Game Review: Diablo 3

Diablo 3 is out. But is it a game? Or is it the most brilliant money making scam in internet history?

Movie Review: The Avengers

Okay, okay, I posted my Avengers review. Get off my back already, geez.

The Most Important Comic Book You've Never Heard Of

Action Comics #1. Detective Comics #27. Why is All-American Men of War #89 as important as these great comics -- and why have you never heard of it?.

Tales From the Vault: Lois Lane #93

If you thought Superman was a total tool before, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Mass Effect 3: The Official Review

Mass Effect 3 isn't the end of the world, it just portrays it.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Avengers Assemble!

After over two months of enthralling comics blogging, no doubt most of you by this point are wondering to yourself, "why doesn't this man have a book deal? These opinions and facts about comics should be collected immediately if for no other reason than to ensure that the Library of Congress gets a hard copy of these important insights, to protect them for posterity and the future of our great nation." Good point. But rest at ease, folks: that book already exists.

Yes, for those of you who may not be aware, I have had the honor and pleasure to contribute to not one but two books about my favorite subject, the Avengers. You may have noticed a brief shout out about this back when I interviewed Van Plexico, but if you missed it, essays by myself appear in both Assembled! and its mighty sequel, Assembled! 2.

Of course, writing whole books about the Avengers, while certainly a worthy endeavor, is a bit more work than I had time for myself, so I should give credit to the pack of helper monkeys -- er, fine contributors -- from Van's Avengers Assemble! website that also pitched in to fill in the gaps that I might have overlooked. And of course, Van himself acted as editor and publisher for the series, came up with the idea and organized the project, so I suppose he should be mentioned as well.

So what is in store for you if you decide to pay the tiny, almost symbolic, fee to purchase the book? Well, in the first volume, I and my cohorts discuss each era in Avengers history, broken down by writer, with some additional odds and ends thrown in for good measure. I had the pleasure of contributing the chapter about Avengers legend and former Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas, who wrote the series for 71 issues, from #35-105; and within that long run, I also broke it down to sub-runs that each deserved its own look. But rather than just talk about it, I'll show you, in a series of small excerpts from my chapter:

From The Early Issues: #36-50

"Avengers #44 effectively ends the contribution of the Black Widow to the team. After Avengers Special #1, the team returns in #45 to a city-wide holiday and they at that time induct Hercules as an official member of the team. They also state that they were going to induct Black Widow at the same time, but she has decided to retire. It is interesting to speculate how sales and reader reaction may have affected this decision. From the moment Thomas took over the series, Black Widow became a vital character, appearing on many covers and driving the action; it seems strange for Thomas to so abruptly relegate her to the minor supporting role of Hawkeye's girlfriend. As the later transformation of Hawkeye to Goliath showed, the stories were often dictated by what management believed would sell; it is possible that Black Widow and Hercules were both added in an attempt to boost sales and it is possible that they were dropped for failing to do so, or because of perceived negative reaction."

From The Classic Issues: #51-71

"Over the course of less than two years, between Avengers #51 and #71, Roy Thomas created the Grim Reaper, Ultron, the Vision, Yellowjacket, and the Grand-Master, added the Black Panther and the Black Knight to the team, married Hank and Jan and returned the Masters of Evil, Kang the Conqueror and Wonder Man to prominence. He did so at a time when the artwork, first by John Buscema and later by Gene Colon and Barry Windsor-Smith, was reaching exciting new heights for the series and the company. The combination of Thomas's maturation as a writer and the new expressiveness of Marvel as a whole enabled an unparalleled streak of classic issues that set the stage for nearly all future stories that would come to define what the Avengers meant as a series."

From The Kree/Skrull War and Beyond: #89-105

"Over the course of this story, Thomas weaves strands of stories that previously had been unrelated - the Skrulls, the Kree, the Inhumans - forming a mythology for the cosmic storylines that would follow in the Marvel universe. He also continues with topical relevance, through the use of government strong-arms who are riling up the citizens, only to be revealed as Skrull instigators. Further, he advances the sub-plots of his characters, most notably the formation of the romance between the Vision and the Scarlet Witch. This had previously only been hinted at in the vaguest fashion, but it becomes an important story point in issue #96. And lastly, he again shows his grasp of Marvel continuity through his usage of Golden Age characters and the importance of Rick Jones to this story and to Avengers history."

