Archive for December, 2011


Along with the recent history of great (Star Wars) and not so great (Star Trek) Vault compilations to hit the shelves is the new Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film by Ian Nathan.  I checked this out at the bookstore today and found it to be an impressive collection of photos and a typical sampling of reproduced ephemera from Ridley Scott’s science fiction and horror classic.  Compared to other Vault offerings this one falls in the middle.

The book includes a compilation of previously released information, available in the out of print Book of Alien by Paul Scanlon and Michael Gross, Giger’s Alien by H.R. Giger, and in the additional materials included with the Alien DVD boxed set.  If you haven’t seen those, this will be new to you.  The book is slipcased, and smaller than prior Vaults, which are typically unwieldy in their weight and wide “landscape” style design, so small is good here.  The illustrations are interesting for the Alien fan who has done no prior reading on the subject–behind the scenes views of the set design, particularly of the Nostromo rooms and corridors, could cause you to spend a good deal of time gawking at this book.  It features director Ridley Scott’s annotated storyboards, Polaroids and script excerpts, costume designs, sketches and blueprints of the Nostromo, photos of cast and crew, and images of H.R. Giger’s concept artwork.  The film itself not for the squeamish, expect to find several special effects images of chest bursts, the alien monster itself and plenty of alien goo.

As with each new addition in the Vault series, the Alien version includes its own swag, this time ten inserts, tucked into vellum envelopes.  As with the Star Trek Vault, the inserts are a bit lackluster, mainly in scale, and any time items are folded they lose a bit of any allure they might have had.  The inserts include:

  • storyboard reprints (quad folded)
  • Nostromo blueprints (quad folded) and additional blueprint
  • two small Giger concept artwork prints
  • Nostromo ship sticker
  • copy of annotated script page with continuity Polaroid images on reverse
  • 2 mini marketing posters

The closest book this resembles is the Art of Star Trek, and with that comparison this must be a decent assemblage of behind the scenes data.  With little in print currently available to Alien fans, this book is a long time coming.  Although this book has vastly less material to assemble, it is arranged similarly to the Art of Star Trek and has a broad view of the movie production process, from concept to design to costume creatios and special effects.  At 170 pages and each of those pages full of photos, there is not a lot of content by way of text here, but combined with the boxed Alien DVD set this should give the uber-Alien fan who has yet to delve into “the making of” view of the film something to be happy about.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

   

Review by C.J. Bunce

Spoilers!

Justice League is the biggest enigma of the main DC Comics New 52 storylines, now readying for its fourth issue to be published next week (Dec. 21).  On the one hand the story is a typical “Avengers Assemble” type story—Geoff Johns and Jim Lee are giving us a new origin story of the main characters in the DCU—Batman, Green Lantern, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Aquaman.  It is both incredibly simple—we have a major common foe, the superheroes are being confused by the public as somehow the cause of the problem, and the characters are meeting for the first time, even though they have heard of each other–and requires a good deal of coordination, as each character’s personality must come through with first meetings and first impressions laying the groundwork for months of new stories.

As with his work on Aquaman, reviewed here yesterday, Geoff Johns continues his universe building in a literal sense, and at the micro level his characters’ interactions are funny and entertaining.  What is not obvious to the casual reader is where all this plays into the individual issues of Batman (or the several related Batman titles), Superman (or the related Superman family titles), or Green Lantern (or the several Green Lantern titles), or Flash, Wonder Woman or Aquaman.  With a Green Lantern title focused on Sinestro…from where did Hal Jordan emerge in the new reboot cycle?  The reader is left to ask:  how do these stories tie together?

In Justice League issue #2, Batman and Green Lantern are fending off Superman in Metropolis, who believes a “Pandora’s Box” of sorts that Batman possesses links the two superheroes to the evil plaguing the world via flying, large-toothed aliens, who keep uttering the name Darkseid.  Green Lantern gets the great idea to invite an ally, Barry Gordon aka The Flash, to come and whip around and ultimately wear down Superman.  Barry is a cop, and Barry and Hal know each other’s secret identities.  They finally all calm down enough to discuss what is happening when the Pandora’s Box turns into more of a Trojan Horse, wreaking further havoc by letting into the world even more alien beasties.

In Justice League issue #3, Wonder Woman enters the fold, taken in by the Pentagon in Washington, DC, she wanders out into the street searching for harpies, and instead stumbles upon the wonders of…street vendor ice cream.  (Johns is a quirky fellow).  The same aliens that are attacking Superman and Batman and Company in Metropolis are now attacking DC.  We flash to Metropolis again and Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and the Flash are still under attack.  Then Wonder Woman enters the picture, sword slicing, speaking in a stilted manner like Xena, Warrior Princess (Don’t you think DC needs to license some rights to the other famous Amazon for this new DCU?).  It’s a strange transition.  Did Wonder Woman walk from DC to Metropolis?  How close are these cities?  Maybe I am having too many thoughts here.

