Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Um, Hey There!

It's been a while, hasn't it? Things have been crazy for me, and I've been slacky on my posting. I'm going to at least try to get a couple of posts in a week, now that things are slowing down a little.
Since today is Wednesday, I'm going to continue with my last Deadpool post and talk about Chapter 2 of Daredevil/Deadpool Annual '97.

If you don't remember where we last left off, Deadpool & Daredevil had teamed up to hunt down Typhoid Mary, each with their own reasons. Daredevil wanted to bring her in and get her the help she needed, and Deadpool wanted to find her because she owed him money. In the last page of the book, after they had briefly separated to find her, Daredevil came to 'Pool's rescue after Mary stabbed him. And that brings us to Chapter 2.

This section opens with Deadpool & Daredevil monitoring the Viper Club. Turns out that Mary is gunning for the mob, and they've all holed up inside together, which brings us to one of the best moments I've seen today: a Tick reference from Deadpool:

(Isn't that awesome?)

The story then cuts to a restaurant in the Village where the two sidekicks, Foggy Nelson & Weasel, are pigging out on pizza. Weasel starts asking Foggy whether Daredevil makes him clean his weapons or hack into CIA computers, but it turns out that Foggy and old Horn Head just hang out together. No forced labor here; they're just buds. That depresses Weasel, and he asks if Daredevil could use another pal. Poor guy. . .

Back to the boys. DD & DP crash in through the skylight and begin to take on all the gangsters there. DD finds his senses overwhelmed by the sheer number of people, and old Wade starts to shoot all the baddies, but Daredevil stops him and tells him not to kill anyone. Of course, Wade doesn't like that and whines about it a bit, but saves Daredevil's life in the meanwhile.

Upstairs, the mob bosses are relishing in the mayhem below via a wall of televisions. However, their entertainment is to be short lived. Mary shows up to enact her vendetta against them.

Back downstairs, the boys have taken care of the mob and are taking part in a little witty banter.

Daredevil rushes upstairs to deal with Mary, but she has anticipated him and hits him hard by yelling, "Hello, baby!" into a microphone. The amplification from the club's huge speakers take down Daredevil & overwhelm his senses, leaving him open for Mary's attack. She manages to get in quite a few hits before Daredevil begins rallying, but just as he's planning a punch to take her down, Deadpool grabs his fist and prevents him from following through.

We get another break from the drama by cutting back to Foggy & Weasel. This page is just too cute not to share, so here it is:
And we switch focus once more. Deadpool knocks Daredevil down with a hard fist to the jaw, and then poses with Mary in what shouldn't be one of the hottest comic panels I've ever seen, but it is:

Mary takes Deadpool's advice to heart and starts wailing in on Daredevil, but amidst all her attacks, she reveals a bit of vital backstory. It seems that when Deadpool knocked her out of a window in a past meeting, the fall released a concealed memory of Mary's, a memory involving Daredevil:
She tries to blame her splitting into multiple personalities on Daredevil, but Matt just won't take it. He's lived with massive guilt all these years, thinking he killed the girl he accidentally knocked out of the window, and now he's released of that. He tells Mary that he refuses to accept responsibility for the person she became, and she tries to skewer him with her kitana in response.

They battle back and forth with Daredevil lecturing her all the while (and while I understand where he's coming from, I really kind of think he's being a bit heavy handed in his approach):
Deadpool scoops Mary up in his arms and tells Daredevil that this his goal all the while, to get the two of them together, to make Mary confront her demons head-on to cause a breakthrough. Daredevil tells Deadpool that he's not about to let him walk out with her, and Wade replies with one of the most heartbreaking speeches I've ever seen in his book:
Daredevil has a little bit of soul searching while he stands on the roof, watching the police & ambulances deal with the mess in the club. He feels that he's finally found some peace since he now knows that he's not a killer.

And it wouldn't be a Deadpool book if it didn't end with a little levity. Foggy wakes up the next morning to find that Weasel has skedaddled, leaving only a note on the TV which says that he had a great time and that Foggy's poker tab is paid in full. Foggy can't figure out what he lost until he notices that Deuce, his dog (and former guide dog for Matt), is missing.

Cut to Deadpool recapping events for Blind Al. All in all, he thinks his little escapade with Typhoid Mary was a good thing, that he made a little progress with her, and he decides that the "quasi-heroic stuff isn't an exact science, you know. . . but it's a good thing." (cue the awwws from the peanut gallery). Al wants to know where the present Wade promised her is, and he hands it over:
It was nice to revisit this book. I don't remember caring for it much when I got it when it first came out, but I enjoyed it much more this time. And an interesting little tidbit is the title of the issue, "Whomsoever Fights Monsters. . .". It's a nice little variation on the classic quote, "Those who fight monsters should take care that in the process, they do not become monsters." I really think that quote kind of sums up Wade at this point in his life. He's trying hard to do a little good, and he's not afraid to go into that dark abyss, but he's standing on the tip of the sword. One little push could send him either way. As much as I love the jocular Deadpool, I do wish we'd get a little more of the conflicted Deadpool we see in this issue. What can I say? I dig the angst.

I'm not sure if my next post will be tomorrow or a couple of days from now, but I'm thinking of something to cover. I might do a post that dips a little bit into the mind of Alan Moore, something that touches on the wickedest, trippiest and grossest scenes from League of Extraordinary Gentlemen & Lost Girls. We'll see. That will definitely be a post eventually, though.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Nearness of You

Sorry, no clever use of quotes for today's post, just the title of today's topic. Today, I want to talk about one of the most brilliant issues of a comic ever, Astro City 1/2, "The Nearness of You." This was given away as a freebie with Wizard Magazine back in 1996 or 1997 (I can't remember which year for certain), and it was written by Kurt Busiek. It is hands down one of the most elegant books I've ever read, and I'm going to show you a little bit of that.

First off, this book deals with the subject of retcons. For those not familiar with the term, a retcon means "retroactive continuity"; that is, a change in a comic's storyline that affects events that have already happened. One of the most argued retcons in recent memory would be the Spider-Man storyline, "One More Day," wherein a deal was made with Mephisto (Marvel's resident devil) to erase Peter Parker & Mary Jane's marriage in order to save the life of Peter's Aunt May. These retcons can be big or small, and sometimes, the littlest ones can have a greater impact than expected, as we'll see in this story.

