Wednesday, July 29, 2009

When all seems lost in the war of light, don't look to Green Lantern: First Flight

Yesterday I had so much apparently unfounded confidence in this direct-to-DVD first animated outing devoted to Green Lantern that I bought it for $17 at HMV Kingsway and rushed my wife home to make her watch it with me. Total disinterest from her was no surprise, but I found myself wondering what went wrong that it also failed to impress ME. Apart from some questions about Sinestro's motives and some jokes, my wife only had this to say: I like my cartoons funnier. And while this story can't be a comedy, it was lacking in heart and feeling and emotion of ANY kind.
This review is 100% spoiler, so watch it first if you gotta, but if you're a die-hard fan you may be sorely disappointed. Or, if you're like me, you'll consider a career as a bile-spewing rage-fueled RED Lantern.
I'll say on a positive note first: these are pretty, well-animated pictures, splendid action sequences, and a very talented voice cast, all kicked in the ass by writing that made me want to tear Alan Burnett's writing hands off. Character development? What characters? he seems to be asking.
To begin: it was half correct to truncate the origin story and rush Hal into space as quick as you can: origin stories can be MURDEROUSLY dull. However, I think along the way he forgot to give Hal a motive or back-story. He's a pilot, yes, but that's all we find out about him. Along comes Abin Sur, the well-known poor slob Lantern who dies to give Hal his magic crime-fighting ring. This story has been told over and over for decades and this may be the worst version of it yet.
Why? No matter what, you should LIKE Abin and Hal, and they gave me no reason to. Because the dialouge NEVER indicates the criterion the ring uses to choose this mighty hero. Nobody says one of 4 key words: honesty, bravery, willpower, or imagination. I would have accepted ANY of these or all, as all have a history and all are true: a Green Lantern NEEDS these qualities. Abin says the Guardians will be along to explain it all to Hal, so I was patient: the GUARDIANS will explain later, just go with it.
Alas, long time readers may not recognize the Guardians when they show up, except that as the only blue bald old guys around they MUST be the Guardians of Oa, the bosses of these space cops.
They instantly explain nothing, and express at length an anti-human prejudice never before seen in the GLCorps, and for obvious reasons never previously expressed by the Guardians.
I'll try to explain: as 5 billion year old wise dudes, the Guardians are as far beyond prejudice as is possible for a living thing. They do not hate based on race. They do not say 'like hell' because they are beyond primitive religion. If anything, they reject emotion. They have no reason to doubt a human more than a Korugarian or a Bolovaxian because to a Guardian they are all like tiny children.
If you absolutely must waste time introducing some widespread anti-human prejudice into a Corps that never had it before, you HAVE to give such comments to someone like Salaak, with a history of distaste for humans. The viewer must not instantly hate the Guardians.
In the words of Tom Lehrer, 'There are those among us who do not like their fellow men and I say to you that I HATE people like that!'
Double the value of your movie with this introductory dialouge by me, free of charge:
Salaak mutters to Arisia 'Humans. Hunh. We'll NEVER get the smell out."
Guardian 1: Jordan of Earth. The ring Abin Sur bestowed on you will only operate for those with great strength of will. A Green Lantern is chosen above all else for his ability to withstand fear and for his total honesty.
Hal: Really? That's... stupid.
Guardian 1: (sighs at the others) You see?
Guardian 2: He's honest.
Guardian 3: (eyes flashing in a threatening manner) And brave. Foolishly so.
Ganthet: Leave it to us to determine what is wise, very young Lantern.
(Followed by some GODDAMN training!)
And scene.
Perhaps in keeping with their attitude, THESE Guardians make no attempt to train Hal, thus cleverly negating the need for Kilowog in the story, as he is the drill sergeant type. Not even a training montage?
No, they throw him into the field with Sinestro, who quickly demonstrates that he is a bad'un by beating on a bouncer and making a druggie o.d.
