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Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Parallax Post Mortem: What Went Wrong With Hal's Turn to the Darkside

Look on my shoulder pads, ye Mighty, and despair!
Parallax was the driving force behind Zero Hour: A Crisis in Time. This alone is enough, in many circles, to condemn him into the unhallowed halls of what  Andrew Weiss calls Nobody's Favorites. But since I've never read the story (my desire to read through 90's event comics is equivalent to my desire to dump my body in a pool filled with sulfuric acid) I cannot truly comment on how crappy said story is. I can , though, look at the whole of Parallax and what went wrong.

My qualifications for this task are scant, I admit. I was between three and four years of age when the major stuff went down and I didn't even discover that my town had a comic book store for another decade or so. Like so many who came to know and love this most ludicrous and beloved medium of funnybooks after the first Spider-Man movie came out, all I have the firsthand accounts of those either orbiting near the swampland that was the early to mid '90's comics industry or those who were up to the necks in the horror show built on poorly realized pseudo-grit, aping the X-Men and following the artistic styling Rob Liefeld. I am a fan of the Green Lantern franchise (dragged in at the moment of transition men call Green Lantern: Rebirth), and as such I've absorbed all I could about the history of the main characters and the Corps itself. Also, I'm not entirely sure if the major point I wish to bring up about where Parallax went wrong has been stated before, so if it has, feel free to inform me.

Now let us look at the beginning. Well, the early '90's anyway, where Hal Jordan and company were going into decline in popularity and desperate creative choices. John Stewart would find himself crippled for a brief time and dumped into the Darkstars stable for awhile. Guy Grardner would lose his ring, rob Sinestro of his and then somehow discover his retcon "true background as a member of the Vuldarians and...whatever.And Hal Jordan, premier Green Lantern of sector 2814 and child of the Space Age found himself stuck in world more interested in scowling and guns than his brand of All-American superheroism. So, using the Death of Superman mega story as a jumping off point, DC decided to shake things up for the franchise.

It started off okay. Green Lantern #48 (cover dated January 1994) began with Hal in the ruins of Coast City, trying desperately to resurrect the place through sheer willpower. Though it he confronts his issues with his father, talks to his mother one last time, and brings and idealized version of his hometown to life. Then the Guardians show up to admonish him, somehow not noticing the man's grief and anguish. Any creature with even half a brain would immediately order Hal to take an extended leave of absence to deal with such a tragedy, but the Guardians of the Universe have never been ones to be written intelligently. So Hal, grief stricken and mad, goes forth to maim several fellow Lanterns, kill a resurrected Sinestro, murder Kilowog and destroy the Guardians. He takes the power of the Central Power Battery, and becomes Parallax.

Hal's tenure as  a villain was defined by grief, madness and anger. I other words, Hal had become like damn near everyone else running around in tights at the time, just on the chaotic evil alignment. His name made no sense (just look up what the word parallax means to see why) and as a grand universe shaking threat, Hal's most lasting affect was the full scale reboot of the Legion of Superheroes. But Hal's attempts at editing the past like so many Wikipedia entries and murderous rampages weren't the most damning of the whole enterprise. It was the fact that Hal took the entire Green Lantern Corps with him.

That, I think was the real breaking point no one could admit to at the time. Hal was the star of the show so he got the most attention, but the rest of the Corps, that lovely collection of freaky alien beings championing the cause of justice throughout the cosmos was no more. People like Katma Tui, Kilowog, Salaak, Arisia Ch'p and even Rot Lon  Fan? Either gone, dead or pushed to the background even further than they were. There would be only one Green Lantern for quite a while. And the DC Universe just felt smaller. Todd Alcott, a far better writer that I'll probably ever be, once pointed out that Green Lantern was a job, and one that any sentient creature with the right amount of willpower could have. But after the three part "Emerald Twilight" story arc,Green Lantern was just a guy.

Now don't get me wrong, Kyle's a fine character and like the guy quite a bit. Hell, I love most of the people who've ever slipped on the most powerful weapon in the (DC) universe. I'm just trying to point out the fact that DC thought it would be the best idea to take away one of the major factors that made made the Green Lantern franchise unique in the crowded world of superhero comics. And this is no justification for the existence of H.E.A.T, either. Their legacy (minuscule as it is) is a footnote in within a footnote; a bunch of angry fools tilting at windmills whose proximity to the resurrection of Hal and the Corps do not in fact mean much in the grand scheme of things (I've always suspected that Hal's return owed more to desperation for new readers than trying to placate aging fanboys).

Hal as Parallax lasted all the way up to the event Final Night, where he sacrificed himself to save the Earth in an eleventh hour moment to try and gain some redemption. Hal would float around as The Spectre until 2004, when DC decided to just let Geoff Johns bring Hal back as Green Lantern and bring back everybody and everything that the Corps once was. And yes, Parallax was retconned into and evil space bug representing fear itself. Honestly, that the best possible situation for him. Now he gets to be a cosmic horror of grand proportions instead of a bad heel turn that never really caught on with the comics reading public.

But the resurrection of the Corps is what was most needed. Now Green Lantern isn't just a guy or a group of guys. It's whoever or whatever the creators want it to be.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Why Son of Batman Sucks

 "It's the script, not the kid".

Let me regale you with a personal story. When I was writing this up, I was sure I knew the big problem was.  "It's Damian. My god is this kid annoying." Sure, I had other points I needed to make, but the fact was my main problem was Damian, the titular son of the Dark Knight.