They pursue the alien menace to seaside, to Aquaman, coming out of the water. “They were in the water, too,” he says, and we see a creature strikingly like the ones he is fighting in the Aquaman series.  This brings up the obvious question: Are these the same alien beings Aquaman and Mera are pursuing into the oceanic place called The Trench, as told in the Aquaman series?

I’ve no complaints with the story or art in Justice League issues #1-3–Justice League is simply a fun ride, as it has always been (although with the “of America” in the title).  As the cornerstone of the DCU going forward, I do wish there was some continuity explanation in these books, in a way that you don’t have to seek out explanations via interviews with writers and other reviews.  From that we learn the Justice League story is five years in the past, so presumably none of this inter-relates, at least yet.

I did leave a big piece out of my review above of issues #2 and #3.  It’s what I think of as the Will Robinson/Wesley Crusher character—the kid in a major sci-fi franchise that becomes the access point for kids to the adult real world in stories like Justice League—the excuse to explain the techno-babble of what is happening for the viewing audience despite the fact that everyone on-screen should be savvy enough to know what is happening.  Presumably this is a potential narrator, or at least a vantage point for kids, in future stories.  I usually found this role in stories irritating when I was a kid.  For whatever reason, as a storytelling device, writers still employ this.  That said, in the context of the traditionally kid focused comic book medium, it may at least be an appropriate place for it.

In Detroit there is a kid named Victor Stone.  He’s a football player.  A teenager.  His father is a doctor doing super-human research at S.T.A.R. Labs in Detroit.  In the study of the Pandora’s Box mentioned above, Victor is nearly killed in an explosion.  Panicking (or quick thinking?) Dr. Stone takes all of the nano-technology currently within his reach, even if untested, and applies it to his son, to create a new character to be fleshed out in future issues… this is the beginning, the origin story of the character seen in past DCU stories called Cyborg.

Of course, even with a Will Robinson/Wesley Crusher-role of the DCU, we like cyborgs at borg.com, so we’ll be watching his growth as a character closely.  This cyborg has cybernetic implants, including an eye piece similar to Seven of Nine’s in Star Trek Voyager.  DCU’s cyborg was created in 1980, so he’s a recent hero and a strange choice for a newly-founded Justice League team.  Geoff Johns has been quoted as saying of the new Cyborg, “He represents all of us in a lot of ways.  If we have a cellphone and we’re texting on it, we are a cyborg — that’s what a cyborg is, using technology as an extension of ourselves.”  I think that is a bit of a stretch, but I like the spirit of that philosophy.

  

Review by C.J. Bunce

With three issues out we’ve had enough time to get a feel for the DC Comics’ New 52.  Some of the DC titles have found their own niche in the giant volume of books available, considering the severl hundred books published by DC, Marvel and all the independents.

I am pretty pleased with the overall picture in the Aquaman series.  On the one hand, the story is very simple so far.  On the other hand, what is there is full of snappy dialogue, nostalgic quick references, and inside jokes, from the pen of writer Geoff Johns.  As far as the art is concerned, initially I was hoping an Aspen comics-esque, ex-Fathom series artist would draw the Aquaman series or that the current artist would take on Fathom’s dreamy waterworld stylings.  Yet Ivan Reis’s view of a world existing side by side Atlantis is superb.  And his seafaring underworld aliens are still the best villains in the DC universe right now.  Kudos are owed to Reis for his consistent, relevant, striking covers, too.

What struck me reading issues #2 and #3 is that this story is written as if Aquaman was existing in the Marvel Universe.  Folk on the street chide and lambast Captain America and X-Men in the ordinary course of the day.  Here, Aquaman walks in the room and there is no awe in the eyes of those he meets.  He might as well not be there, from the perspective of the regular townspeople.  Now this has been done in the DCU before and happens all the time in various contexts but this superhero in the real world concept is very overt here and Geoff Johns’ approach is working so far.  The fact that someone can show up at Aquaman’s door and basically say that he was looking for Aquaman and heard he lived around here…maybe it is simple, but it works.

As story arc is concerned, we are seeing more of the calm before the storm in this story than the actual storm, yet we see pockets of storm.  As a matter of story tempo and meter, it is following the pacing of the movie Jaws, unintentionally I would expect. That is, we get to know this harbor town, and this is a familiar place.  It could be Amity from Jaws.  It could be Haven from the Stephen King/SyFy channel series Haven.  It is tranquil, and if you have ever spent much time in coastal towns Johns and Reis locked in the feel of this setting, the calm tide, almost the smell of sea and sound of the squawking seagulls.  And like the vengeful spirits in John Carpenter’s Fog, the approach of the villainy is slow and deliberate, victims are picked off one by one.