It should be noted that back home on Korugar, Sinestro is a Hitler-like figure of dread and awe to his people, but rather that show us THAT as in some comics, we've got a small man frustrated by his job rather than an obsessive despot. This smallifying was used in the FF live action movie on Dr. Doom, too. It's not impressive to make villains pettier! Why give us an alien Dirty Harry when the character was born as an evil purple Mao?
So, no proud tour of his 'orderly' but enslaved homeworld, no trial when Hal reports him to the Guardians, just back alley brawls with generic looking squidheads (beautifully animated, mind you), and framing Hal for his misdeeds. (Another dishonest act. See, Sinestro should be honest and brave and possesses great will and imagination- and also be a murdering control freak. He doesn't HIDE his actions- he'd be proud of them! He'd see the Guardians banishing him as a betrayal of his great work as a kill-a-ma-jig.)
I must credit the voice actor that Sinestro achieves any measure of viewer interest whatsoever.
And speaking of voice actors, let's just say that if you have John 'F-ing' Laroqette and he's only got, like, two lines as an unsympathetic Tomar-Re you've wasted a fine talent. Micheal Madsen is a good actor, too, he's famous for playing bad-ass punks who hate authority. So why wasn't he cast as Kanjar Ro the pirate? Why not give community-minded, voice of conformity and authority, gruff-but-softhearted, team-player, family man Kilowog of the comics to Kurtwood Smith or John Laroqette, as you had them on hand? I guess with this dialouge it wouldn't have mattered much- what we learn about Kilowog in this movie is he hates humans, apologizes insincerely, and is a 'comedy' glutton. This Kilowog-looking character whines his way though the least convincing 'Thanks for saving my life, you're a brave and bold Green Lantern, Hal' possible. Stupid.
No new viewer would understand what fans LIKE about Kilowog. In the comics he's Hal's tough big brother, the Thing to his Human Torch, a gruff but inspiring instructor, an awesome buddy you wish you had at your side in a fight... and a giant pig man.
Tricia Helfer is fine as a Boodika re-imagined visually as willowy Kryssma and helping Sinestro be a jerk for no clear reason. So Hal kills her- as he would NOT BLOODY LIKELY do in the comics.
I guess when GL's aren't selected for honesty or bravery you can get a bunch of bad apples like this. Except Ch'p, who isn't bad per se but managed to be annoying in just one sentence. For good or ill, that's all they gave him.
Why couldn't we see the Corps from the comics that WELCOMED Hal and give the audience a reason to LIKE these people?
Oh, and when Sinestro is NOT tried and NOT banished to Qward he goes there anyway. And Qward, unlike the comics, is in Sector 325 instead of Sector -1 of the Antimatter Universe. Why is this significant to anyone but a geek? Well, it isn't. But to a geek, this sounds like you've changed "Sinestro fought his way out of hell with a yellow ring cast from pure fear" to "Sinestro wandered down to the local pawn shop and got a yellow costume and a yellow ring and does bad things with a big yellow beach ball or something"
Then he attacks the Green Lantern Corps BY HIMSELF. And bests dozens of Lanterns, kills MANY more offscreen, and then beats TEN GUARDIANS- BY HIMSELF. But once Hal o.d.s on the so-called 'green element' or some crap, he beats Sinestro up and wins. But I've stopped caring over an hour ago.
That's it. What's the green element, I hear you asking? Oh, in the comics it's the living will of life itself. And the yellow? In the comics it's the manifestation of all fear in the universe.
In the movie? Well, it's two bastards apparently fighting over whether the colour green is more kick-ass than the colour yellow.
Somewhere while trimming this script the heart got trimmed out.
Joyless, with no sense of wonder or fun.
One and a half stars out of four, because the animators and actors deserve better.
The Daffy Duck cartoon 'The Green Loontern", though a parody, is actually more in keeping with the spirit of the GL comics in my opinion. Apparently, if you bought the two-disc version of this movie you can watch THAT little nugget of delight instead. In fact, I want to do that right now, for the sake of my soul.
So, to sum up: violent, pointless, meandering, heartless, well-animated, well-voiced, written so badly I look back with fondness on the empty-headed 'Superman:Doomsday'.