That's just a tease of what you can find out about Roy Thomas and the Avengers in my chapter of Assembled! But I would be remiss if I ended this without also mentioning the sequel, Assembled 2!, which only suffers from one drawback -- a lack of myself. While there is less of me to go around, however, the other authors do a fine job. And I still manage to get in a few bits and pieces here and there, mostly small anecdotes, such as this snippet about the later parts of Thor vol. 1:

"The Jim Starlin issues of Thor just after Tom DeFalco left the book aren't particularly great, but they have their moments. My favorite is this bit of dialogue after Thor meets a mystery woman:

Woman: "I have many names, son of Asgard. You would probably best deem me The Goddess. Open yourself up, Thor, and feel the grandeur and the potential for universal Nirvana within me."

Thor: "Um...what?"

Well said, Odinson. There's the decisive Thunder God we know so well."

Delightful, you'll agree.

So how can you get these delightful books, which would be a perfect Christmas of Hanukkah gift for pretty much anyone on Earth, including yourself? Well, finer, discriminating book and comic book stores will stock it, of course, but you also click here to buy the books on Because what library would be complete without the collected works of me, Scott Harris?

And everyone else who worked on them, of course.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Women in Spandex

Last Saturday I attended the Boston Comic Con and had the pleasure of introducing one of my friends to the world of comic books. She doesn't read comics, she doesn't like comics and she doesn't know anything about comics, but thanks to the kindness of the artists and writers in attendance and especially to the creative energy that filled Artists Alley, my friend ended up having a very good time. All in all, it was a very successful trip.

With one small exception. Passing by the prints and posters arrayed along the walls in front of Artists Alley, we were confronted with picture after picture of scantily clad, huge breasted and impossibly proportioned women arranged in painful and sexually charged poses. Walking past, my friend commented that as a woman, it was sometimes difficult for her to look at comics.

Here's a dirty secret, though: as a man, it's often difficult for me to look at those pictures as well, because they don't just demean women, they demean the audience too. They don't just pander to the lowest common denominator, they actually lower that denominator even further by creating a locker room mentality that alienates fully half of the potential readership of the form. If fans of comics sometimes complain that their medium isn't taken seriously, I say, look around at what we are presenting to the world, because we've earned it.

Of course, complaints about how women are portrayed in comics are nothing new. Current Wonder Woman writer Gail Simone helped bring the issue to the forefront when she was still a fan back in the 90's with her website Women in Refrigerators, which explored the many ways that female characters in comics were often abused, murdered or otherwise traumatized as plot points for their more popular male counterparts. But though the website gained a lot of attention, to the point where the term "women in refrigerators" is now comics shorthand for negative treatment of women in comics, the actual content of the comics in question hasn't changed significantly in the years since. In part this is likely due to the simple fact that, as refrigerator death scene author Ron Marz himself argued with some validity, women aren't the main characters in most of these titles, meaning that as supporting characters they exist primarily to move the plot forward for the main characters, who are usually male.

However, my concern is less with how the characters are written (which is a whole different topic) but more with how they are drawn. Comics is at heart an inherently visual medium, and how women are drawn -- how they are portrayed on the page in the literal sense of the word -- in some ways carries a more immediate and visceral message than the words and actions taken by the characters within the stories. Even on this front, of course, there are some who argue that the unrealistic depiction of female superheroes is part of the form; the male characters, after all, are also exaggerated physically, so it stands to reason that the women would also be given idealized figures as well.

But while this may be true as far as the design of the characters, it does not address the way those characters are depicted in terms of the situations, poses and contexts which they are portrayed in. There's nothing wrong with having beautiful, attractive and fit women in comics, nor in drawing them well; mainstream superhero comics have been doing this for decades. Yet in recent years, artists and editors have begun overtly emphasizing sexuality on covers and in interior shots, not just for characters whose sexuality has long been a central part of their identity (such as Vampirella or Emma Frost), but for any and all female characters regardless of their personality within the stories themselves.

This sort of blanket sexualization has several negative effects. Firstly, it damages the character's credibility with the readers, both within the story and in the larger fan consciousness. Mockingbird, for instance, was at the center of one of the most famous stories about sexual and emotional abuse in the history of comics, yet how seriously are modern readers supposed to take her when she is now best known for gratuitous ass shots? Covers like this send the message that the company itself doesn't necessarily respect their own character -- and often they don't. While the writers of Avengers: the Initiative are trying to rehabilitate the character, for the last several years Tigra has been written pretty much as a punchline, dismissed for her sexuality both by writers and fans alike. Even Mary Jane Watson, who is a well respected fan favorite, has spent more and more time in recent years lounging around in lingerie for no apparent reason, a new attitude towards the character that was perhaps best represented by Marvel's infamous "Mary Jane Bending Over" statue, complete with coquettish grin and visible thong.