The aliens speak in stilted tones like the bionic animals in the stellar-but-sad-and-disturbing series WE 3, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (probably the only series that has really impressed me from the much-hyped Grant Morrison).  Unlike the aliens in the Alien series, this makes them some how more approachable, a necessary trait with any good fleshed out villain.  Can these seemingly unsympathetic villains be redeemable?  One says “Help us” as he drifts away?  Does he mean “I am helping myself?” by escaping, or is he beckoning to Aquaman?

If there is anything to improve upon it is Aquaman and the often jokingly mislabeled Aquawoman, Mera.  Mera almost seems more interesting at this point.  We’ve been peppered with some slightly depressing but spotty backstory, some kind of regret, but I’d prefer something else, or at least some reason to like these characters more.  The super duo are trying to help humans, despite clearly the fact that humans don’t always want their help.  But as story elements go, we need to like the humans and the lead characters both or we’ll get bored with the story.  Maybe if Aquaman were to act against his own interest?  Then again, saving a dog from the creatures is a good start.

In issue #2 we learn that the sea monsters are hungry and they see us as food.  We also see that Mera is not going to take a backseat in this story—being the first to step forward against this new threat.  In issue #3 Aquaman gets the body of one of the sea monsters for examination and learns more about the creatures.  The book ends with Aquaman and Mera racing to “The Trench,” the supposed origin of these villains.  The story arc continues next month… and we’ll be back for more.

Yesterday Marvel Comics announced a 12-issue limited series coming in April 2012: Avengers vs. X-Men, pitting Marvel characters Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Hulk, against Black Widow, Spider-Man, Cyclops, Storm, Magneto and others and who knows what side Avenger and mutant Wolverine will end up on.

Avengers vs. X-Men will be written by Marvel Architects Jason Aaron, Brian Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction and Jonathan Hickman.  The series artists are slated to be John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel and Adam Kubert.  Unlike standard limited series, the 12 issues will release every two weeks over a six-month period.  And entering the digital fore alongside DC Comics, Marvel added a new marketing idea: releasing a code for a free digital copy with each issue.

Here is the advance poster promoting the series:

Avengers vs. X-Men follows on the heels of this year’s X-Men: Schism, Fear Itself and Fear Itself: The Fearless limited series and the coming X-Sanction series.

The following re-broadcast of a livestream introduction (44 minutes) with a few of the creators gives some insight into the creative process of the writers for the new limited series.

If you have ever wanted to know what thoughts are behind these guys’ story concepts you may like this.  In particular Jason Aaron’s rundown of the events involving the X-Men and Wolverine leading up to the coming superhero face-off really puts everything into perspective, as does Brian Bendis’s view of the Avengers role in the new series.  The video also includes some nice trash talk between the creators of each of the X-Men and Avengers franchises.

Axel Alonso, Editor in Chief, Marvel Entertainment commented that “We’ve brought together the biggest writers, biggest artists and biggest characters for the biggest story we’ve ever told.  This is the kind of high-octane action-packed story that fans demand while also having a profound effect on every character involved—and reshaping the Marvel Universe in its wake.”

More information is available at www.avx.marvel.com.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

Before I watched the brilliant A&E television series Nero Wolfe, as far as I knew that was the name of the author, as the big print NERO and WOLFE are the biggest words on the cover of all the Nero Wolfe novels.   It makes sense as author Rex Stout’s gruff lead character is physically a large fellow who rarely gets up, rarely leaves his house, and when he does either it is always with purpose.   But as superbly written a character that Nero Wolfe is, it is really hard to compare to our first person narrator, Archie Goodwin.

Goodwin is your tour guide through the murder mystery and the world of Nero Wolfe, the seventy-year old series of 33 crime/detective novels, and in the ninth Nero Wolfe novel Black Orchids, Goodwin particularly is in prime, zealous form.  He likens himself more of a Gary Cooper than a Clark Gable.  Those who don’t know him see him as slick, and chastise his ego, as someone who “thinks he can slide uphill.”  On an errand for Wolfe to inspect three rare black orchids, he happens upon a woman wading her legs in a pool and this image alone puts him in a mode to fantasize her as his fiancée, for nearly the entire story.  As fate would have it, the man she is with is found with a hole in his head of the revolver variety, and Police Inspector Cramer has his sights on Archie as the trigger man since Archie was first to discover it.  Ultimately everyone who appears in the cast of characters becomes a suspect, and like a game of Clue, you can’t really know how the facts come together until the last scene.

Sounds like every episode of Murder She Wrote or Columbo?  Not really, although those series follow the Nero Wolfe model of storytelling.