And I'm looking forward to 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies' because surely they won't be able to ruin that one... will they?
Maybe I shouldn't buy it on the first day next time.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Trip down memory panel borders

I was ruminating about how I got into comics (as an adult, mind you) and the effect of comics on my life. I think the earliest comics I would have read would have been newspaper strips like Peanuts. This is probably true for many people. Garfield comic collections borrowed from the school library, and some poor sap's Richie Rich comics are part of dim recollection. I also recall a Goofy comic where Goofy dressed in long underwear and a sheet as 'Super-Goof'. I read Archies, reliable & unchanging no matter what the era (unless it's Archie vs. Punisher!). I ransacked the libraries to read Asterix. I loved the philosophers: Pogo, Opus, Hobbes (the tiger, of course), Bub Slug, Far Side, and finally Foxtrot. I might have been 8 when I read my first Star Wars comic (somebody else's?) It's the Marvel adventure I have somewhere in my collection again as an adult- Han and Chewie are trapped in a collapsing cave with rock-eating mites while the goons of a non-Huttese Jabba the Hutt are throwing themselves to their deaths in pursuit. It was pretty darn cool! But it would be years till I read other Star Wars comics- Marvel and their green rabbits, Shia Brie (cheesy!), Lando in a David Bowie wig, Wookieworld and the lot. The splendid Dark Horse stuff! Ah, Star Wars and comics. It's a visual extravaganza in a visual medium. I'm really glad to have read Tim Zahn's first trilogy as novels- but add the pictures and WATCH OUT! Also, I dare you not to love Tag & Bink are dead. But I digress.
I think I read my first Star Trek comic at 12, the Peter David Starfleet Academy annual, a flashback story with young Carol Marcus and Kirk's 'liason'. Oh, how my virgin heart fluttered for Carol Marcus covering herself with only a pillow! Also, naked transporter revenge on Finnegan. Funny, sexy stuff! So many Star Trek comics since then, and David's are really the top of the heap. I recommend Star Trek Countdown by the guys what brung us the 2009 flick. Also, I'm enjoying Ty Templeton's current Trek miniseries 'Mission's End'.
I think I first met Super-heroes, not counting Super-Goof, or Archie as Captain Pureheart (Braveheart? Ginger-Kid? I'm not sure...), or t.v. where I surely had already seen Spider-Man and before him Super-Grover, or probably Superman who I'd first seen? on the big screen in Superman III (so I was seven?). Anyway, on paper I vaguely decided my first superheroes were in 'The Infinity Gauntlet' which came out in 1991, so that actually makes me fourteen or fifteen, and reading them at some friends' house. Could I be thinking of Secret Wars? I think the sequence I recall is of hordes of ineffectual Marvel heroes hurling themselves at Thanos and his glove, so I'm guessing NO. But geez, 14? When I think now of all those precious years, over a decade without comics, well, brother, I just have to weep.
Cause comics are great!
I even wrote and drew my own comic space adventure "The Adventures of Lynn & Lynn" based on two astronomers I met on a class ski trip about age 14.
In answer to your unanswered question, no, it probably isn't very good, but I haven't had the heart to re-read it for nearly two decades. So maybe it will be cool again by now.
(No, no it won't.)
I also saw and loved Howard the Duck on video. No, I know it's nothing like the comic. I know almost everybody hates it. I love it all the more. It did not, sadly, lead me to the comics. It just strengthened my love of sci-fi, comedy, and George Lucas.
Anyway, it wasn't long till comics provided my first serious crush on a two dimensional lady, the Sensational She-Hulk as written and drawn by John Byrne. From about age 16 to the present day I have a semi-rewarding one-way love affair with a giant green superwoman whose beauty and humor are dependent on who's writing and drawing her. For example, She-Hulk via Byrne ushered me into an affection for the Fantastic Four that also lasts to the present day. She-Hulk also led me to the Avengers, after a fashion, but I only gave a rat crap because She-Hulk was nominally on the team, (not that you knew it from the art or writing).