This undermining of the characters is only exacerbated when the companies package their female characters together for the sole purpose of showing off their T & A (see: this review of Gotham Sirens) or throw them together into a nominal "women's" title like Marvel Divas, which appropriates the settings and characterizations of Sex & The City and then undermines whatever (debatable) appeal this might have for women by packaging it as puerile fantasy.

This kind of ill-conceived fan-service is the second major negative effect that this kind of objectification has, because by pandering to the type of reader who enjoy this kind of thing, the publishers end up alienating those who do not. This becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, of course, because when the only fans left are those who buy these kinds of comics, these kind of comics are the only ones that will sell. If you've devalued your female characters to the point where the only interest that remains in them is sexual, than that is the only kind of viable use left for those female characters.

This also means that in essence you are training new comic readers to expect their female characters to be sexualized. Leaving aside the impact that this may have on younger readers by normalizing these kinds of depictions of women, this has the predictable corollary of training young female readers what not to expect from comics: strong characters, reasonable representation or inclusive role models that they can become invested in as readers. And this is the third, and perhaps most important effect this kind of art has: it drives away potential female readers and creators.

This cannot be overstated. The medium of comics is inherently gender neutral. When I was growing up, I knew any number of girls who read comic strips -- collections of comics like Calvin & Hobbes or Bloom County. Yet none of them ended up making the jump to comic books. Why? Because of the reputation comics have as a boys only club.

Now, part of this no doubt is do the dominant and admittedly violent superhero genre. But much of it can also be attributed to the roles that female characters play within that genre -- not just as plot points or dead girlfriends in refrigerators, but as eye candy utilized by artists (and in some cases writers) for fan-service. Now why would any woman or young girl want to try any of these comics out? And what's true for readers seems even more true for creators. While Simone, who I mentioned earlier, has had success in the field, she is the exception rather than the rule. Historically and presently, mainstream comics have had very few women. Yet, efforts by women publishing in underground or independent comics have proven that there are plenty of women with the talent and skill to succeed in the medium. So why aren't there more female pros working in mainstream comics? Maybe because they don't want to. And why would they want to?

All this is not to suggest that there is no place for sexuality in comics, even in mainstream superhero comics. Of course there is. There are many female -- and male --characters who are sexual by nature and there's no reason to eliminate or downplay this. But by the same token, there are plenty of characters who aren't particularly sexual. There are plenty of female characters who are simply strong, or smart, or brave, or dumb, or cowardly, or weak, or beautiful, or ugly, or kind or evil or just simply boring. And that's the whole point: female characters should be given the same benefits as their male counterparts and be written -- and drawn -- as individual characters, rather than just as props in a sexual fantasy.

Because I think that's all any real comic reader wants: to read about compelling, unique and interesting characters. And once comics start giving us women who fit that description, maybe we'll start seeing more girls picking up comics, more women writing comics and more female fans able to attend comic conventions without being uncomfortable or embarrassed at they way the industry looks at them.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Voices from Artists Alley: COMICBOOK ARTISTS GUILD

Rounding out our weeklong review of the indie presence at the recent Boston Comic Con is a Vault first: an interview with an organization rather than a person, in this case, The Comicbook Artists Guild. Oh, sure, the guild was represented by people, but I think it is best to keep things on a pure artistic level and instead just refer to the representatives of CAG by iconic comic nicknames instead, so that their message doesn't get diluted by focus on the individual. Which is my way of saying that my recorder malfunctioned and didn't record the part where they told me their names. But whoever those men of mystery were, gentlemen, we salute you!

Since there were two men manning the booth at the show, we'll refer to them as The Man and King. Onward!

What can you tell us about the Comicbook Artists Guild?

THE MAN: We’re representing the comic book artists guild, which formed in 2000 -- we’re in our ninth year -- of up and coming, amateur, independent comic creators – writers, artists, inkers, pencillers – who network and collaborate. We do things like throw in on convention tables to make it more affordable for members, collaborate on each other’s projects, the guild does several publications a year that members are invited to contribute to so that you can end up being published for the first time, and generally support each other in the creation of our own independent projects as well.