Archie is so fast talking and quick-witted and drops laughs so effortlessly that the reader feels he must hold onto something for the ride.  Check out this tirade of inner reactions, keeping in mind Archie does not even know this woman:

“I was keeping tabs on Anne, knowing that the best time to get the lowdown on a woman is when she’s under stress.  I thought she was doing fine.  After four straight days in a glaring spotlight as the star attraction of a flower show, with such by-products as having her picture taken with Billy Rose and dining out with Lewis Hewitt, here she was kerplunk in the mire with murder-mud ready to splatter all over her, and so far she had nothing to forfeit my respect, even when I had explained how you could pull a trigger with your toes.  But at this juncture she wasn’t so hot.  She might have spoken up with something suitable about being armored in her virtue and not needing to be looked after by any sourpuss employer or millionaire orchid fancier, but all she did was deadpan W.G. Dill without opening her trap.  I began to suspect she either had depths I hadn’t plumbed or was a bit limited in the mental area–but don’t get me wrong, I was still faithful.  Even as a deadpan, the sight of her face–for the mental side of life you can go to the library.”

And much later when the exhausted Anne is asked by Wolfe to stay the night because he wants to speak with her before she must meet the New York City district attorney early the next morning, Wolfe offers her Archie’s bedroom.  Archie narrates:

“That meant my room and my bed.  Anne started to protest, but not with much spirit, and I went and got Fritz and took him upstairs with me to help change sheets and towels.  As I selected a pajama suit for her from the drawer, tan with brown stripes, and put it on the turned down sheet, I reflected that things were moving pretty fast, considering that it was less than ten hours since she had first spoken to me and we never had actually been introduced.”

   

And what you learn having read one of Rex Stout’s novels is how incredibly well the TV series was produced.  Archie was played by current Leverage star Timothy Hutton and Nero was played by the late, great Maury Chaykin (no relation to artist and writer Howard Chaykin, who once told me he and comics writer Archie Goodwin were also fans of the Rex Stout novels, and Howard Chaykin loved the TV series).  In fact, like any time you read the book after watching the series or movie, it is darned near impossible to construct the characters any other way.  But it doesn’t matter, as each character has his place, and they are as well constructed as you’d expect with such a celebrated series:  Nero, the food and plant connousieur, Archie the senior of a small band of Wolfe’s personal assistants and sleuther on the spot, Fritz the cook and butler, Inspector Cramer the Chicago-sounding angst-bitten griper who in any other brownstone but Wolfe’s would be the smartest guy in the room.

In Black Orchids, you get a taste of these classic characters in a typical Stout atypical crime and a puzzling web of lies set in a backdrop of 1940s stylishness.  You also can get an education in Wolfe’s hobbies, here, flowers and plant diseases.  Wolfe and Goodwin play off each other beautifully and the plot twists are seemless, a credit to this great writer.

The ultimate in original borg technology could be yours.  For the right price.

Auction house Profiles in History‘s Icons of Hollywood auction is December 15-16, 2011, and it offers another round of some of the best props and costumes Hollywood has to offer, from a set of Dorothy’s actual screen-used slippers from Wizard of Oz to Mork’s outfit from Mork & Mindy to Steve McQueen’s naval uniform from The Sand Pebbles to one of the cars used as the General Lee in Dukes of Hazzard to a DeLorean from Back to the Future III we discussed here this summer, to an original Dalek from Doctor Who.  There’s something at the coming auction for everyone.

But for fans of cybernetics, cyborgs, and bionics, and other early borg technologies, and fans of the Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman, nothing is cooler than the special effects arm modeled off of Lindsay Wagner as the Bionic Woman.  Next to one of the Bionic Man’s red jumpsuits (anyone have one for sale? let me know!) this is a great prop that gets to the heart of what the series was about.

It is a special effects arm made of latex, wires, springs, a circuit board and circuitry, used to show the implanting of an “evil programming chip” used as a key story element in the 1994 TV movie Bionic Ever After?, the show where Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers finally tie the knot.  It includes clamps, syringes and tubing that is reminiscent of the popular toy repair center from the 1970s.

The prop was used in a scene where the bad guys perform surgery on a drugged Jaime, implanting a chip with a computer virus in it to make her bionics go haywire.

It is estimated to sell for at least $2,000-$3,000.  It comes from the collection of movie makeup guru Jeff Goodwin, as discussed on this website, where you can see photos of other items he consigned to the coming Profiles in History auction.

More information on the auction can be found at the Profiles in History website.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg

Review by C.J. Bunce

TV tie-ins need to achieve a few basic concepts to be successful.  First, they need to capture the feel and voice of each main character and do it quickly.  Second, they need to skip over the setting and world building, or at most, give the reader the minimum necessary information to understand the world of the TV series being adapted, as adaptations tend to appeal to fans of the show who just want more.  Third, the adaptation should take you to new places or throw the characters into new circumstances that are limited by the TV medium, primarily because of a the short time period of each episode and budget constraints.

For an adaptation of the SyFy Channel’s Warehouse 13, here Greg Cox’s Warehouse 13: A Touch of Fever, to hit the first mark of success, this means first and foremost that it reflects the brother-sister relationship (aka antics) between agents Pete Lattimer and Myka Bering.  That we see the actor Eddie McClintock speak with every Pete line and the actress Joanne Kelley speak with every Myka line.  It means that Pete gets to enjoy everything about being a Warehouse 13 agent that is cool.  That we can see Myka’s eyebrow raised every time Pete opens his mouth.  It means that Artie needs to be gruff and smart, that Claudia needs to be hip.  That Artie brings in trivial details of tangent cases involving artifacts, especially when it is the most inappropriate and time is of the essence.  That Claudia drops pop culture references with each breath and enjoys her own generational battle with Artie.