And I'm sad to say that otherwise I gave up. Some combination of parental pressure, soon-to-be-quashed religious fervor, apathy, and teen alienation caused me to essentially give up on super-hero comics before I got to know them.
In my early twenties, thanks to my intellectual friend Kirk, I read the intellectually stimulating and ground-breaking comics that you apparently HAVE to read. Gaiman's Sandman, Moore's Watchmen, Speigelman's Maus, Ellis' Transmetropolitan among others. I also read the less intellectual Gen13 and DV8 for Caitlin Fairchild's prominent assets.
It was Chapters co-worker Diego who perhaps made it possible for me to sink my teeth into superhero comics again and not feel like the only one who was interested. Probably around age 22, he provided many examples of Marvel's cosmic side and awoke the Marvel Zombie within. The Silver Surfer, the MC2 Universe of Spider-Girl, Adam Warlock and his Infinity Watch (bringing me around to that purple guy with the jewel-encrusted gauntlet again!). Diego and I even collaborated on a comic we never completed that I imagine would have combined his powerful comic knowledge and clever mind with my mediocre art skills and affection for the absurd. 'Kray-Tor and the Infinity Watch'- we hardly knew ye!
The pump was primed. In short order, with no real girlfriend in my life to say me nay, I had acquired (I think the number was) 15 longboxes stuffed with old comics, over 90% Marvel, mostly bagged and boarded, mostly from used book stores, the flea market, and Leading Comics. Kurt Busiek's Thunderbolts and an Avengers run worthy of attention. David's astonishing 12 year run on the Hulk, as well as his Star Trek and anything else I could lay hands on with his or Byrne's name on. Fantastic Four, Alpha Flight, Next Men, even some Superman (I was insanely loyal to Marvel but, what the hell, it was Byrne).
Then some clever Marvel person began succeeding with Marvel movies and I made two other discoveries thanks to Spider-Man. Stan Lee and Brian Michael Bendis. The Essential black and white collections Marvel put out gave me a great affection for Stan Lee's dialouge in the 1961-1963 period, and the brand-new color exploits of a teen Ultimate Spidey from a modern world brought me into contact with the similarly appealing writing of Bendis. Maybe somebody else has done a better Spidey (Strazynski comes immediately to mind, then I remember how that all ended... and I STILL can't find it in my heart to blame JMS. In fact, I still think JMS could have done something that would have been remembered even longer than the mess 'One More Day' became- if he'd been allowed to continue depicting Spidey in growth and change instead of returning him to the static perpetual childhood that sells books).
The Marvel Essentials were my bread and butter for years. FF, Dr. Strange, Ant-Man, Howard the Duck, Avengers (it was Good in the early sixties, I swear!) anything Marvel cared to print I could now sort of afford, wondering what it would have looked like in garish color. This led to the quickly aborted attempt to color them in! Not even I had that much free time. I read the Tomb of Dracula, Thor, even finally began down that dark path that will forever dominate your destiny- the X-Men.
I bought trade paperbacks when I could, I bought and followed FF, Spidey, Exiles, some others.
My heart leaped with joy when Dan Slott revived my alluring She-Hulk and occasionally surpassed my nostalgia-sodden recollections of her past.
The Edmonton comic store Happy Harbor made the comic experience a treat beyond compare and I revived my comic writing and art with their 24 hour challenge in 2005. And ever since. Shop there, damnit. Even if you can only afford on comic a month. Even if you think you don't like comics. You do, I swear, you do! Or you will.