When the story opens, we see a man named Michael dreaming about a beautiful woman. He knows everything about her, but yet he knows that he never met her.
His "memories" and daydreams of her start impacting his life: his boss threatens to fire him because he messes up, a date gets angry with him for seeming so distant. He starts wondering if he's going insane because he just cannot get this mystery woman out of his mind.

He calls all his family and friends to see if they remember her, but not a one of them does. Fed up with his inability to sleep, he starts taking sleeping pills; unfortunately, they don't help him for very long.

One night, he starts to take extra sleeping pills, just so he can forget her, when he has an unexpected visitor: the Hanged Man. The Hanged Man is the guardian of Shadow Hill and is closely related to all supernatural events in the city. He shows Michael a series of events from Astro City's past.

A villain called Time-Keeper tried to rob a bank in 1943 but was foiled by superheroes. In his rage, Time-Keeper created a device that allowed him to alter the time stream; Eterneon, Lord of Time, tries to stop him, but to no avail. Time-Keeper starts altering time, but it gets out of his control and time starts to fragment and people and even Astro City start disappearing. Michael doesn't see every aspect of this event and of the battle that raged to heal the time stream; he does see that the heroes managed to save the day.

Through the Hanged Man's visions of the past, Michael comes to realize that his mystery woman was a real person who died in the time maelstrom. Hanged Man tells him that she was his wife and that the reconstruction of the time line was not exact. Through the reconstruction, her grandparents wound up never meeting because a hero and his villains fought on a Sunday instead of a Monday. One little change caused her to never be born. He tells Michael that it's beyond his powers to bring her back, but that he can make it so Michael doesn't remember her any more.

Like I said, this is hands down one of the most beautiful and moving stories of any comic I have ever read. The imagery of the mystery woman is so compelling, and Michael's choice not to forget her breaks my heart every time. If you can find it, I completely endorse getting it, as I do all of the main Astro City title (not so much Dark Age, but it's still a good read). I'm about to start a reread of Astro City, so you'll be seeing more of it here.

And that's it for today. I apologize for the short post, but I'm under the weather. Hopefully, there will be more in tomorrow's post.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Power to the people! Right on. Dig it."

Ah, Deadpool. Is there anything you can't make funny? Yep, today's title comes from the Merc with a Mouth, and it's from today's book, Daredevil/Deadpool Annual '97, written by Joe Kelly with art by Bernard Chang & Jon Holdredge. Since this book is broken up into two chapters, I'm going to cover each chapter in a separate post, so here we go with Chapter 1.

Rather than try to sum up the backstory of Deadpool, Daredevil & Typhoid Mary, I'm just going to post the ever-so-helpful "Previously In. . ." page.

So, the book opens with three levels of panels. The top level is Deadpool and Blind Al, the middle layer is a bunch of underworld leaders, and the bottom panel is a doctor at an insane asylum. Through the three sections, we learn that Typhoid Mary has broken out of the insane asylum and that two of her personalities have been healed, leaving only the crazy Mary one. Daredevil comes to the asylum looking for information on her as he's trying to bring her back to the asylum. The underworld bosses are laughing about her escape and her recent kills until they realize, hey, they could be next on her list! And, so that leaves us with the 'pool panels. Blind Al is trying to talk him out of going after Mary, but he doesn't listen. He does leave Al with a little present before he goes.

The next couple of pages are Daredevil reminiscing about Mary while he investigates her latest kills, her psych and his staff. From there, we cut into one of the funniest Deadpool scenes ever:

And we cut perspectives yet again. This time, we get a page of Typhoid Mary in all her insane glory. She's working on the judge who put her into the insane asylum while pontificating on madness and destiny before she finally kills him at the end of the scene.

The next day, a strangely loud and overbearing (and familiarly wisecracking) delivery boy is attempting to deliver a bundle of balloons to Foggy Nelson, Matt Murdock's (the alter-ego of Daredevil) law partner. He makes a huge fuss, even elbows a security guard in the gut, until finally Foggy appears.

(I love how his little smiley face buttons change.)

During all the hullabaloo, Matt finally shows up, and his heightened senses immediately tells him something's not right. The delivery boy, dragging Foggy behind him, passes by Matt, and via his abilities, he sees it's Deadpool using a holographic projector to change his image. Deadpool leaps out of a window with Foggy, but he uses a rope to reach the top of the building. He was expecting his buddy Weasel to be waiting for him, but he gets a little surprise instead in the form of Daredevil.

Daredevil warns Wade that Mary is a very dangerous woman, which he does realize, but he also tells DD that she wasn't born that way, that she was manufactured into the monster she is and that the monsters have to stick together. Daredevil decides to allow Deadpool to follow him as he captures Mary, but he warns DP not to interfere when they find her.

Meanwhile, the two sidekicks (Foggy & Weasel) make an accord and decide to go out and get some food while they wait for the guys to finish.

Back to the guys.

Deadpool goes searching for Mary up in the arboretum (calling out to her like Pepe Le Pew), and it soon proves to be a big mistake. Mary quickly finds him and holds him at sword-point.

Downstairs, Daredevil finds the dead body of the judge, and his inner warnings go off when he hears water running from a tap. Mary turned it on to help obscure her discussion with and advances on Deadpool (and boy does she ever make advances!). Wade tries to resist and argues with Mary. Turns out he let her out to take out Daredevil, but he does not like how she's been killing civilians along the say. She promises not to take out any more civilians, but she leaves Wade with "a little something to help you remember your lines. . ."

*dramatic musical sting* Gasp! What will happen now? Will Wade manage to heal his wound? Will Mary live to kill again? Will Daredevil get the stick out of his ass and stop being so damn depressing? Tune in next week for Part 2!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Being a hero is about the shortest lived profession on earth.

Today's title comes from the great Will Rogers, and it's a fitting summation of the comic we're going to go through, Superman: Kal. This Elseworlds book came out in 1995 and was written by Dave Gibbons (yes, the same Dave Gibbons who did the art for Watchmen) with art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.