Step 1?  Check.

For the second step, getting us right into the action and story, writer Greg Cox does quite well, giving readers new to the Warehouse only what is really needed to get to the heart of these characters.  We get a few visual descriptions and he lets the catchy dialogue do all the rest.  His best work here is for the thoughts of Pete Lattimer.  With each line uttered you see the line being voiced by Eddie McClintock.  Lines like “How come Artie never sends us to All-You-Can-Eat Cookies instead?” and lying to Artie via the Farnsworth video pre-cell phone.  And he lets Myka save the day more than once, entering the frame to save the day with her Tesla electric gun.

Step 2?  Check.

And for the last necessary element of a good tie-in, Cox hits the ball out of the park.  Claudia and Leena are wading through the endless Warehouse and dozens of new artifacts are revealed.  We get to see one artifact create an earthquake in New York City’s Central Park.  And we learn that the Warehouse owns a certain brilliant red Fokker DR-1 triplane owned by the Red Baron, and Artie and Claudia get to fly it and use it to save nearby Badlands town Univille from an escaped thunderbird–that itself was released from a totem pole.  Stuff that would be expensive to create in special effects, and scope outside any kind of television production budget.

Step 3?  Check.

Warehouse 13: A Touch of Fever is the first adaptation of Warehouse 13 in print.  In the afterward Cox says he wanted to write an adaptation of Warehouse 13 when he first saw it on TV.  Who wouldn’t?  The TV series only scratches the surface of dealing with all the strange and cool artifacts throughout history that could have their own episode.  Here, this means tracking down and putting together for the first time since the Civil War the white gloves of Red Cross founder Clara Barton.  It means finding the cutlass of Anne Bonney the pirate–all before too much blood is spilt.  Cox includes dropped references to such great items that could have their own show, like Reagan’s jelly beans, Van Gogh’s ear, the seventy-six trombones, Harriet Tubman’s thimble, John Brown’s body, and the original grapes of wrath, and once found, getting to decide what does and what doesn’t end up in the Dark Vault of the Warehouse.  We also get to see some Rube Goldberg-esque mayhem in the Warehouse when a certain metal pot used as a hat that was once owned by Johnny Appleseed spills some apple cider off the top of a shelf.

Greg Cox is one of the go-to guys for TV series and movie novelization tie-ins and he makes writing the Warehouse look easy.  He has previously written novelizations of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, CSI, Star Trek, Farscape, The Green Hornet, Roswell, Underworld and Xena: Warrior Princess. 

While Warehouse 13 the TV series is on hiatus, the novelization is a good mid-season alternative to keep interest in the characters of the show.  Fans of the series will be able to keep up with all the references in Cox’s book and afterward feel like they watched the equivalent of a TV movie special.

Greg Cox’s Warehouse 13: A Touch of Fever was released in June 2011 and is available in mass market paperback and lists for $7.99.

   

Earlier this year, and even from time to time over the past several years, commenters have criticized the comics publishing industry for its lack of female creators.  As with the lack of women creators in a lot of industries, the criticisms have credence.  You have to look very hard at comic conventions to find a female comic artist from a major publisher, for example.  But more and more female writers seem to be coming to the fore every month.  In the meantime, what is flourishing in DC Comics’ New 52 are female superhero characters.  In the past few weeks we reviewed here both the first issues of the new Wonder Woman series and the past two months of the Batgirl title.  Wonder Woman’s story is brilliantly drawn in the realm of the Greek gods and goddesses, as she is on her path to becoming a key leader of the Justice League.  Batgirl’s story bridges a lot of territory–she is a superhero with a rich past in the DCU: as daughter to Batman’s main partner in fighting crime, Commissioner Gordon, as former crime fighter in a wheelchair and member of the Birds of Prey, under the guise Oracle, she also covers the younger side of hero work and the trials of being at the beginning of a heroine’s career.

But Wonder Woman and Batgirl just scratch the surface of the arsenal of women crimefighters across the DCU.  In stark contrast to Batgirl, but equally as interesting and engaging, is the darker, tough and gritty world of Batwoman.  There is no hiding Batwoman’s role in the DCU–she is Kate Kane, a lesbian who was kicked out of the military because of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  When we met her again in Issue #1 of the re-launched title she was trying to mentor sidekick, Bette aka Flamebird, but in Issue #2 Batman warns Kate that she is endangering Bette and she as kicks her out of the sidekick business in Issue #3.  Writers W. Haden Blackman and J.H. Williams III walk a fine line between a caricature of a modern gay single person, in the realm of Tom Hanks’ character in Philadelphia.  She uses poor judgment, frequenting gay bars and going home with whomever she ends up with and going on binges.  Did she, or the writers, learn anything from the 1980s?  Are they setting her up for another AIDS story?  Hopefully not, as that was done with Mia aka Speedy in the Green Arrow series.  

