmmaking. It’s a kind of unconscious praise when the soundtrack/sound editing is good, because it’s not meant to draw attention to it. I’ve been trying to train myself to be more conscious of it, and I remember remarking to myself that the music and sounds are nice. There’s nice, swelling, epic music appropriate for superhero film, and a kind of motif for specific characters, and there’s even appropriately catchy, upbeat music for various motages.

The designs overall are quite nice, too, with visuals for Electro and the Green Goblin that are genuinely creepy and cinematic. The Rhino’s costume/body armor does so, too, but takes it a bit too far, and loses the sense of being a comicbook movie. (That said, if you are waiting around to see a giant throw-down between him and Spidey, you’ll be disappointed. That conflict is barely more than a “montage clip.”) However, all the other design choices a passable, at best. Peter Parker in his civilian outfits are “normal” to the point of being indistinct, as is Gwen Stacy, who is the only one dressing for work at OsCorp like it’s Casual Friday everyday. And, while Harry Osborn is offered a bit more style and thus makes a clear contrast when he shares screentime with Peter, it doesn’t serve the story purpose when they are visually disconnected when they try to verbally connect.

Well, as you can see, my review is starting to devolve into only mixed praise. In the next post, “What’s Bad”, I’ll jump right in with all the negatives. Because, frankly, the actual story of the movie is a bit of a mess.