As you know if you've been following my blog, I have a lot of affinity for the Elseworld books, and this one (with the possible exception of the pirate Batman story I shared on Talk Like a Pirate Day) is my favorite. My poor copy is so worn from all the rereads it has had over the years. I've never been a huge Superman fan, but I love this one because it kind of gives us the better parts of Superman (his origin, the powers) without the not-so-good parts (the Boy Scout, the overwhelming patriotism). So, here we go!

The story is told as a flashback from one character to another after the day's work is done & they are waiting for dinner to finish cooking; we won't find out who these people are until the end. The story opens with a dynamic page showing how Kal came to be on Earth:

Like in our time, the ship lands in a farmer's field except that it lands in medieval England where it's found by John and his wife (alas, poor Martha doesn't get a name in this book). They take the baby in, though John has great reservations. He feels it's all too much like witchcraft, and he buries the ship in his field so no one will find it and burn him at the stake for it.

The couple soon see that the child is not quite of this world as he never gets the common ailments and his skin remains unmarked by pox; not only that, but he's incredibly strong. Still fearful of a fiery death, John tells the boy to hide his powers.

Kal reaches his teenage years with little troubles until one particular Michaelmas Eve when Oll the blacksmith and his son, Jamie (this world's Jimmy Olson), come for their yearly call to shoe John's horse.

The two boys go out into the fields to play when they run into a big problem: the bull has escaped and runs straight for them. Kal uses his vast strength to send the bull up into the tree they're standing by. Oll had been discussing with John taking on Kal as an apprentice, and this clenches it for him. Oddly, Oll finds nothing strange in a young boy being able to put a bull into a tree; he just sees a strong lad who can help with his forge. John protests losing Kal as a farmhand, but Oll promises to make it worth his while and to allow Kal to stay through Yuletide so that the farm can be put into shape.

And so, young Kal comes to live with Oll and his family in the castle town of Lexford. He quickly gets introduced to Baron Luthor's way of ruling when his guards literally (and drunkenly) bump into Kal as he tries to unload wood from the wagon.
But aside from that, Kal soon finds life in Lextown to be pretty pleasant. He fits in well with Oll's family, and his strength is put into good use at the forge. Oh, and the ladies of Lextown find him rather attractive.

The next summer, an emmisary from Baron Luthor decrees that a tournament and joust will be held at Midsummer's Fair in honor of Lady Loisse's sixteenth birthday. Jamie tells Kal that Loisse is the daughter of their murdered protector, Lord Layne, and is being held captive by Luthor. The girls of town and Jamie urge Kal to enter the contests of strength, but he is apprehensive, remembering how his father told him to hide his abilities.

Midsummer comes, and so does Cupid: Kal immediately falls in love with Loisse at first sight. And we finally see Lord Luthor. His guards try to get the crowd to give him three cheers, but they refuse, and he responds, "The rabble don't have to like me. . . they just have to fear me." Oooh. . . We see that Loisse cannot stand Luthor but that he wishes to marry her now that she's of age (you'd think something like that wouldn't matter to a villain like him).

So, the tournement begins. Luthor's men win every event (the only knights in the realm are actually squires; Luthor had all of Lord Layne's men murdered when he took over). Kal and friends enjoy watching the matches, but one little announcement that Lady Loisse will give a prize to the winner of the feats of strength drives Kal forward into the fray.

He easily wins every match, earning Luthor's ire and the crowd's adoration. Luthor sends in Ulf, one of his best men, to wrestle Kal with the orders to stop him. Ulf reveals a hidden spike in his wristband that is poisoned with snake venom and drives it into Kal's chest, but the spike just turns when it hits his flesh, and Kal bests Ulf, winning the tournament. The audience starts to chant Kal's name as he approaches Lady Loisse for his prize (a satchel of money tied with her ribbon), and she seems to fall in love with him, tool. Luthor gets pissed off at the mooney eyes they're making at each other, and Kal seems to grow ill at his approach. Perhaps it's the strange green stone Luthor wears around his neck. Luthor takes the moment of weakness to kick Kal back to the crowd, and Oll and family take Kal back home.

He finds new interest in life post-meeting Loisse. He doesn't even keep his prize money; he splits it between John & Oll and only keeps her ribbon for himself. Life goes on as normal until he receives a message from one of Loisse's ladies to meet him in the woods. This is one of my favorite little scenes, largely because of the art. I've never seen Lois in any universe looking more beautiful than she does here, and I love the little variation on the trope of Superman & Lois flying together.

Meanwhile, Luthor and his men run into a little something unexpected on their hunt: the dogs find the ship that brought Kal to Earth. He orders his men to fetch him the farmer that owns the land, and they bring forth John and Luthor begins questioning him.
John tells Luthor that the craft fell from the sky, and, of course, Luthor doesn't really believe him, but one of his men points out that the gem Luthor wears around his neck fell from the sky, too. The men marvel over how hard the metal is, and John's wife manages to save the day by mentioning that her son works as a blacksmith and they could make Luthor a suit of armor from the metal. Luthor orders John to clean the object up and have it ready for them to collect at dawn.

The next morning, Luthor and his men bring the object to Oll's blacksmith shop and order him to make a suit of armor from it.
Oll has no luck in even putting a scratch on the ship. Kal recovers from his weakness and attempts to break apart the metal. Oll and Jamie have to get the forge blazing hot for Kal to work on it, but the heat doesn't seem to affect him; in fact, heat almost seems to come out of his eyes, and the metal begins to bend under his hammer.

After a number of days, Oll and his young apprentice appear before Luthor with the suit of armor, and Luthor immediately orders the suit to be placed upon him. Once armored up, he orders one of his guards to strike him, but his sword shatters upon impact.

He then tosses Kal an ax and orders him to take a turn at attacking him, but the weakness has hit Kal once more. Loisse pleads on his behalf, telling Luthor that Oll & Kal deserve rewards, not blows. Luthor tells Oll to name his price, but Oll demurs, insisting that Kal did all the work, so Luthor asks him what he wishes. He replies that the only thing he desires is the hand of Loisse in marriage. Luthor rages, but Loisse rushes forward and accepts. Since this all happened in front of the court, Luthor cannot go back on his word, so the pair are married.