I thank Mark Waid and Alex Ross for Kingdom Come, whether I read it at 21 or probably re-read it in 2006. And I thank Devin, Carlos, Kim and Ron for making ever more DC comics available for me to read. How did I think myself satisfied with my existence before discovering the Legion of Super-Heroes? Any era, any writer or artist, I just adore that comic. It's a sci-fi team super-book space-opera dear to my heart and sometimes it seems like number one on my list. Certainly it killed forever any Marvel-only prejudice I had. Identity Crisis, 52, and Infinite Crisis rocked. Booster Gold is my household god. And now Green Lantern- o.k., maybe I'll never like Hal as much as Kyle, Guy, Kilowog, Jade, Mogo or Salaak, but hey, sixth best in a corps of 6200 isn't THAT bad. And Geoff Johns. What can I say about the guy I thought ruined She-Hulk in 'The Search for She-Hulk' but who brought us the utterly awful and logical killing of Max Lord by Wonder Woman, and who restored the GL Corps to awesome, brain-blasting brilliance. What can I say? He's great, that's what.
Marvel failed me with Exiles eventually: treating a trip to Earth 616 (twice in one year?) as a voyage home was the first time I remember feeling dissatisfied with a modern comic- and I still bought the book for two years!
Marvel screwed me over with 'One More Day' and I have not bought Spidey since (except Ultimate Spidey trades.) I swear not to buy it until continuity is restored. Even then I'm not sure what the point is without MJ.
MARK MILLAR IS STILL WRITING FF! Is this the Bizarro universe?
As of 2009, I buy only Booster Gold, Dr Who magazine, Ty Templeton's Star Trek, Mark Waid's Incredibles and I am seriously considering the Muppet Show comic, also from Boom! I read and loved the first three at work. They are splendid.
I'd be buying She-Hulk but somehow PETER DAVID couldn't make it funny or save it?
That still boggles my mind. How can PAD plus She-Hulk equal depressing and canceled? There's clearly a lot of factors I can't comprehend there. Also, I'm buying the She-Hulk Van Lente is writing, and while it's no Slott, it's not bad either. Marvel needs more multi-dimensional adventures with ARMOR, says I.
I try to buy trades when I have the cash. My shelves are very full, but these days my longboxes number only 5. Am I more discerning? Am I a bigger cheapskate? Is it all some pointless, money-drinking waste?
I think not. My 6 's'es of success will always bring me back: I'll always be into a story with sci-fi, super-heroes, sex appeal, sense of humor, surprises, and something new. Or at least new to me.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Have I mentioned I like comics? OH SPOILERS

Wonder Woman 'The Olympian' storyline by Gail Simone, loaned to me by Carlos. Very cool. That Genocide creature is one creepy thing. I like Tom Tresser, feeling bad for the poor guy now. Wonder Woman herself is quite likable, little more violent than I prefer, beheading Ares and all. She renounces (and punches) Zeus, but why should that mean she can't be an Amazon? She still values Athena, I assume, and the other goddesses (plus Mercury) who empowered her. Zeus wasn't the only god in the sea, and to be frank, he's ALWAYS been a jerk. Worshiping a pantheon means never having to be an atheist. This choice only makes sense if Diana is a monotheist. Like, if Jesus was being a big jerk, and the Pope socked him on the jaw, maybe the pope might decide to stand down. If hating Zeus meant you couldn't be an Amazon, there wouldn't be that many gals on Themyscira, right? Anyway, story's not over, drama's gotta be had, and I do really like Gail Simone's writing.
Green Lantern Corps by Peter Tomasi. I do so love Kyle and Guy as partners. And, surprisingly, Arisia & Sodam, too. I'm shuddering as the Guardians of the Universe grow more zealously unemotional! Sodam's sacrifice to save Daxam from Yellow Lanterns was tres cool. Very noble death. Too bad for a universe that thought having only ONE planet of insular Kryptonian-style xenophobes was one too many. Daxam & New Krypton- united in being unstoppable rage-fueled jerkwads! Cry 'Leibensraum!' next and let slip the flying, cape-wearing dogs of war! By which I mean Krypto. I think. Loved Guy's smart remarks about Blue Lanterns, Kyle and Soranik doin' it on the sly, and holy crap, Kryb's 'nursery'? Creepy as all hell. Geez, is that a real place? Hadn't some GL or Star Sapphire best go help those babies before they starve? Or hasn't Kryb told anyone where they are? Yurggh. I shudder. And... Sinestro claims to be Soranik's biological father. So the drama, she's fretting about it, of course, who wouldn't, but I'm thinking: can't she ask her parents if it's true? Or, as doctor with Green Lantern powers, why doesn't she do a DNA test? Why take his word as gospel and start fretting without any substantiation? For that matter, Sinestro says he tatooed her face years ago to prove the linkage. I guess she never gave a thought to how she woke up one day with a cheek tatoo, either? She just looked in the mirror, said 'huh. Cool.' and went back to taking her Korugarian SATs? She never tried to remove it before? I'm just being nit-picky here. As my friend Ron asserted, they're alien. I can't apply my attitudes to them without knowing their culture. Maybe they have taboos against DNA tests and maybe triangles sometimes appear on cheeks overnight. It's SCI-FI, baby! Anything can happen and in fact, that's the way I likes it! GL comics are constant excitement these days. All those freaky black rings pouring out of space toward Earth? Yeesgh! Maybe Alex Nero's long overdue but brutal execution will be a moot point real soon.