Then I kept thinking about it. Saw all the various flaws the film had until they all started piling up like a twenty car accident on the I-45. I kept thinking about it and realized that it wasn't just Damian. Just saying that would be the easy target; "It's the kid", and go onto a long diatribe against the kid. I came to understand that it would be unfair to burden the badness of a single movie on one character because he acts like a petulant little brat. This was a script problem, for both Damian and the rest of the cast as a whole.

Before we wade our feet into a quagmire of crap, let's focus on the good. Almost all the voice actors are game for the material they're given, save for Morena Baccarin's wandering accent as Talia and Stuart Allen struggling with some of the lines. * The action is all pretty damn good, if a little over the top (i.e. supposedly non-superhuman people blocking bullets with swords, Damian surviving getting kicked into a stone pillar, Batman tossing a bunch of Man-Bats like they're nothing, ect). Hell, the over the top bits like the Gorilla-Bat attacking Batman really prevent the film from being completely onerous. And special mention should go to David McCallum (NCIS's Ducky) as Alfred, giving the man the exact amount of dry wit and authority for the character.

*Author's note: Let's get one thing straight: no blame for Damian Wayne's character is being thrown at (nor should it be thrown at) Stuart Allen. He did the best he could with what he had and what he had was a bratty character and a really weak script. The kid's obviously got potential (the fact that Warner Bros. hired this kid over just getting a voice actor who specializes in kids is proof of that). So let's not make this into a Jake Lloyd situation where a kid gets his bullied and blamed for what boils down to bad writing.

And now for the crap! First off, can I just say the inciting incident of the whole story ( Deathstroke's invasion and attempted coup of the League of Assassins) makes no damn sense? Slade does scream "I was your right hand!" at Ra's in their duel and we do get some exposition from Talia when she meets up with Bats to reveal their son, but otherwise we get very little for a motivation. Hell, we aren't even shown why his banished from the League! Also, why is Slade even associated with the League when in any other media he's his own guy with his own plans. The only explanation I can see is that they needed a bay guy for Batman and Damian( our eventual Robin) to fight and Deathstroke was the only name villain they could think up that fit the whole ninja angle (even though Deathstroke has never been a major part of Batman's rogues gallery).

Also, why did anyone feel the need to adapt the "Talia drugs and essentially date rapes Batman" plot point? There was no need to, guys. Just say Bruce and Talia got hot 'n heavy one night and nine months later: Bam! Son of Batman! You didn't need to go down Creepy Ave. And you definitely didn't need to have Bats say it "wasn't all bad".

Those two points above are just small section of the iceberg that is the script for the film. Everyone seems to have taken a level in asshole or dumbass in the script. Worst recipient is Dick Grayson, Nightwing in the film, who goes from probably the most well adjusted of the Bat Family (save for maybe Barbara Gordon) to an arrogant jerk for no other reason than to bicker with Damian like he was his big brother and not a grown ass man. Damian comes off generally less like a capable kid who could hold his own in a fight to near Gary Stu level of characters traits. He's not only a world-class ninja, but also a master swordsman, computer hacker skilled enough to hack the Batcomputer and a master sleuth. That's just too much, especially for a character just you introduced. And Bruce, let me give you some advice: when you see a child with extreme skill with a sword and murderous intent, you should see that as a sign to give him emotional support and some damn therapy, not as a potential crime-fighter you idiot!

The biggest example of characters becoming over the top assholes can be found with the Dark Knight himself. As he's interrogating Killer Croc to figure out what the hell he was doing stealing mutagens or something, Croc's basically falling apart due to some form of super-steroid/mutagen he was taking to get stronger. Batman, upon seeing this, deduces that the best way to get info out of Croc is to rip off the tail Croc's grown to get info. Yeah, I know that Croc does not have a tail and it probably would fall off given time, but the fact remains BATMAN RIPPED OFF SOMEONE'S LIMB TO GET INFORMATION!!! Even if you want to give Bats some leeway with how he gets info out of people, that's torture! And he doesn't even blink about it! Even the grim n' gritty Christopher Nolan Batman had to take a step back and wonder "My god, what have I done?" after crippling Sal Maroni by dropping him of fa two story roof. I mean Jesus, there are lines that Batman will not cross, and he just strolls across one without so much as an acknowledgement of what happened. Not even Jim Gordon acknowledges it, and he was in the room! I'm pretty sure Gordon wouldn't approve of that crap happening on his watch.

That last bit, Croc's torture, is what ultimately kills the movie for me. With that, the whole rest of the picture came into a focus as an excuse for action scenes instead of telling a decent story. I can't call this "NOT a Batman film" but I can call it a bad Batman film. Let's hope for better in the futu...

Wait, they made a sequel? Son of a bitch.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Search For The American Dream: The Live of Raoul Duke, James McGill and Superman

There are certain things that you don't do lightly, my friends. Certain activities and actions that you do not undertake without either the proper mindset or every tool you have at your disposal. You do not, for instance, go up to Scott Walker a United States governor and kick him in the head unless you're willing to face the consequences...or have some damn good connections to get you out of the country. It is for this reason that I do not believe that I am not, in any way shape or form, qualified to review the Terry Gilliam film Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Perhaps earlier I could have done just that; written my piece and gone onto the next thing or next thinly veiled "I WANT"post. But I think I know better now. To review Fear and Loathing wouldn't just require a watching the film or review purposes. Reading the book by Hunter S. Thompson  for comparison wouldn't be good enough either (though I have done that, too). To properly review Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas would in fact require a not only those, but a look at Thompson himself, the man's other works, Oscar Zeta Acosta, the collapse of the 60's counterculture, the drug culture of the 70's, and other factors that a quick Google search isn't sufficient enough to cover. By all means, I recommend the book and the movie, but that is all I can do right now. I have neither the knowledge, the tools or the insight at my disposal for anything deeper or meaningful. As it stands I only know of three people who are qualified: Lindsay Ellis, Kyle KallgrenChuck Sonnenburg  and David DeMoss. So please, go to those people and demand ask them to do that.