The celebrations are bright and cheerful. John and his wife rejoice at their son's fortune, Jamie parties with a couple of young ladies, and Oll and his wife dance, his wife telling him to be happy for Kal (Oll's a little depressed that he lost a great apprentice). However, the celebrations are brief: at midnight, the bells toll and Luthor appears on the scene.

Luthor invokes the droit de seigneur, the right that a manor lord has to take any new bride to his bed on her wedding night. Kal tries to protect Loisse, but the gemstone affects him once more, and Luthor sweeps Loisse onto his horse and heads back to his castle.

The next scene is one of the most heartbreaking I've ever seen in any book. Luthor tries to force himself on Loisse, insisting that all her protestations hide the love she feels for him, but she tries to fight him off, bloodying his face in the process. That goes too far for him, and he replies in kind. Just a heads up that these panels are rough and triggering but also very powerful, which is why I'm sharing them.

Back at Oll's home, Kal has begun to come out of his stupor, and his first thought is for Loisse. Just as he begins to rise to go searching for her, the door is kicked in by a group of Luthor's men. They have come to arrest Kal. He fights back, asking repeatedly where Loisse is. Alas, he soon receives his answer, but not from them. One of her ladies-in-waiting has arrived to tell Kal of Loisse's murder. We get one little cliched panel:

And so Kal begins a one-man war against Luthor. Well, not completely one-manned as the villagers have had enough and join in to revolt against Luthor. His men try to hold the castle, but Kal makes easy work of the drawbridge and portcullis. He no longer holds back his inhuman strength.

The men feel that their fighting against witchcraft, and some of them flee, but a group of those who remain pour down a pot of molten lead onto Kal. Other than burning off his clothing, it has no effect on him, and he flies up into Luthor's tower.

The few remaining guards scatter at this sight, and Luthor is left alone to deal with Kal. Kal initially gets the upper hand, but the strange stone around Luthor's neck begins to impact him, and Luthor quickly realizes that. He dives at Kal, driving the stone into his chest, but Kal's sword manages to penetrate Luthor's impenetrable armor.

And so we see that the narrator has been Jamie. He wraps up the story by telling us that Kal wasn't dead when they reached him, but his wound was mortal. He survived long enough for one of Loisse's ladies-in-waiting to tell him that they had recovered her body and buried it in Lake Lexford properly. His final request was to be buried aside of her in the lake, and so they buried him in the strange armor there.

In the final pages, we see that the story has been told to a young boy. He asks what happened to the sword, and Jamie tells him that Kal put it somewhere safe, in the hopes that it might serve someone else in need one day. Jamie tells the lad to finish his dinner:
When I reread this today, I was actually a little surprised by the final pages because when I saw the boy, I was expecting the boy to be Arthur. Gibbons nicely subverted that trope with his use of Merlin instead.

Okay, gotta take care of a little business here before we go: you've noticed I've not been real regular with my posting, and I apologize for that. Things have been a little crazy and stressful for me in real life, and I was finding myself getting stressed out by feeling I had to make a post every day here, and that's not what this blog is for. I'm still going to try and make a post every day (at least Mon-Fri), but I may not stick to the planned schedule. For instance, it's kind of limiting having Wednesday be Deadpool day. I mean, you know I love that crazy man, but being honest, there's not a ton of Deadpool material out there, and I haven't read all of it that is there.

So, I may deviate from the Mutant Monday, Wacky Wade Wednesday & Fables Friday set up in order to bring you a post every day. I'll still try to bring you something from those areas at least once a month, but you're going to see a little more variety here, hopefully. I'd like to do a little Bone soon, some Astro City, maybe even (if I feel daring enough) a smidgeon of Lost Girls. Hopefully, this will expose you guys to some books you haven't heard of and shine a little light on some lost gems.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"I'm a doctor, dammit, not the head of security!"

Today's title comes from the book I'm going to cover today, 1996's Star Trek/X-Men. This book came out as part of Star Trek's 30th anniversary, and it was written by Scott Lobdell with art by Marc Silvestri (it had about half a dozen inkers, so I'm not gonna list them all out). I remember loving this book when it came out, so I can't wait to get this reread on and see if it's as good as I remember (or at least as fun).

We open on the bridge of the Enterprise with Kirk, Spock & McCoy discussing a space anomaly the Enterprise has encountered. Kirk's Captain Log tells us that they are at Delta Vega, a planet the Enterprise has been to before, a place that brought a lot of pain to Kirk. This happened in the Star Trek episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before," the series second pilot, when the Enterprise was called to Delta Vega and Kirk's best friend, Gary Mitchell, was transformed into a god-like being.

The Enterprise continues monitoring the anomaly when Uhura isolates a signal emanating from the anomaly. It's a distress signal, but she can't translate it, and neither can the Universal Translator. Suddenly, an odd-looking spaceship emerges from the anomaly. Kirk tries to have Scotty get the ship in their tractor beam, but before Scotty can act, the ship gets destroyed in the anomaly's wake.

Spock informs Kirk that the Enterprise's sensors had been able to scan the other ship before it exploded. There were seven near-human life forms on board, but before Kirk can fully digest whatever "near-human" means, a gigantic ship uncloaks right in front of the Enterprise and fires a projectile at them. The projectile stops 100 kilometers from the Enterprise, and the crew is surprised to see it's a being, and not just any being: it's Gladiator from the Shi'ar Imperial Guard.

He warns the Enterprise that he has claimed the planet for the Shi'ar Empire (of course, Kirk marvels how he's able to talk in space), and as a parting warning, Gladiator punches the ship. Yes, you read that right. He punches the Enterprise, damaging the shields.

We then get to see that someone has been spying on the Enterprise crew via the ducts: Wolverine. Yep, those seven life forms on that ship that exploded are the X-Men, and they managed to teleport off. Unfortunately, they were aiming for Deathbird's ship (Deathbird is the sister of Shi'ar Empress Lilandra) & ended up on the Enterprise by accident.