So it’s anyone working in comics, not just artists? The “artists” in the title refers to artists in the general sense?

THE MAN: Yeah, anyone. I’d say we almost have a 50-50 split between writers and artists. In fact we have a prose project coming out next year that the writers got together and started, and each story has a couple of illustrations from the artists. But it’s more prose focused than the traditional sequential art.

KING: And even on our Facebook page we have different groups, you could be in the artists group, you could be in the writers group, you could join as many as you want, whatever. If you have anything you do in the comic book industry or anything you want to do in the comic book industry, that’s what we’re all about.

THE MAN: And we’ve even got just a few diehard fans who just want to be involved. And it’s very low dues, just $25 for the first year and $20 a year thereafter. And the website is

And you have regular meetings?

THE MAN: Yep. We have different chapters, the New England chapter meetings take place in Connecticut once a month, usually around the third week of the month on a Saturday or a Sunday at a regular location. There’s a New York chapter that meets regularly, a Midwest and a West Coast chapter and we even have a couple international members in London and Brazil.

And what do you do at the meetings?

THE MAN: Discuss everything from… sometimes we pass around artwork for critiques from artists and writers. Sometimes there’s a little kind of mini-seminar. At a recent meeting, Keith Murphy, our President and co-founder of the guild gave a seminar on how to put together a portfolio presentation for one of the major comic companies. So you have like people giving advice, you do have members who have worked professionally for some of the big indies and even the Big Two.

About how many members do you have in the New England branch?

THE MAN: I don’t think I could tell you how many we have in the New England Branch itself, but all told I think we’re over 100 members, I think 120 or 130.

KING: I’d heard we’re up to about 160.

THE MAN: And the last meeting I went to [in CT], there were about 30 members present.

[editor's note: the banner on the front page is from the CAG Anthology #7 story / series "Agent Unknown" by Robert Sodaro and Chris Torres]

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Voices from Artists Alley: KARL STEVENS

All week we're presenting the latest batch of mini-interviews with independent comic creators we caught up with at the recent Boston Comic Con. Today we unveil our chat with Karl Stevens, a writer and artist whose work can currently be seen in the Boston Phoenix. Let's see what he had to say for himself, shall we?

Now, you have a comic that’s appearing in the Boston Phoenix, is that right?

That’s correct. It’s called Failure and it’s an autobiographical comic. It’s basically about me living in Jamaica Plain and getting drunk all the time.

Fair enough. And how long have you been working on this?

Well, I’ve been doing comics for the Phoenix since 2005. The first one I did was called Whatever, which was recently published in a collection by Alternative Comics.

And how did you get the gig with Phoenix?

Well, the first work I did was called Guilty, and it got reviewed by the Phoenix. And it was right around the time that they redesigned the paper. I had been doing freelance illustration for them, so the art director asked me to do a comic that was kind of similar to that book, which was about living in Allston. And that became Whatever.

Now, you also have here a third book you’ve published, Anatomy for Artists. That’s basically a how-to art guide?

Yeah, that’s basically a straight illustration project. It’s for artists that want to learn anatomy; I didn’t write it, I just did the illustrations. The idea of the book is that you find the anatomical parts on your own body and that will make it easier to familiarize yourself with them.

Well, that makes sense. So, you had mentioned that Failure is semi-autobiographical. Were your earlier projects like Guilty and Whatever also autobiographical?

Yeah. I mean, I definitely used myself in the first strip [Whatever]. But, yeah, there’s a strong element of that, writing about personal things that have happened to me and the world around me.

And did you study art in school?

Yeah, I studied painting at the art institute of Boston and also at Montserrat College of Art.

And what kind of feedback have you been getting about your work?

Mostly positive. A lot of people seem to like it.

Do you know when Failure will be collected? I know you’re still working on it, but is there a lot left in the storyline?

Maybe in 2010 sometime. Or maybe in early 2011. It’s part of a larger book that I am doing, so… I have this literary agent now and she’s been pitching it around so we’ll see what happens.

Is Failure available to read online, or is it something you can only read in the printed version of the Phoenix?

Yes, you can read it online at the Phoenix website which is and just look in the comics section, it will pop up. Or you can go to my website, which is

And do you know what you’re going to be working on after you finish Failure?