Especially you, Dave. You should be on that like a pack of starving piranha on a cow.

So as I sat down, realizing I had finally gotten to a point where I've started to become ever-slightly so embarrassed at my early works and pondering again whether or not to start fresh with a new blog, I still felt like writing something,anything, related to Fear and Loathing. My mind pondered and puzzled and contemplated what I should do. Eventually my mind trailed off, as it is often wont to do, like reflect on the character of James McGill of the excellent television series Better Call Saul. This is when the idea came to me  The wheels of my brain went round and round and round and round until sort of fictional character apophenia began to take hold. I saw three men, yes! three men; Superman, Raoul Duke and James McGill, all connected by one goal. I saw it as clearly as a flock of geese flying in a clear midday sky. There it was, standing over their heads in bright, mile-high neon letters: The American Dream.
Pictured: Id, Ego and Superego, if you'll forgive the pun
(Hey, it was this or talk about how much Son of Batman sucks.)

Now, let us not dwell upon the differences of each of the fictional men. They're obvious and they're various personalities a well documented elsewhere. So let's look at how these men relate to each other:

  • For starters, each man is putting up a false front in some way. Raoul Duke says he's not Hunter S. Thompson and lies about his profession at the National Association of District Attorneys Conference both for laughs and to make sure a maid doesn't report him to the authorities. James McGill's trying his damnedest to go straight, wearing Matlock suits and presenting himself as trustworthy friend while constantly at war with his "Slippin' Jimmy" past and his honed senses for being a con man. And Superman is the greatest false front of all: someone who presents himself as the paragon of good and virtue despite the fact that he is Clark Kent, a human man, with all the faults and wants of such a creature.
  • Both James McGill and Clark Kent are both sons of the Midwest and, if Jimmy's brother Chuck is anything to go by, had the virtues of hard work, honesty and doing the right thing taught to them in their developmental years. While Clark internalized those teachings, Jimmy mostly brushed them off (save for hard work).
  • Hunter S. Thompson and Clark Kent, the men behind the character, both took up the trade of being a reporter. They're reporters of different stripes, of course, but they are (or were in Thompson's case; being dead kind of hinders your ability to report on anything other than the afterlife) reporters none the less.
  • Both Jimmy and Duke are essentially ne'er do well normal human beings. While I'm sure legal acumen and the ability spin a tale as well as Thompson can are all attributes we'd all love to possess, they're not superhuman abilities. Well, as far as I know, they're not superhuman abilities. I could be incredibly wrong. 
  • Both Jimmy and Clack have an obvious affection for a co-worker (or former co-worker, anyway): Lois Lane and Kim Wexler. 
  • Lastly, all three have a distinctive look to them (Jimmy's Matlock suit, Duke's shades, panama shirt and hat, Superman's costume).
But above all those, my friends, lies their true binding journey: the hunt for the American Dream. Duke's the only one of them to say it out loud, but they're all hunting for it in some way. That could be said of every man, woman and child both blessed and cursed to find themselves within the borders of these United States. We're not focusing on the entire country, though. Bastard's too damn big for me to get a handle on. So we'll give out attention to the wholesome journalist/superhero, the conman lawyer and a hippie burnout reporter.

First, let us ask ourselves one question before we move on: what is the American Dream? Is it really the apple pie Norman Rockwell fantasy that's been sold to us by the Republican Party? Perhaps, in their hazy and narrow-viewed salad days, that was the American Dream. Now, though, it is an anachronism. And old hope that's been gently parodied, bitterly mocked and viciously deconstructed over the decades. It's no longer a viable goal in this mad twenty first century of ours, with its iPhones, terrorist cells and twenty four hour news coverage. It is, for lack of any better term, the Old American Dream. 

So what is the American Dream? We cannot move on from this point without a clear definition of our terms. Let us ask ourselves another question then: if we were to break it down to its most basic elements, what would we find in the Old American Dream? Well, wealth is certainly a part of it,or at the very least financial stability. How can you get that new car and house in the suburbs without a halfway decent account balance? Marriage and children are also a part of the Old American Dream, but then we'd be discounting the amount of couples happily together without kids and those various homosexual couples that find themselves in states that will not allow them to marry. There is also a desire for success at your chosen profession within it. Let us not forget the desire for safety for yourself, your loved ones and your property the Old American Dream. All of these things have the purpose of leading to one thing: happiness, whose pursuit the U.S.of A. is guaranteed for all people y the preamble of the  Declaration of Independence, along life and liberty. 

So, with all these factors laid out in front of us, we can build a definition for the purposes of this piece. As such:

The American Dream
noun:  A desire for wealth, success, security, companionship and happiness had by those who are born in and/or reside within the borders of the United States of America

[Author's Note: this definition of the American Dream is purely made for the purposes of this piece and only this piece. If it conflicts with your personal definition of the American Dream, please make a polite complaint in the comments and do not declare to wreak vengeance upon me.]