Beast soon figures out that somehow, the X-Men got transported into the future when they got sent through the spatial anomaly. However, they can't deal with that mystery at the moment. Gambit was injured during the teleportation, and the team needs to find the medical center of the ship. Jean uses her telepathic powers to try and find a way off of the ship so they can escape without being detected, but Spock senses her somehow, and he leaves the bridge to check up on his hunch.

Meanwhile, Storm & Beast manage to get Gambit to sickbay (via those ever-so-useful air ducts) where they run into Dr. McCoy. Dr McCoy, meet Dr. McCoy. This is one of the niftiest little scenes in the book, and one of my favorites.

Back with the rest of the team, they're headed through the ship, trying to reach the shuttlebay. Their plan is to steal a shuttle craft & take it down to the problem, but they run in to a little problem in the form of Spock. Wolverine being Wolverine, he attempts to attack Spock, but Spock brings him down promptly with a Vulcan nerve pinch. Doesn't work, though. Wolvie's healing factor brings him right back, and he pops his claws while demanding Spock take them to his leader.

The action now cuts to Deathbird speaking with Gladiator & her vizier. We learn that she has brought the ship to the anomaly because she believes that the energy emanating from it could allow her to conquer the universe. Gladiator tells her that their sensors have found a humanoid life form on the planet (which is supposed to be lifeless), and she makes plans to go down and visit it.

We now get our first glimpse of Delta Vega. Somehow, the planet is being transformed; the source of this transformation is Proteus, long-time X-Men villain. He has combined his essence with that of Gary Mitchell (Kirk's dead friend), and their two immense powers have been combined.

Back aboard the Enterprise, the two teams are having a meeting in the ready room when Chekhov informs them that the rift is expanding again. Kirk tells Spock to get a landing party ready to head down to the planet and see what's going on down there. The rest of the teams depart, leaving Kirk alone with Jean Grey.

Of course, Kirk being Kirk, he tries to hit on Jean, but she quickly puts him in his place.

The two teams beam down to the planet where they find what appears to be a Scottish village. Little Proteus has been a busy villain! And he takes no time at all to show himself. Proteus/Gary have joined forces with Deathbird and the Imperial Guard. She's promised him that she'll take him along on her ship so he's free to conquer the universe as he desires. He reveals that Proteus was searching for a body to contain his essence, one that wouldn't burn out because of his powers, and he was attracted to the psionic rift. He found Gary, and when they bonded, they found that they could control the rift & affect changes to reality.

Now here is where things really start getting cracky. Spock, who remained on the ship with the Drs. McCoy, informs Kirk that the rift is expanding erratically. Bishop tells Kirk that his mutant ability enables him to rechannel vast amounts of energy, so Kirk has him beamed back aboard the Enterprise to help out.

Beast & Spock are putting their vast intellects together to solve the issue.

Back on the planet, Proteus/Gary betrays Deathbird, and the heroes attempt to attack him, even though they know it's not going to do any good. Kirk asks Jean to use her psy powers so he can talk to Gary. Gary is very, very angry at Kirk still because Kirk killed him when his powers threatened to overtake them all. Kirk tries to reason with him, to explain that he acted out of justified fear. Jean seems to reach Gary by telling him that he still has humanity in him and he knows what he has to do.

The fight is continuing, but Proteus is pretty much thrashing them. Spock contacts the landing party and tells them that they're going to attempt to destroy the rift (resulting in a cold-blooded Vulcan comment from Bones). Gary in Proteus starts to protest as they begin their siphoning of the energy rift, and Jean, Cyclops & Kirk plead with him.
Bishop, riding on the ship's nacelle barrel, refocuses the rift's energy through the phaser banks & fires it back into the rift, causing it to contract upon itself. Of course, they never explain how Bishop, a human (he may be a mutant, but he's still human) can breath in space, but let's leave that aside, shall we?
With everything a success, it's just time now to clean up. There's nothing left of Gary, and we get a "He's dead, Jim" from Bones as a result. The Imperial Guard almost starts to attack, but Cyclops uses his authority from Lilandra to commandeer their craft. Deathbird immediately surrenders, but as she says, "only because there is nothing left for us here."

The X-Men give the Enterprise crew a hurried goodbye (they have to leave before the rift completely closes). Cyclops tells Kirk that seeing his crew has given him hope for the future (awwww), and Kirk returns the favor by telling Cyc that the sacrifices people like the X-Men have made is why they've made it this far as a race (double awwwww). The X-Men depart on the Shi'ar ship, and things go back to normal for the Enterprise. Bones & Spock go back to their regular bickering, which Kirk cuts off. The issue ends with Kirk telling Sulu to bring the ship out of orbit "to the future, Mr. Sulu. To the future."

All in all, it's still a good read. Memory had kind of made it a little better than the reread proved it to be, and it wasn't quite as funny as I had remembered it, either. Still, it's a fun book, and if you can find it for cheap, I'd recommend it just for the sheer crack.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Hey there. I know you're probably tired of me giving you these little update posts with no real posts, but I have to beg your indulgence for one more day. I had hoped to get my Toy Story/Underrated Disney post up today, but I'm not feeling well today, but it WILL be up tomorrow. I've got it about half-way finished, so tomorrow, I hope you enjoy it. I'm going to try to get this puppy back on the rails after that and, hopefully, there will be no more big delays in posting. Again, I'm really sorry.

"You are a sad, strange little man, and you have my pity."

Today's title comes from Buzz Lightyear in the first Toy Story movie. I apologize for being tardy with this post, but here it is! In this post, I'm going to give my thoughts on the Toy Story 3D Double Feature, and then I'm going to give my Top 5 Underrated Disney Animated Films.

Toy Story 3D Double Feature

In 1995, Pixar Animation Studios came out with their first feature film, Toy Story, and it was a game-changing film. This was the first fully computer animated feature film release, shepherding in Pixar as a major player in the animated film arena.