I’m only like halfway in, so I haven’t really started thinking about it.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Voices from Artists Alley: KEITH GLEASON

Next up on our spin through the world of independent comics and the creators who publish them is Keith Gleason. Keith is one of the masterminds behind Hero Envy, a comic that spins out of the live action web sites Swass Adventures. But instead of me just blathering up here in the intro, why don't we get right to the interview and let Keith explain it all himself?

So, what can you tell us about yourself and this project?

Hi, I’m Keith Gleason from and we’re talking about our web series “Hero Envy” and the Swass Adventures. Basically what it is, it’s an online webisode series, live actors, all scripted. It’s a show about geeks – it’s for geeks – and how they relate to each other and the adventures that they go in on.

We’ve done like adventures about Transformers, about wrestling, you know, anything geeky, we’ve done it, we’ve talked about it. We’ve made fun of reality shows, Behind the Music and stuff like that. And then basically, we’ve been doing that since 2005 and we decided a year ago to start a comic book based on the series of characters that we’ve built on the web. And the comic book allows us the opportunity to exp[and on their adventures and do stuff that we couldn’t do in the actual webisodes.

So we decided to do it top notch, full color. It’s got a 23 page full story and then a six page back-up story, which is drawn by a separate artist. It’s about one of our side characters called El Diablo, who’s a wrestler character, an imaginary friend and his origin and how he came about. And in the back we have a letters page and an episode guide so if you haven’t seen the episodes online, the comic is designed for a new reader so they can read it and say, “oh, there’s more episodes on line” and they can go check it out. It’s tons of entertainment for the money.

So you publish this print on demand?

Yes, we use Comic Express. We do all our work through them. Great company, every time I’ve had an issue they’ve taken care of it right away, they get back to you right away. It’s a good company.

Now, a lot of people who use on demand end up printing in black and white because it’s a lot cheaper, but you went with full color. Was that much more expensive?

Yeah. It definitely is a little more expensive and that’s why we’re selling at $3.99 versus $2.99. But when I wanted to do this, I wanted to go all out. I wanted to make a comic that was going to stand out. In Artists Alley. So I wanted to really represent how god I think we are. I wanted people to check it out. My mentality is, if it looks good, they probably are more inclined to check it out. That’s why I wanted to go top notch with the comic, and basically find a good artist or a couple god artists.

And when did you publish this first issue?

Recently, probably within the last few months we’ve come out with this. We’re already working on issue two, here are some of the pages from two. We got a different artist because the guy who did the original issue is kinda having a mental breakdown, so instead of waiting for him we started with a second artist. This one’s going to be all set at San Diego Comic Con. It’s going to be a lot of fun and we’re having a lot of fun doing it and making the series go. It’s a lot of fun.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Voices from Artists Alley: EVERETT SOARES

All week we'll be presenting mini-interviews with some of the independent voices in comics, those artists and writers who provide the creative lifeblood of the medium and publish comics for the love of the craft. Today's special guest, who we caught up to at the recent Boston Comic Con: Everett Soares, creator and writer of the small press title Sky Pirates of Valendor. Let's go to the tape!

Hi, Everett. If you don’t mind, could you take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Everett Soares and I am the writer and creator of Sky Pirates.

And is Sky Pirates a title that you publish yourself?

Oh, no. We are published through Free Lunch Comics out of Granby, Connecticut.

So they have a whole line of comics?

Sure. There’s everything from Only in Whispers, which is horror short stories, Beyond the Kuiper Belt, which is science fiction stories, The Blood Rider, which is a vampire western, Pork and Beans and Bigger, which is the humor section of our line. Sky Pirates of Valendor is the action/adventure area of the comics.

And what’s that about? I mean, I can see it’s about sky pirates, but…

It’s about Tobin Mannheim, he’s captain of a ship that gets a job and he discovers that he’s working with his ex-wife. Then, as the job goes on he finds out that everything is going wrong, where his ship blows up, he gets a bounty put on his head, and by issue five he’s ready to fight back.

And you’re the writer? Who does the art for Sky Pirates?

Yes, I’m the writer, the artist is Brian Brindley, out of Texas.

And how did you get in touch with him? Online? Was there a certain site you use to make connections with artists?

You use any site from deviantart to ComicSpace to craigslist… there are different forums you can utilize. I went through about three or four different forums and about 16 artists. Brian was actually number 15. So we were able to work well with each other and that’s pretty much what you have to do. You have to try out artists, find one that really likes your story and wants to put some effort into it.

Now, about your publisher, Free Lunch Comics. Do they mostly publish books by local (New England) creators?