Now, here comes the big question that needs to be asked: who the hell am I to be commenting on the American Dream? Well, I'm nobody, really. I'm just some loser with a blog that thought it would be a good idea to write about the thin connection between three different fictional characters. If that puts you off, y all means, leave now and never think of this website again. Everybody else, thank you for powering though the last thirteen hundred plus words and lets get to the the meat of this thing.

Raoul Duke will be our first up to bat. Duke's quest in Fear and Loathing is simply to find the American Dream. He does not desire to acquire it for himself at all; he simply wants to see it for himself. He may be on assignment to report on the dust bowl that is the Mint 400 or attend a conference on drugs so inept Reefer Madness would laugh at it, but as he told his Okie hitchhiker, it's the American Dream is what he's truly after. He's sure he'll find in Vegas, and comes close when he's in the Circus Circus, sitting with his friend (Dr. Gonzo in the film, Bruce Innes in the book) trying to buy an ape. It's the tale of the owner, the boy who wanted to run away to the circus and grew up to own a circus/casino. Duke had found the success and wealth portions of our American Dream definition, but since we do not find out much else about this nameless Owner, we can't tell anything about his personal life or happiness.

Let's move onto the once and future Saul Goodman, James Morgan McGill, Esquire. Jimmy's search for the American Dream is a bit more common among American fiction: he wants his piece of the American Dream. His tale is still somewhere in the rags section of the rags-to-riches tale. Though the example of his brother Chuck (the honest and brilliant class action lawyer turned shut in) that one can get ahead in life through hard work and determination. But the world seems hell bent on keeping said dream away from the former Slippin' Jimmy. For every good thing he does he seems to suffer for it, like with giving the Kettlemans back the bribe they gave him. And men like Howard Hamlin, smug jerk that he is, keep throwing their success in his face by merely existing. Never mind that he can't even get headway with Kim, a woman he has obvious history and chemistry with, since their life plans don't seem to mesh with each other. Now, since Jimmy's tale is a prequel, we know he will one day become the titular Saul in Better Call Saul, the slick criminal with a law degree, but now we know why he will: the American Dream of wealth, success and even companionship are dangling in front of his eyes, but the straight and narrow path is just too treacherous for him.

Finally, we come to the Man of Steel. To many, Superman is the classic "immigrant done good" tale our society loves when it's not blaming foreigners for all our problems. He came to this country with little more than his security blanket and with the help of wholesome adoptive parents, he becomes not only a productive member of society but the savior of the human race... let's make a conservative estimate and say a hundred million times over. He works a j that he love and has the love of a beautiful woman (Lois in most media, Wonder Woman in the 2011 reboot). He is, in a way, the American Dream made manifest: a man of power and influence over not only his country but the world at large. He is a man who seemingly has everything. He has so much he goes forth to try and give others pieces of the American Dream, namely security from the various meteors, evil aliens, mad scientists and giant apes that threaten humanity on a daily basis in his universe. He does not have the perfect life (mostly thanks to DC Comics' bizarre policy against heroes feeling joy for too long), but Clark Kent is, for all intents and purposes, is a living embodiment of the American Dream.

Of course I may in fact be completely wrong. Maybe these connections I see are thinner than Christian Bale in The Machinist. But the fact remains, I see the three men, characters from wildly different sources, connected by that grand notion of the American Dream, whether it be a search for the thing itself, a pursuit of it or just being the embodiment of it. Thank you for reading.

(Next time: Why Son Of Batman Sucks)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ultraman Mebius vs. The Walking Dead

My money's on the guys in the matching  jackets

I cannot tell you, dear reader, how my mind functions.

I could tell you my personal  history and tastes; ramble and jaw for hours and hours about superheros, movies, science fiction, and all those things that society dubs nerdy. I could talk about about my fixation on toys that I've nurtured well into my twenty-fourth year of life. I lay all the good and bad decisions of my life before you as a form of confessional. And the stories! Oh, the stories I could tell of discovering a comic book store in my town at thirteen, study halls spent reading through MFHS' library small assortment of graphic novels and trade collections, and my first con experience at Anime Milwaukee (back when it was host on the UW-Milwaukee campus). Hell, I've got a couple stories of comic shop owners warning me against Age of Ultron (the comic event, not the film). I could speak of friends gained and lost, all all of my more real life milestones. Sadly, I don't think any of that information would help anyone, including me, in how my mind's thought processes work.

Which is a very long way of saying I'm not entirely sure why I prefer Ultraman Mebius to The Walking Dead.
This is not to say I hate The Walking Dead.

Okay, I don't hate most of The Walking Dead. 

Nor do I find Ultraman Mebius is perfect. (Just the most complete toku of its kind, as explained in a previous post). I just prefer the  Japanese kids show to the expensive, relatively adult and far more serious show and the channel that's blessed us with both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.(Though, they also thought Low Winter Sun was a good idea.) I tell ya, sometimes I think I need to ask God or whatever cosmic entities rule the universe and ask for a new brain. Or at the very least reset the wires in the old one. Maybe improve my attention span,  tune up my people skills....

Damn, there I go pondering impossible cosmic what ifs. Must stay focused. Have to get to the point of this prattle.