I've always considered to be Toy Story 2 to be the superior film (and I still think it is, if maybe by a slighter margin), but what surprised me on this viewing was how well the original Toy Story stood up and how much it made me laugh. Oh, and there was a big surprise for me in the opening credits: I never realized Joss Whedon worked on the screenplay of this film! I'd love to know where he lent his hand; I have a feeling he came up with some of the lines I love so much, like the one in my title.

What you're probably wondering is how is the 3D? Overall, it's nice. It doesn't get mind bending until the second film; in the first film, the 3-D is mainly used like it was in Up, a tool accentuate the setting. It's not a 3-D experience like you would get in Muppet Vision 3-D at Disney World, where things are popping off the screen at you.

Now, the shining moment of the 3-D came in the opening of Toy Story 2. I was really anticipating this scene for a couple of reasons: 1) It's one of my favorite scenes ever and 2) I had a feeling it would really pop with the 3-D, and boy did it ever! The stars that appear just look so lush and deep; you feel like you're going to fall into them, the title sequences explode in, and, finally, Buzz Lightyear zooms in, and you follow him through his little adventure of breaking into Zurg's castle. It's a stellar moment (no pun intended), and I'd almost say that it's worth the price of admission for this scene alone.

One thing that I liked about this viewing was that I noticed a few things that I hadn't noticed before. If you remember the outtakes for Toy Story 2, there's one with Flik & Heimlich from A Bug's Life talking about how excited they are to be making another film, and then Buzz chops off the branch they're on, sending them flying. Pay attention to that scene in the actual film, when Buzz is chopping a path through the brush, and you'll actually see Heimlich! That tickled me so much.

And, finally, just a little impression of the overall experience. Disney did a good job packaging the whole thing. It felt at times like I was at Disney World with the way there was a pre-show and intermission themed to the movies. It was a wonderful little touch, and I would definitely recommend going to this while you still can if you enjoyed either of the Toy Story films. At the moment, it will be playing in theaters for another week and a half (I'm not sure if Disney might extend the run if it's a success).

My Top 5 Underrated Animated Disney Films

So, although I haven't gone too much into it yet on this blog, if you know me from Twitter or Livejournal, you probably know that I'm a big Disney fan. I grew up watching all of the films my parents could get their hands on (our poor copy of Mary Poppins on disc got so much play!), and I unashamedly still love to watch their films.

There are some films that seem to be universally loved by all (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty), but there are a lot of them that either get overlooked or are just plain bashed for one reason or another. Now, I won't say that I love every single Disney film out there because it's not true, but I can usually find something of merit in their films. And so, I'm going to give you my underrated films and the reasons why I love them, and hopefully, you'll seek them out and give them a try. Again, these are in no particular numerical order; they're just however they popped into my mind. By the way, I apologize for my poor abilities to discuss the art-side of the films. I'm not trained as an artist in any way, but I can recognize unique art-styles and techniques when I see them. I hope I'm able to explain my view of them clearly enough. Please let me know if I'm way off in my interpretations, though!

5) Robin Hood (1973)
This one may be a little tainted by the memories of childhood, but I still think there is a lot of good to be found in this film. Robin Hood is a retelling of the classic tale using anthropomorphic animals for the characters (as you can see in the poster above).

Now, this one gets much maligned because it was one of the films pushed out after Walt's death, and it also features a lot of recycled animation (for example there was a dance sequence used that was traced from Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, and another dance sequence between Robin & Maid Marian was lifted from The Aristocats), but its strength lies in the voice work.

Granted, some of the voice work is a little bit jarring (a Sheriff of Nottingham with a deep-Southern accent?); however, I feel that the work of Brian Bedford as Robin and especially Peter Ustinov as Prince John elevate the film. Honestly, I've still never quite felt so much interest in a Robin as in this Robin Hood (no, I'm not a furry); the scene where he confesses his love for Marian after he's been captured at the archery contest still makes my heart clench a bit.

And Ustinov's PJ. . . he's still one of my all-time favorite Disney villains, and he never fails to make me laugh. He's so delightfully over the top (watch him freak out any of the times Robin steals from him or elude him, not to mention his thumb sucking and crying out for his Mommy), but he also has a deep edge of menace to him. Ustinov successfully melds the two sides of Prince John to make a memorable animated villain.

Oh, and no discussion of this film could be complete without mentioning the film's soundtrack by country/folksinger Roger Miller. If you were around in the earlier days of the internet, say 1997, you're probably more familiar with him than you may like: his Whistle Stop song from Robin Hood was used as the music for the Hamster Dance video.

The rest of the songs, thankfully, were a bit less head-smashing inducing (and, of course, that song was sped up for the video; the song itself was only used in the opening credits of the film). I still get an insane amount of pleasure from "The Phoney King of England," "Love" still makes me a little misty, and if you can sit through "Not In Nottingham" without feeling some sort of emotion for the characters and their struggles, well, my friend, you have no heart.

All in all, don't go into this looking for a masterpiece, but if you go in looking for some adventure and some laughs, I think you'll have a good time.

4) The Three Caballeros (1944)

This one has a soft-spot for me because it was one of my dad's favorite Disney films; in fact, we bought him a copy on our only trip to Disney World, and I remember watching it with him when we got home.

It's one of the Disney package films, a series of vignettes strung together by a loose story. The story in this one is that it's Donald Duck's birthday, and he receives a bunch of gifts from his friends in Latin America. Two of those friends, Jose Carioca & Panchito, come to visit him, and they take him on a trip through their homelands.

This film (and the film prior, Saludos Amigos) were commissioned by the US State Department as part of a goodwill mission with South America. The government feared the ties that some of the South American countries had with the Nazis, and so Disney was brought in to act as an ambassador.

Much of the film feels a bit like an exercise in experimentation as there is a lot of variation in the animation styles throughout the film. It's also one of the first films to blend live-action and animation, the first Disney film to do that being Saludos Amigos, and some of the techniques the studios learned here were put to use later in Song of the South.

Some of the segments are a tad forgettable, but there are a few that stand out for me, ones that I love to revisit time and again. The biggest one is the segment involving the Aracuan bird. The Aracuan is this wacky little bird that just runs around singing his song, popping in and out of the screen in highly mischievous and creative ways, and he has a tendency to annoy Donald.