In every aspect of her life Kate is dangerous and cocky–she is dating Detective Maggie Sawyer, the very woman on the police squad who is trying to uncover who the vigilante in the black and red suit really is.  On the one hand Kate herself is not a role model, yet Blackman and Williams have written her as a tough woman fighting the good fight every day like everybody, only in the depths of Gotham, her place is getting down and dirty.  To balance out the series, we find Kate’s true enemy is the federal agent, Cameron Chase, and we learn in Issue #3 she is partnering with the creepy skull-headed villain behind the dark doings of Gotham.  The best part of Batwoman?  Despite her own inner doubts and less experience at the hero business, Batwoman stands on equal footing with Batman in their secret meetings–we see a mutual respect there.

On the other side of the globe in Italy is Helena Bertinelli, the heroine of the Huntress title.  Like Barbara Gordon, Huntress spent some time gaining her crime-fighting sea-legs in the Birds of Prey.  In Issue #2 of the current Huntress limited series, Huntress has tracked down a trafficker of girls in the sex slave industry.  Huntress is a character who simply has a job to do.  Unlike Batgirl and Batwoman, we see no emotional obstacles with Helena.  She knows her job and gets the job done.  As her own flavor of dark knight detective, she is a true sleuth in the ongoing whodunnit of each issue.  And like all the superheroes in the DCU, she has her alter ego life.  Bertinelli would fit in fine with the characters of the BBC’s Zen series, tasteful and stylish, she seems to have adopted Italy as her home turf.  It is refreshing to see a character establish herself in a non-English speaking locale, and the word balloons even feign a translation via dialogue in carets.  A clever comics story device.  Unlike Batgirl or Batwoman, Huntress’s targeted villains are rooted in the real world, and in Issue #2 she is honing in on capturing the man behind the trafficking operation, as she liberates all the victims.  A woman saving women.

In an even darker realm we encounter Zatanna, magician of backward incantations, in Issues #2 and #3 of Justice League Dark.  The Enchantress has unleashed an evil that even the Justice League itself cannot stop, and she must use a spell to save herself.  Only John Constantine understands the magic enough to use her own language to free her from her protective state.  And tarot card reading Xanadu appears to be working alongside the ultimate villain of this series–the Enchantress, on a quest to capture June Moone, who has been seeking the aid of Deadman.  Deadman is complex yet entirely weak, he slips in and out of other people’s bodies, himself a ghostly spirit.  Deadman is driving his girlfriend, Dawn Granger, the character Dove from the Hawk and Dove duo, nearly mad with his switching from body to body.  Dove drives off in anger as Deadman tries to protect June Moone from the Enchantress, but we get the vibe she can pull away from the witch’s curse when she will need to.  We hope to see more of Zatanna and Dove in future issues, but as new characters are added, like Mindwipe in Issue #3, Justice League Dark is bordering on a soap opera-sized cast that may be too much for a monthly title.

Not only do these titles stand out as key stories focusing on strong female characters, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Batwoman, Huntress, and Justice League Dark, with both good writing and art, continue to stand at the top of all of the 52 main titles of the New 52.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

*Editor’s note:  Make sure you read our follow-up film review here.

Over the years a bestselling novel will grab the public, and the public will clamor for it and want more.  Since the dawn of the motion picture, that story, if enough of the public demands it, will become forever turned into the re-watchable image, and itself become immortal.   The public is anxious to see who will be cast in the lead roles.  Will the film be true to the novel? they ask.  The movie becomes a blockbuster, even in the days before the term was coined, with ever larger opening weekend box office returns.  Over time new topical novels come seemingly out of nowhere, unpredictable, heralding in The Next Big Thing.  You can’t predict it.  You don’t know what it will be about.  But each new person who hears of it will jump on the bandwagon and have to read it.  And then the movie deal comes, and everyone will pay to see it.

These stories that become household names are typically dramas.  You can’t get through even a grocery store without seeing stacks of these books.  Sometimes they are merely historical, as in earlier days of film, like Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (civil war), Walter Lord’s A Night to Remember (sinking of the Titanic), and Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago (life in wartime).