As I stated before, I cannot fully tell you why I prefer Mebius to Walking Dead. Could just be my love of giant monsters. But there are one or two factors that I can address with some form of coherence. First and foremost are the tones of each show. This is the less substantial of my factors because I have never  had a problem with end of the world scenarios nor worlds colored in various shades of gray. I just find it kind of refreshing to see Mebius and find a speculative fiction show that not only has giant monsters but veers more to the hopeful and optimistic judgment of humanity, especially after years where we've stopped dreaming about the future and are more focused on how the world will blow up or how the machines will take over. Only other real place I'm gonna find that right now is the in the filmography of Roland Emmerich (which veers even more to empty spectacle than the Japanese kids show) and possibly Interstellar (which I haven't seen).

The second factor I have is bit more substantial for me. You see, for all its archness, goofiness and occasional bouts of out and out slapstick comedy, I actually care about Crew GUYS. For most of the cast of The Walking Dead, it takes me a lot to actually give a damn about their lives. (God, this is gonna get me so much hate...)

At least I'll have you,GUYS
Alright, let me put this in context. I've watch about 15-16 episodes of Mebius on Crunchyroll. In that short amount of time, the show has actually gotten me to care about it's cast, even Teppei's sitcomish fear of letting his old biddy of a mother (or whatever the Japanese equivalent of an old biddy is). I actually care about these broadly-drawn characters. This is why, despite Cunchyroll's annoying habit of not letting people mute the commercials,  I've decided that I will in fact finish the entire series and probably watch it again.  I, after yeas of indifference, finally decided to check out The Walking Dead on Netflix. I sat through thirty five episodes;basically the first three seasons of that show plus a few random eps I caught on TV. And in those three seasons, I seriously had to struggle with giving a crap about most of the cast from episode to episode. I struggled for a long time to figure out why this is and I think I've finally come to a half-way sane explanation: the characters exist only to move along the plot. None of these characters seem to have any interests beyond their survival and their back stories, when we get them, are too thin for my tastes.

Now admittedly, there's not much room for hobbies or separate personal lives during the zombie apocalypse. But the back stories are so thin as to make the characters of Walking Dead, the slickly produced show with at minimum three times the budget of Mebius (and some more versatile talent both in front of and behind the camera) the characters don't feel like people to me. Their just game pieces moving across a board game called Zombie Apocalypse!, a Milton-Bradley product. Buy now in classic mode or the expanded Maniacs and Cannibals!  version for the low price of $35.99!

Also, there's the problem of repetition I have with Walking Dead. "But wait!" you say, "Isn't Mebius just as, if not more repetitive?" Why yes, it most likely is. But you know what else Mebius has the decency to do? Change up how the story is told every week,  be it the more comedic, character focused (see: Broken Bonds), action heavy(Threatening Mebius Killer/Ace's Wish), or heart stringing to near gratuitous levels (Teacher's Memories). It's still stock plotting but at least it's stock plotting that doesn't annoy me, There's only so many times I can watch Walking Dead's cast of pawns and clay pigeons find a place to hunker down, hope it lasts and find it inevitably burned to the goddamn ground so they have to start the cycle all over again. Nor do any episodes seem to drag on an on and on and on.....(in case you haven't guessed it, I really despised season two).

Also, just a quick aside: Of the episodes of Mebius I've seen, only One Road had the characters act like total idiots so the conflict of the episode can exist. Even then, it's idiocy in service to character development for a cast member (Teppei), not just so there can be a car crash (Lori). Or not telling anyone about the walker you saw near base (Carl). Or keeping to try and lead while you go desperately insane (Rick). Or desperately not notice that your love interest is out his goddamn mind (Andrea). Or do something for extremely petty reasons that essentially tips an already unstable man over the edge (Michonne, though admittedly I don't think she knew the Governor was nuts). Or trying to get revenge on a zombie sloppily (that dickhead from Alexandria). Or the many, many other things I could mention, but dammit that would take all freaking day and this ramble/article/whatever is running long as is.

Like I said before, it could just be that my brain's wired the wrong way. Or it could be that the allowances I give a Japanese kid's show are not the allowances I give a 2.8 million dollars per episode TV series that's in my own language. Either way, I prefer Ultraman Mebius to The Walking Dead.

(Oh and for anyone who's curious, in a one-on-one fight, I'd still say Crew GUYS could put up or even defeat the,,wait, what is the cast of TWD called anyway..."The Group"? Yeah, they could take on  The Group. Sure, Group's got Michonne and Daryl, but GUYS has a man who  can turn giant and manipulate energy, so I put the odds for them.)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Ramblin': Ultraman Mebius

I have spent the last several months agonizing over what I should or even could do with this thing. I have waffled and flipped-flopped over if I even should do something with this... collection of opinions and brain droppings that I call a blog. I kept sitting, worried about whether I should start fresh with a new blog, breathe life into this one again or just abandon the whole exercise completely. And if I'm being completely honest with everybody, I have no idea what I'm even writing right now. I just feel like this...whatever this thing is, has to be written and gotten out to the people.

As anyone who has followed this fool's rantings from the very beginning, I'm an adamant fan of  superheroes, Japanese tokusatsu and really giant creatures. They're loves I've nursed since I was at least three, when Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers graced TV screens and became, to my then three year old eyes, the greatest thing to be produced by human hands. This love went deep, deep down to to my being until  the word "NERD!" was  permanently etched onto every molecule of my body.I was an unrepentant comic and sci-fi lover in my youth and I'm still not willing to give up those passions just yet. And looking at the current landscape of blockbusters, it seems like the general public is willing to go along for the superhero ride for now. But you know, I think we should have something other than Marvel and DC in our hearts.