Another of my favorites is The Flying Gauchito. This adorable little story is about a little boy from Uruguay and his adventures with a flying donkey he finds. He tries to use the donkey to win a racing contest, but it doesn't exactly work out for the best. One of the things I love the most about this story is how the narrator (who is the little boy as an adult) interacts with the story, like when he instructs the boy to cut the rope binding the donkey's wings at one point. It's a great little animated tale.

And no discussion of this film would be complete without talking about the title song. It's manic, psychedelic and unexpected. It's so unlike anything Disney was doing in the 1940s. It's a highly sing-a-longable song, and I never fail to laugh at the predicaments Donald goes through in this scene (like when his fellow Caballeros can make a guitar appear out of thin air, and he can only make every other musical instrument except a guitar appear).

3) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)Ah, one of the most contentious ones on my list! This one garnered a lot of wrath because the book got "Disneyfied" in its translation to film. I'm going to confess that I haven't gotten around to reading the original book yet, but that aside, I feel that this is an excellent film for many reasons.

First and foremost is Tom Hulce's (best known for playing Mozart in Amadeus) nuanced and touching portrayal of Quasimodo. He makes him an intelligent young man who is searching for who he really is and what he wants out of life, and you truly feel for him in his scenes with Frollo & Esmerelda. I think one of the best examples of this can be found in the Sanctuary scene. He takes you through an entire journey of emotion in just a couple of short minutes, and it always leaves me teary.

On the other side, we have the brilliant Tony Jay as Quasimodo's "master," Judge Claude Frollo.
Jay was one of those actors where you know his voice, but you probably didn't know his name. He did a metric ton of voice work over the years; some of his better known roles are Monsieur D'Arque (the man who ran the insane asylum) in Beauty & the Beast, Chairface Chippendale on The Tick, and Megabyte on ReBoot.

In HOND, he created one of the most memorable Disney villains ever. His Frollo is a supposed man of God, but he mentally torments poor Quasimodo by keeping him imprisoned in the bell tower and by treating him as a child. Not only that, but he openly lusts after Esmerelda, even while he strives to kill her and her Gypsy people. He's truly terrifying as he quotes the Bible while wielding a sword over the heads of Quasimodo and Esmerelda.

Also superb in this movie is the animation (although parts of it haven't held up so well) and the music. The downside of the animation can be seen in the crowd scenes; it was one of the first films to widely use computer animation, but, sadly, it hasn't held up so well. At the time of release, it was pretty astonishing to see such large crowds (like during "Topsy Turvy" or the Sanctuary scene) and to know that each one was moving independent of the rest, but you can pretty easily see that they only had a handful of models that they used multiple, multiple times.

Other than that, though, the animation is beautiful. One only needs to see the Sanctuary scene for that or Quasimodo's song "Out There." They used a lot of fantastic, cinematic camera work in those scenes, great pans of the city as a whole that swoop down to focus on a character. I always find it rather awe-inspiring. Oh, and I cannot forget to mention the opening segment, "The Bells of Notre Dame." It's one of those scenes I don't get tired of. The song is the character Clopin telling about how Frollo came to be the one to raise Quasimodo, and it constantly cuts between him in the present and the tale he's telling. One of the most brilliant moments is the line, "Stop! cried the Archdeacon." The animation cuts from the Archdeacon with a flash to Clopin, and it's just kind of an arresting moment (you can see this at about 3:48):

And the music. It doesn't matter how many times I watch this film, the opening bell-tolling with the Latin chanting just gives me goosebumps every single time. I do admit that I'm not terribly fond of the song "Topsy Turvy," but "God Help the Outcasts" is hauntingly beautiful, and "The Court of Miracles" is just a delight, so wicked and fun. Overall, it's just a great film that deserves more credit than it gets.

2) Hercules (1997)

The last two films on this list have a lot of common although they are completely different genres. We'll start with the broad comedy, Hercules.

As you can tell by the title, this is a retelling of the classic Greek myth of Hercules (yes, I do know that Hercules is the Roman name for Heracles, but Disney does insist in the movie and in the later TV show that he was Greek, so we're going with that). We have musical narration provided by the Muses (featuring some of the best Broadway voices ever, like Lillias White & La Chanze), we have a sympathetic hero in the form of Herc, but the one thing most people remember about this film is his villain, Hades, Lord of the Underworld, perfectly brought to life by James Woods.

Woods' performance was incredible. Watching Hades is so much like watching Woods himself, and I remember reading back when the film came out that the animators had a lot of trouble animating Hades because Woods so often gave his line deliveries so fast. Nevertheless, he creates a manic, outrageous and memorable villain, a great foil for the "Wonder Boy," Hercules.

One reason I like this film so much is the art direction. It was a completely unique take for Disney, an area they hadn't gone before. I love how the character design is reminiscent of the old Greek and Roman, and the colors they used were amazing. I also love watching Hades and Phil because they look so much like their voice actors (James Woods & Danny DeVito respectively).

But the big reason I love this film is Susan Egan's performance as Megara. Egan, for those not familiar with her, originated the role of Belle in Disney's Beauty & the Beast on Broadway. She has one of the most beautiful voices I've ever heard, and she puts it to good work in her showstopper, "I Won't Say." She also shows a brilliant mastery of comic timing with her line deliveries, and she gave us something not really seen before: a strong Disney female.

Yes, we had had a few of them before then (the prime one being Belle), but no Disney female before or possibly since could stand up to Meg in my book. She's a woman who knows what she wants out of life, and she'll do just about anything to get it. When she tells Hercules, "I'm a big tough girl.", you believe her. She's independent, and she doesn't need Hercules to make her life whole. Actually, when she thinks she might be falling in love with her, she doesn't want it, and when we reach the end of the film, you see it's actually Herc who needs Meg. She's just a great character, and she completely makes the film for me.

1) Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Another unique path for Disney. This one was their first sci-fi animated film (and, sadly, pretty much the last, unless you count Treasure Planet, which was a mix of sci-fi & historical styles), and I think it gets a bum rap far too often. It's not a perfect film by any means, but I was so happy to see Disney try something daring and new. It's a shame that audiences didn't take to it so well.