And then there are the other novels.  And at the heart of these dramas is something that shocks the senses of the mainstream public of its day.  You can skip across the past 75 years and see these prominent moments of books that must become film.  And each carries its own unique theme, typically experiences we don’t want to face in our own lives.  Yet for some reason we want to see it on the big screen.  These include:

  • In 1941, Richard Llwellyn’s How Green Was My Valley (dangerous labor conditions)
  • In 1953, James Jones’s From Here to Eternity (military hazing)
  • In 1957, Grace Metalious’s Peyton Place (incest, abortion, adultery)
  • In 1957, Corbett Thigpen’s The Three Faces of Eve (multiple personality disorder)
  • In 1957, Pierre Boulle’s Bridge Over the River Kwai (torture and POWs)
  • In 1962, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (child sexual abuse)
  • In 1962, Henry Farrell’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (mental illness)
  • In 1967, Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls (drug abuse)
  • In 1967, Charles Webb’s The Graduate (adultery, uncertainty of future)
  • In 1968, Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (cults/satanism/rape)
  • In 1970, Erich Segal’s Love Story (dying young)
  • In 1971, Antony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange (ultraviolence)
  • In 1972, James Dickey’s Deliverance (rape, fear)
  • In 1975, Peter Benchley’s Jaws (fear of the uncontrollable)
  • In 1975, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (mental institutions)
  • in 1975, Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives (submission, sexism)
  • In 1979, Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror (fear)
  • In 1982, John Irving’s The World According to Garp (obsession with death and sex)
  • In 1987, V.C Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic (incest)
  • In 1991, Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs (cannibalism)
  • In 1992, John Braine’s The Crying Game (transgenderism)
  • In 1994, Stephen King’s Shawshank Redemption (hopelessness and self-worth)
  • In 1994, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (vampirism, senseless violence)
  • In 1995 Robert James Waller’s The Bridges of Madison County (adultery)
  • In 1996, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (adultery, war, regret)
  • In 1997, John Behrendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (murder and sex in a small town)
  • In 2006, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (skewed history/false prophesies)

The nature of the blockbuster has changed from decade to decade, but these books were standouts in their years, bestselling novels that catapulted into something else, they went “viral” before that term was coined.

And The Next Big Thing?  Coming later this month, in 2011, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based on the novel by Steig Larsson.  Check out this preview, and watch closely, a quiz will follow:

From that trailer we can tell the film must be the ultimate compilation of several past bestsellers-turned-movies.  It has: rape, torture, violence, sex, intra-family murder… actually too many things to list.  The name of the original novel?  Not really the uber-catchy Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, believe it or not.  The author didn’t even know that title in his lifetime.  His title for the novel?  The aptly named Men Who Hate Women. 

Is all this proof that sex, shock, and violence sells?

No commentary here.  Really.  Just a reflection on what the public must be after.  And that we keep going back for more, over and over, not just in this generation, but the one before and the ones before that.

Personally, I try to avoid The Next Big Thing.  Why?  Hype.  I find I am usually disappointed.  And over time, shock after shock after shock dulls the mind.  It becomes common.  Boring.  Instead I prefer hunting out the little seen gems, or alternatively, the purely escapist stuff: action, sci-fi, fantasy, fun stuff, or even comedies… and I stay away from the Real.  And the Bleak.

Then one of these trailers includes an actor you just can’t stay away from.  Like Daniel Craig.  Even when his last film was a bit disappointing.  And who doesn’t like a rough (very rough) and tumble female protagonist?  And then you find the new Girl with a Dragon Tattoo is a remake.  And you can get the dubbed original on video.  Streaming video even.  And you learn the main characters are pretty interesting and have some real chemistry of the camaraderie variety, if you can just wade through all the ultraviolence and ugliness.  Disturbing, for sure.  How does a movie like this become mainstream?  There are certainly hints in the trailer to the new movie to the nature of this one.  But the title of the original book sums it all up.

Will I see this one in the theater just because it stars Daniel Craig?  Not sure yet on that one.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

Back in June, Super 8 was in theaters and Jason McClain discussed it here and noted the split in the film between the focus on the kids’ story vs. the focus on the adults.  I didn’t see this one in the theater and after viewing on video I wish I had, but only for the spectacular train crash.  Other than that, the film makes a great rental.  For me, this film was a cross between Goonies, Cloverfield, E.T., the Extraterrestrial, and Close Encounter of the Third Kind.  I found myself viewing this and questioning whether this was more of a J.J. Abrams movie or more of a Steven Spielberg movie.  And I found it to be a lot of fun.

I agree with Jason’s review, that this could have been a film focusing totally on the kids’ story—kids trying to make a zombie film.  Joel Courtney in the lead role, in his first film appearance, was cast perfectly as Joe Lamb—as every little kid who doesn’t get into trouble, tries to do the right thing, tries to be friends to everyone.  The film inside the film didn’t need to be a zombie film, but zombies was as good a subject as any, and something the director could use because of the humor zombie make-up adds to the picture.  And maybe because the film also wants to be a monster movie of the alien variety.

I also agree with Jason that you could cut all the adult themes and probably end up with a better picture.  I find it puzzling that every film about differing genres that includes kids must have a one-parent family at the core.  It used to be that all movies had two parents and two kids, and I understand over time why the change to more diverse families makes sense.  But I can’t remember the last time a two adult, couple of kids family was pictured on film.  They exist in real life so I’m not sure what the draw is for the barrage of broken families.  You’d think Hollywood would mix it up a little.  I expect filmmakers think it gives the film some weight.  I usually find dwelling on family in this kind of film unnecessary and irrelevant to the plot–the father-son and father-daughter reunion pieces of the film here included.