As I stated before, I have no idea what this is. This isn't a review, nor do I think this is a rant. More than likely this thing is a ramble about something that most normal people have probably never heard of and would never seriously consider actually consuming. to this I say: PLEASE, PLEASE, Oh PRETTY PLEASE? I'll be your best friend...

So, enough faffing about, let's get to the matter at hand. Have you ever heard of Ultraman? No, not, alternate universe evil Superman, but the read and silver giant from space?

Yeah, that one. 

I've been getting into this series in fits and starts for near a couple years now. One of my earliest blog posts was a review of the Ultraman Zero movie. (Note to self: give that movie a more in-depth review in the future.) I've always had more of a love for Kamen Rider than for the Ultra franchise, but it's always been at the corner of my nerdy eye. And with 2015, it seems that Tsuburaya is starting something that I am going to call "The All-Out Ultra Offensive" since no one has given a name to their roll out new Ultraman related things. The latest mutation iteration of the franchise, Ultraman Ginga S, had a movie come out recently with all the Heisei era* Ultras coming with Ginga and Victory. (It came in at 10th place in the Japanese box office, but still...) The 2011 ULTRAMAN (yes, it's title is in all caps) manga is coming to American shores AND it's getting an action figure from the new Ultra-Act/S.H. Figuarts toy. (DO WANT!) Finally we have anime streaming site Crunchyroll giving us official subtitles for four different Ultraman shows. I never thought I'd live to see the day a toku show would get official subs, but then life can in fact surprise you.

*As I understand it, the Japanese have this system which they name specific eras after their emperors. The Heisei is the general name of the current era of Japan beginning on January 9th, 1989, one day after the death of Hirohito, who is known posthumously as Emperor Showa. Hirohito's son, Akihito, the current emperor and Hirohito's son, will be known as Emperor Heisei when he dies.

Those four shows (two Showa* series, two Heisei series) are as follows: Ultraman Leo, Ultraman 80, Ultraman Max and our subject for rambling, Ultraman Mebius.

- Authors note: You can also watch the original Ultraman series (dubbed by Mill Creek, the guys who dubbed Speed Racer) on Hulu and you can get said dub and the subtitled episdoes of Ultra Q (the first Ultra show, but it didn't have an Ultraman in it) and subs of Ultra Seven on DVD.

Took you long enough to start talking about me, you rambling jackass.
 Ultraman Mebius, both the hero and the how that bears his name, appeared on April 8th, 2006. The successor to Ultraman Max, Mebius had a lot on it's shoulders going in. And I'm not talking about the usual bullcrap like keeping the ratings up so it didn't get prematurely cancelled. Mebius was also the the first Ultra to come from the Space Garrison ( the rest of the Heisei Ultras were in said to be in alternate dimensions from the main Original/Hayata-80 timeline) but the show was unlucky enough to coincide with the franchise's 40th anniversary. So it not only had to be it's own thing, but also pay homage to the series that came before it. That's a lot for any show to handle, and it could have easily fallen into the trap not being a decent representation of its franchise in any way or just wallowing in the the forty years' worth of history of the franchise at the expense of creating its own identity. And, from what I've seen (about 15 episodes out of 50) this series did, for the most part, a fine job of balancing both its homage elements and telling its own story. 

It is also possibly the one of the best example to tokusatsu of the 21st century. 

Oh, put your eyeballs back in, reader. 

Now please, let me explain. By "best example", I do not mean that Ultraman Mebius is "Teh bestest toku  EVAR OMGOMGOMG!!!1!" I mean it in the same way Peter David meant "perfect"  when reviewed Darkman back in 1990: it is a toku show that is complete of its nature and kind. Ultraman Mebius as a show will let you see modern tokusatsu for most of its glory and all its faults. From beginning to end it is a television show that knows exactly what it wants to be and by God is it going to be it, come hell, high water or cameos from other Ultras. It's just as goofy, saccharine, tense, melancholy, exciting or toyetic as it wants to be and nothing else. The only thing  it doesn't do is become beholden to the extreme toyeticism of most modern tokusatsu. 

Through this shows version of the Science Patrol, Crew GUYS (Guards of UtilitY Situation aka "the writers thought up of the acronym before we thought up of a full name"  you'll see some of the archetypes of toku done very well. They are, in order:

1. The Stalwart, All-Loving Rookie Hero: In the form of Mirai Hibino/Ultraman Mebius. And I have to give credit to Shunji Igarashi here for one thing: making me tolerate and even like Mirai. I totally believe that he is the kind of person who would want to make friends with everybody he meets. It also gives him a little depth, making his endless faith in humanity his ultimate strength and weakness. In other hands, Mirai could have been the blandest man on the face of the planet, but in your hands Mr. Igaashi he seems...for lack of a better word, human. 

2. The Hothead Desperate To Prove Himself: Ryuu Aihara. And dammit, I'd be lyin' if I didn't say I kinda wish he'd gotten to been the main character. Like I said, I like Igarashi's Mirai and all, but Masaki Nishina did a lot with his role to make me like Ryuu just as much if not a bit more than Mirai. The balls that he demonstrates in episode one alone make me love this guy. I would love to see him come back to the franchise someday.

3. The Jerk With A Massive Chip on His Shoulder (aka "The Gai Yuki"): George Costanza Ikagura's role in the series. Former occupation: soccer player/ace striker. Like all jerks, he softens up as the series progresses.Also has the incredibly good vision and aim. I'm okay with George. He doesn't have near the charisma of the once and future Black Condor Toshihide Wakamatsu, but Daisuke Watanabe does the best he can and even helps make George entertaining sometimes. So kudos, amigo.