The film follows a linguist (voiced by Michael J. Fox) who finds a book in his grandfather's belongings which seems to be a guide for finding the lost city of Atlantis. He, with the help of one of his grandfather's old friends, puts together a ragtag group of adventurers to seek out Atlantis, but things begin to go a little topsy-turvy.

One of the strongest elements of this film is the design, which came from comic artist Mike Mignola (best known for his Hellboy series). Every character has a striking and unique design, and there is such an angularity to the architecture in Atlantis. You can definitely see Mignola's influence everywhere.

The other strong point to this movie, the one that brings me back to it time and again, are the characters. Disney took what could have just been a melange of cliches, but they made it into something fun and unexpected. The team that Milo hires is comprised of a people of various races and backgrounds. You've got a French guy, an Italian man, a young Hispanic girl from the Bronx, and an African American man. You might think on first glance that you've just got a win for Politically Correct Bingo, but you'd be wrong. They put a nice spin on each of the characters. Audrey, for example, is the team's mechanic, even though she's just a teenager (and her sister is a champion boxer). Sweet, the doctor, is half-African American, half-Native American. Mole, the Frenchman, is just disturbing. Really, you have to see him. He's a just a creepy little guy who loves to dig.

And Vinnie. . I love Vinnie. I think he's probably my favorite character in the film, other than Milo. He's voiced by Don Novello, best known for his character Father Guido Sarducci, and he's just hilarious. Everything he says is so dry, and he's probably the one character who's the least like he seems he should be. He's the munitions expert with a passion for blowing stuff up, but his ultimate dream in life is to own a little flower shop. He's just great.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this little exploration of the underrated side of Disney. I had fun putting it together, even if it took me longer than I expected. I'd love to hear your thoughts on either Disney films in general or my list in specific, so feel free to leave me a comment.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Happy Saturday, all. Just a head's up that there won't be a real new post today. I was out of the house much of the day at Toy Story 1 & 2 in 3D (more about that tomorrow), and I'm fighting with a bug again. Tomorrow, I'll try to get two posts to you, but I will definitely have a post about the Toy Story double feature and my Top 5 Underrated Disney Animated Films. Sorry about the lack of postage, but I hope you enjoy tomorrow's post(s).

Friday, October 2, 2009

"I'm a trickster by nature, but I'm not violent."

Hey, happy Friday! Today's title comes from Jack, and he's one of the central stars in today's issue of Fables, number 2, The (Un)Usual Suspects. We'll be picking up right where we left off earlier, so if you've just started following (*wave*), go back through the tags & read that post before coming back here.

This issue opens on The Woodland, the City Hall of Fabletown. We get a little glimpse of Snow White entering the building before the story shifts to what Willingham calls "the Woodland's smallest studio apartment," the home of Bigby Wolf.

Bigby has an unexpected and unwanted guest, one of the three little pigs, who shouldn't even be in Fabletown as all animal Fables are supposed to be up on the Farm. Bigby and the pig have a little battle of words which gives you a lot of their history and enmity in a short, short time. Bigby kind of gets the last word, however.

From there, we get to see how much of a cad Prince Charming really is. Really, I can't describe this well enough, so here's that page.

Snow White & Bigby have a conversation in the Woodland's garden about the search for Rose Red and her attacker. He reveals that he doesn't really think Jack is the perp, but he does believe Jack is guilty of some other crimes, and this gives him the perfect opportunity to hold him.

Bigby runs down the list of current suspects with Snow. He doesn't think Jack did it, he doesn't think it was one of the mundys Rose liked to hang out with (a mundy is normal people, non-Fables), and, surprisingly, Snow is one of his suspects. She and Rose had been estranged for a number of years. That's all the info we get from him for now as to why he's got Snow on his list.

Next is a lovely little scene where we get properly introduced to Cinderella and Bluebeard. He's teaching her how to fence, and we quickly see that this is not the Cinderella we got from Disney. For starters, she's got a rather filthy mouth, and she can defend herself pretty readily.

Snow has a little dinner date with her ex, Prince Charming, and he hasn't come just out of the kindness of his heart. He wants Snow to help him auction his title and lands on an internet auction site. He's broke, and he figures this is the perfect time of the year to try and auction it all off because the Rememberence Day celebrations are approaching (Rememberence Day is a Fable holiday where they remember the last ship that escaped the Adversary and those who stayed behind to ensure its safe escape). Snow tells Charming that she won't help him because he had an affair with Rose, and she says that he belongs on the list of suspects.

Next, we get to see Bigby in his element as he interrogates Jack. Snow is present for this interrogation as she wants to be right where the information is on her sister's disapperance. These pages are largely exposition, setting up some plot points to come. We learn that Rose & Jack had been involved for the past four years, but not continuously. They had a big old public fight a year prior, and after that, Rose got involved with Bluebeard. Jack says that she only dated Bluebeard to make him jealous and that he should be the one Bigby is questioning, and Bigby says that they will get around to Bluebeard.

Bigby confronts Jack about some of his previous schemes to make money (like using the seven league boots to win the Boston Marathon), and Jack gets highly defensive and starts calling Bigby names. Snow tearfully interrupts the pair.

Snow asks Jack if he's stashed Rose's body somewhere, which he promises he didn't. Bigby says that he's going to keep Jack in his current jail cell while he searches his apartment, and before they leave, Rose asks Jack if there is anyone he can think of who would want to hurt Rose.

Next up, Snow & Bigby travel to question Bluebeard. He thinks that they are there to collect his annual donation he gives to the Fabletown government, but Bigby just jumps right into the thick of it. He tosses the crimescene photos onto Bluebeard's desk and asks him point-blank why he killed Rose. I'm going to just share the rest of this investigation scene because it's too incredible to try to describe.

Well, that's a lot of info to end with! If Jack didn't hurt Rose & Bluebeard didn't hurt Rose, then who did?

I'm not 100% sure if I'll have a post for you tomorrow, but, hey, I made it Monday-Friday with a blog post every day! That's got to count for something, doesn't it?