DANGER UNLIMITED by John Byrne- I read this collection of his very intriguing but short lived FF-style murder-mystery/time-travel/alien occupation/origin story, coupled with his sexy comedic 'Babe' stories, also cut down aborning. Dear Mr. Byrne- please revive them! Let me see those Xelerii jerks sent packin! Mistaken identities and lovely giant ladies with costume malfunctions are timeless, and let's face it, dear to my heart. Who's with me?
DARK REIGN by Bendis et al. It's suitably creepy. My minor beefs are with Mockingbird who is upbeat, rarin' to go, 'lemme-at-em-coach' in New Avengers and 'dire-cold-tortured-bitch-with guns' in Avengers Reunion. I guess they're happening at different times, but I must say I prefer the former. In a world where the strongest Avengers are the asshole killers we should have gals who can weather alien abduction and all the worst, but still be eager and optimistic. I admit, it might be unrealistic, I sure wouldn't be turning cartwheels in her place. But, to hell with realistic. She should be grateful to be on Earth, alive, and not a zombie or a Black Lantern. Yeurrgh.
The other beef is Brother Voodoo, Sorceror Supreme. Hmm. O.K. So Bendis made Power Man cool, he can do it for Brother Voodoo, I've no doubt. But... well, I'd rather have Steven Strange back. Not a racist thing.. I'd just rather have a relatively sane well-trained guy holding reality together. Not a dude who argues with his dead brother. Why would the Ancient One bring in a rookie when all hell is breaking loose? Jennifer Hale survived Marvel Zombies 3 ( I think). And Clea's still alive, right? Even Wiccan might be better... hmm, all whitey. No, I maintain that sanity is my standard here, not color. If the Ancient One wanted to pick a kook, I'll bet Wanda's still kicking around Transia or Genosha bein' all wonky. I guess we'll learn to like a chicken-feet wearing guy named Drumm. Or he'll die all pointless and horrible like Bill Foster. Only Your Bendis knows for sure.
AGENTS OF ATLAS-by Jeff Parker. These are brilliant stories with super art. Just really look forward to them and I have to gush. Freaky monster-men with good hearts slaying the beast from the inside. I just doff my hat to them. And to my buds Devin & Kim: I'm o.k. with Namor doing the nasty with Namora- they are not related! They never have been! Cousin by adoption as an adult is not blood relation or even raised together. Plus they're both mutants- if they had a kid it could probably have wings on every joint of its body! Assuming that was a good thing... probably not. Never mind.
MARVEL ADVENTURES (or anything else) by Paul Tobin- I like this guy! Those Iron Man, Spidey, Hulk team-ups are hi-larious! These need to be remembered. If only for Kang showing up to get revenge on the loveable trio before they've even met him- and shouting about how they destroyed his potato chip factory! And there's Hulk perpetually crunching chips in the background. Or before that, those Stone Men from Saturn-offshoot rock aliens who love extreme sports and force Tony Stark to do Kree karaoke. I laughed out loud. Kudos and great praise be heaped upon thee, Paul Tobin.