4. The Tomboy: Marina Kazama, former motorcycle racer turned ace pilot in the span of about a few hours. Ai Saikawa's role is probably the least developed of the cast. She gets to have unexplained super hearing  and a desire to  become the first woman to be World Champion, but not much else. Wait, no. I think she may have had a small bit of flirtation with George in his focus episode "Reverse Shot" but that's it.

5. The Smart One: Teppei Kuze, A medical student and living monster encyclopedia. A Kaiju groupie, to steal borrow a phrase. He also has a overly, dramatic mama he wants to make proud by becoming a doctor. Kenta Uchino rather good in the role, and does the best exasperated face on TV I've seen outside of Martin Freeman. (Just watch the opening credits of any episode, you'll see what I mean. [Edit: He also doe a good "Huh?!" reaction.]
"Damn it's been a long day. Endless reports, a kaiju, attack AND I had my mother calling me every half  hour to try and hook me up with one of her girlfriend's nieces ...

"Wait, there's a camera there?!

6. The Shy Girl with Hidden Wells of Courage/" Kawaii" Character: Kindergarten teacher turned monster tamer Konomi Amagai. She gets the more development of the two main female cast members by virtue of being actually quite unsure if she even belongs in GUYS or not. Misato Hirata plays her in just the sweet spot for a character like Konomi, not fearful or girly enough to be a retrograde stereotype of womanhood and not too cutesy to seem like a little girl trapped in a woman's body. That and her becoming the trainer/motherly supporter of Maquette Monster Miclas is kind of adorable.

Who wouldn't love this 20,000 tons of cute?

7. The Supportive Commander/Father Figure/Mentor: Shingo Sakomizu, played by the late Minoru Tanaka. Dammit does Tanaka's death depress me. Not only because of the way he went (he apparently hanged himself in 2011) but we lost a man who could play the caring a dependable commanding officer like it was second nature to him. Just breaks the heart, really. Rest in Peace, captain. Rest in Peace.

And finally we have...
8. The Adversary/Anti-Hero Turned Ally: Hunter Knight Tsurugi/later Ultraman Hikari. His arc is the second one of the show, directly following the first six-episodes I like to call the  "Intro to GUYS" Arc. I will not be spoiling a damn thing here, so you're just going to have to watch the show yourself to experience it. 

As you can probably gather from the character synopses above, GUYS functions more on the "Band of Misfit Characters for a Superhero Story/Kids Show" level than the "Actual Military Organization" mold.  They still function amazingly well for a bunch of civilians and a John Doe from Deep Space whose secretly a giant made of light. There's also some Partially Odious Comic Relief in the form of  Aide Toriyama and Secretary Aide Maru, but they're just there and never intrude the plot nor hinder our heroes from doing their jobs. Also, there's Inspector General Yuki Misaki, who exists to be Ms. Exposition.

As I said hundreds of words ago, I think  Ultraman Mebius one of the most complete toku shows out there. You get you toyetic cool base (Phoenix Nest).Ya also get toyetic cool jets (Gun Winger and Gun Loader). And even some psuedo-Pokemon action (the Maquette Monsters). You also get some damn fine giant monster on giant superhero action, super jet on giant monster action and giant monster on giant monster action. It's cast all mesh well together, with not a bad actor among them (from what I can tell, anyway). No one acts like a complete freakin' idiot for the sake of the episode's plot to work. Even some of the comedic bits work (or at the least do not annoy me enough to want to hut the writers down throttle them for crimes against humor). It also has so kickass music, from the main theme, the Miracle of Ultra ( the happiest theme for a hero I've heard in years) and the best song of the series hands down Run Through! Wandaba Crew GUYS!

Alright, this is running long. I'll probably be coming back to talk about Ultraman Mebius and the rest of the Ultra franchise soon, so keep your eyes peeled. In the mean time, do like the secret alien overlords tell you and CONSUME....Ultraman Mebius on Crunchyroll.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On The State of Geekdom: Gentlemen, Please! May We Have Some Decorum!

Decorum (noun)- 1.behavior keeping in good taste and propriety 2.A trait not being shown by a disturbingly large number of geeks on the internet.

Hello there. I would like to take a small minute to use this little corner of the internet to air out a grievance or two I have with the current state of nerdy affair; specifically with the rampant  and, quite frankly, disturbing surge of sexism going on in both the comics and video gaming communities.

This problem has been going on for a good long while now, and I have, sadly, attempted to ignore these people's hate speech. Since the only forum I currently visit is the Spoony Experiment forums (sporadically) and rarely read the comments to articles, this has been rather easy for me. While this may seem like a cowardly and negative reaction to this quite frankly is, and for months I have been essentially ashamed of myself for not speaking up. I, stupidly, figured it wasn't my problem and that I could do nothing about it given the fact that I can name amoebae more influential  than I am. I did in fact do a joke article on the concept of "fake geek girls", but that was basically just two pictures of women in sexy cosplay(Said article has since been deleted).

But recently, I've read the ComicsAlliance article on the subject of  the sexual  harassment of female comics creators and came across a rather frightening quote that was sent to Janelle Asselin, which was reposed with permission by Andy Khouri. Said hate speech  in the middle of the article linked, and said speech will not be reposted here since A: I don't have permission & B: looking at said speech sickens me to my very core. I mean, that damn rant right there speaks to something rather awful and vile about geek culture. It is seriously just something that makes me want to throw up.