But back to the good parts.  The themes of young teens mimic the superb, classic kid film Goonies so much you could draw parallels through the whole movie.  Young boys’ crushes on the older girl.   Rescuing a friend.  The desire for adventure and the decision to go off and “just do it.”  The same themes were also addressed more seriously in Stephen King’s Stand By Me and less so in E.T., the Extraterrestrial.  If Goonies was better at being a kids’ film it was probably because the adults only played the enemies and barely served another purpose in the plot.  After all, in the context of a fictional adventure film, why not play into that natural tension between parents and kids?  In E.T., the adults were primarily the enemies, too.  In Stand By Me, again, no parents, just kids being kids.  The change-up is Close Encounters—where the little boy in the film is kidnapped by the aliens.  But even there the little kid parallels the real little kid story in the film–the little boy trying to get out, trapped inside the lead character played by Richard Dreyfuss.  Close Encounters is the ultimate kids film about grown-ups.  Dreyfuss wants to believe in aliens every bit as much as Elliott and Gerty in E.T.   The kids in Super 8 aren’t longing for this kind of connection, they just want to be the kids they are.

As a “horror-light” film, viewers will see similarities to the alien/monster pursuit in Cloverfield, and the alien/monster images from Cowboys & Aliens.  I thought this was a fun genre-bending exercise and it worked better here than Cowboys & Aliens but not as well as in Cloverfield.  I include Cloverfield in the discussion here because of the similar vibe throughout the last half of the movie, undoubtedly based on Abrams participation in both productions.

Super 8 should be looked back on later as a big film for Abrams.  Where Star Trek 2009 was J.J. Abrams’ big-budget sci-fi feature, Cloverfield was his Blair Witch-type horror film, and Mission Impossible III was his post-Alias spy movie, Super 8 is Abrams’ take on Spielberg–it’s his Spielberg homage of sorts.  I expect to see a boxed DVD set coming—Close Encounters (directed by Spielberg), then E.T. (directed by Spielberg), Goonies (written by Spielberg), War of the Worlds (directed by Spielberg) and then Super 8 (produced by Spielberg).  Not so much a set of coming-of-age films as a set of solid kids-being-kids films.  Although written and directed by Abrams, anyone would believe it was a Spielberg creation, were it written and directed by Spielberg.  Looking back on Abrams’ short list of films, it’s as if Abrams is a director mimicking the style of others.  As style goes, he certainly doesn’t have an established niche yet.  The only exception is those lousy lens flares he can’t seem to avoid.  You have to wonder if he sees something in those glares we don’t see, as we are blinded multiple times mid-film.  But it seems to be his signature.  A lens flare is even in his poster for the film shown above.  Bizarre.

If you pulled Goonies out of our fictitious boxed set, you have a nice series of alien films—Close Encounters, about meeting aliens, E.T. about befriending aliens, Super 8, about fearing aliens, although you have to empathize with the alien in Super 8, as with past Spielberg aliens, and then War of the Worlds at the other end of the spectrum opposite E.T., where the aliens are entirely and unquestionably our enemy.

Team Fanning also follows through again with a gaggle of teen actresses who only seem to get better with each new sibling to take the stage.  Here, Elle Fanning plays the tough teen with a chip on her shoulder, a role done before several times in films, but usually by male characters played by the likes of like Heath Ledger or Matt Dillon.  In one scene she switches from playing a kid character to playing an actress practicing for a scene to be filmed on the Super 8 camera, and the switch is as well done as you could hope for with any performer.  Ryan Lee in a small role as Joe’s friend Cary was a notable stand-out, playing the future pyromaniac who looks like a mini-Tom Petty.  The rest of the characters are a motley mix of typical honest, good, nerdy kids.

Reflecting back on the films about kids mentioned above, I have a note for the current onslaught of child actors, especially those playing lanky, skinny, fat, odd, etc. kids:  Just check out what happened to the child actors in the above films.  Drew Barrymore who was Gerty in E.T. is now a Cover Girl model and was a Charlie’s Angel.  The chubby kid, Jerry O’ Connell, in Stand By Me ended up as the leading man-looking guy who starred in Sliders and several later series.  Jeff Cohen who played Chunk in Goonies became an L.A. lawyer.  Sean Astin who played the lead in Goonies ended up as the beloved Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings.  And the oldest teen in Goonies played by Josh Brolin, was nominated for an Academy Award.  My point?  Awkward teens take note:  Life gets better.  The old child actor’s curse doesn’t exist anymore.

As science fiction goes, Super 8 stands up as a good film, as a horror film it’s a little light, as an adventure film it’s better than good, but as a film about kids, Super 8 is a solid, entertaining picture that will keep the attention of viewers of any age.

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