So why am I, a nobody who posts things on the internet, talking to you, hypothetical reader, about this subject? Well, I can say that I do have a selfish reason for writing this. That reason being that I do not desire to feel completely and utterly ashamed to admit myself as a superhero and comics fan. Because it's shit like the quote that shall not be repeated, the reports of rape threats to female creators, and the generally violent "Boys Only" mentality that makes me ashamed to call myself a geek! I mean for God's sake, this is the kind of stuff I'm pretty sure would be used as demonstration of how much games and comics "warp the mind" by an opportunistic politician. But it also shames me that, as a man who was raised better than to say or do thing like that, that there are people, IN 2014, that will do and say such horrible and terrible crap.

And finally here is the part which I ask something of you, hypothetical reader. I ask you, that if you see anything like this happening, do not stay silent. Be you man, woman or whatever else, please tell these people to show a some goddamn respect and basic manners. I know that every subculture, be it politics, religion and especially our neck of the woods is bound to attract the less than civilized, but that does not me we should just let them roam free ruining the good name of geek. We must stand up to these people and stand with those these jerks are attacking. Let's at least try to stop this.

To those who do partake in this kind of thing, I ask that you either straighten up or just get the f*#@ out of the fandom. Trust me, you won't be missed.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Random Update: It's Been A Long, Long Time

Hello again, friends. Nice to see you again. I've been MIA for... HOLY SHIT I'VE BEEN GONE THAT LONG!!!. Well, Jesus H. Christ I should probably do something for you guys. Let's see...damn I got nothin'. Seriously, guys, I've got absolutely nothing meaty for my return to the blogoshpere. It's not that I've been extremely busy, either. I didn't head back to college and my current job is just some part time work. well, since I both wanna get to a semi-fresh star and seriously have nothing big going on right no, let's just go through some stuff I find interesting to talk about... for a couple of sentences, at least.

  • First of all let me show you an upcoming cover for Red Hood and the Outlaws #32
'ahem': BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!! Ar...are you serious, DC? For real, this is a cover for a comic being made in 2014?! This is almost on par with the leather fetish nuns from the Hitman: Absolution trailer in terms of over the top cheesecake aimed at the adolescent male mind. All it needs is and explosion or American flag in the background (or an exploding American flag!) from earning the Michael Bay Hat Trick. I am not joking when I say I don't know whether I should be offended (given DC's recent track record) or astonished that they thought this wasn't going to be a figure of ridicule. To quote thanekos of scans_daily, "That's a cover that makes you think Vice should be somewhere in the title."

  • Have you been watching Kamen Rider Gaim? If not, I'd suggest getting on that immediately. Gaim is closely becoming on of my favorite tokusatsu no no, one of my favorite shows PERIOD.  It is seriously on of the more compelling narratives I've come across in years. And yes, people, I've seen Breaking Bad. That's excellent and, yes, better than Gaim. But most series are inferior to Breaking Bad, and that doesn't make Gaim any less of a good show. So watch it. I'd suggest trying TV Nihon, but AesirSubs is good as well (eve if they take some liberties with their transations). 
This is MY stage now!
  • Speaking of Kamen Rider, Kamen Rider Ichigo himself, Hiroshi Fujioka, is coming back to appear in the film Kamen Rider Taisen. While like most of Toei's tokusatsu films, I suspect KRT will end up being more spectacle than a functioning narrative, I'm sure it will be fun to see the man as Takeshi Hongo once more
  • Heading back to comics, I've been following the whole Superior Spider-Man  drawn-out gimmick  storyline through scans_daily, and I was surprised to see it end with Otto flat out admitting that Peter was always the better man.  Kinda brings home Ock's whole "trying to one-up a ghost" story arc. 
  • Also, to everyone who comments on Peter being to whiny, I ask this: Do you think it's the fault of the character himself or because the Marvel has kept him in character retrograde for the last decade or so?
  • Also, I think I've come up with a new term: Character Retrograde. It's like regular retrograde, only it involves characters going the opposite of basic character progression. I suspect Peter Parker has been stuck in this ever since the late '90's, with the event "One More Day" sticking him into this pattern. Trust me, if things don't improve, he'll be acting like a five yer old before you know it. 
  • Lastly on the subject of Spider-Man, I would like to come and say that I am somewhat shocked that they're going to adapt the "Harry becomes a drug addict" story from the comics. And while I'm sure they've chosen to make him a meth addict due to meth being the "sexy" (as far as illegal drugs mostly associated with poverty and crime can be considered sexy), but  them willing to do this for a more kid-friendly property like Spider-Man makes me think they're at least trying to be bra...wait, what? You mean that's not Dane DeHaan as a meth addict, but as the Harry Osborne version of the Green Goblin? 

  • Garo is getting an anime series. In other news, no word yet on the wheter Toei has taken up my suggestion for a Kamen Rider Spirits anime.
  • Onto a less nerdy subject, does anyone have an answer to why Vladimir Putin seems hellbent on reigniting the Cold War? Was he a big fan of being on the brink of nuclear destruction?
  • This is the new look of Michaelangelo of my second favorite super team* of the 1990's, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. 
And here is the trailer:

to paraphrase a chemically scarred lunatic: " I have given a name to my pain...and it is Johnathan Liebsman" 

*My favorite super-team is, of course, The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.

  • Just so I don't end on a sour note, I'd like to thank you all for sticking by me after all dead air. I will, in fact, try this time to update regularly. See y'all later.