Yes, most of the creators are local to New England. Because Matt Ryan and Steve Kanaras, the writer and artist for a lot of these, they’re based out of Granby, Connecticut. So they’re locals.

And what kind of distribution system does Free Lunch use? Is it mostly online? Or do you go to a lot of shows to get your product out there?

Shows, internet, driving to local shops to see who will buy a batch of books. Because that’s the whole thing – Diamond is very unhelpful when it comes to the independent crowd. Haven is a good distributor to use but sometimes you just gotta hoof it to the nearest store and say, hey, I do this book, I’m local…

What kind of feedback have you been getting on Sky Pirates?

Oh, we’ve been getting really good feedback on the series. We have multiple review on the website, Broken Frontier has done reviews of all the books, Geeks of Doom have done reviews. We’ve been getting quite a bit of good reviews so I’m kind of happy. Those are the ones I can remember off the top of my head, but we do have a website and all of the links are on our website that have done reviews for us. It’s

Okay, great. Well, thank you very much, Everett, and hopefully some of our readers will check out your work.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Boston Comic Con Showverview

Long time readers no doubt noticed a curious and perhaps frightening lack of activity at The Vault over the past two days. Desperately -- and correctly -- needing their fix, these stalwart champions have likely begun to worry about my safety. What could be so important, so serious and potentially deadly that it could possibly keep me from talking about comics? Was it an earthquake? Was the server attacked by thirsty monkeys? Was I accidentally shunted into a dangling subplot that only Mark Gruenwald could rescue me from, twenty years after the fact? Well, rest easy, friends, because although your concern is appreciated it is unwarranted. The truth can be revealed: I was getting ready for this weekends comics extravaganza, Boston Comic Con.

Held for some reason in the basement of the Back Bay Expo Center (though I was assured that it is moving to larger and more prestigious facilities before the next show), this year's Boston Comic Con was a two day affair and featured appearances by a horde of creators both famous and unknown. It also had a decent, if somewhat compact, dealer room that provided some interesting bargain hunting; and perhaps most importantly, it provided fans of comics to let their hair down or, better yet, pull it up under a cowl or or themed headpiece. Thanks no doubt in part to the proximity to Halloween, this year's show bordered on a costume party that included not one but two female Captain Americas as well as what appeared to be a themed date night (best costumes and couple of the night was a toss up between an excellent Green Arrow/Black Canary team and an equally impressive Scarlett/Snake Eyes duo which managed to top the film versions by excluding unnecessary gigantic fake lips).

But the highlight of the day was undoubtedly the creators in attendance. Among the many notables were Cliff Chiang, Khoi Pham, Geoff Darrow, David Mack, Mike McKone and Tim Sale. However, the highlights for me involved two of the more old school artists in attendance: Herb Trimpe and Walt Simonson. Simonson, who was accompanied by his equally acclaimed and lovely wife Louise Simonson (and before you ask, no, I didn't have a copy of House of Secrets #92 for her to sign), was nice enough to spend several minutes discussing the origin of his unique signature, which he designed to look like a Brontosaurus after his mother suggested the dinosaur theme to him as a kid. Trimpe, meanwhile, talked at length about the creation of Wolverine, chalking it up to luck of the draw; out of the dozens of Hulk villains he helped create, Wolverine just happened to go on to become super popular. He also lamented the fact that Wolverine had now overshadowed the Hulk himself, even in terms of the commissions and sketches he does at shows, because he feels the Hulk is a much more complex and interesting character, more a victim of circumstance than a hero or villain, while Wolverine is just one-note by comparison. Both gentlemen were generous with their time and friendly to both hardcore fans and those new to comics.

This was evident because both of those conversation took place thank to the attendance of a friend who has never read comics much less attended a show before. While she enjoyed the creativity on display and the seemingly universal friendliness of the pros we talked to, there was one less inviting aspect of the show on display as well -- the juvenile and and many instances inappropriate depictions of women on display at just about every turn. This deserves a longer discussion (which you can expect in a future essay), but though the convention was actually well attended by women and girls, there's also no doubt that steps could certainly be taken to make both the shows and, more importantly, the comics themselves more welcoming to women readers and attendees.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the day was, as you may expect, my trip through Artists Alley. As always, I spent a good deal of time talking to the lesser known creators who self publish or work on small press books and who continue in the business because they just love comics; these people, after all, are the creative center of the art form and it is from this group of creators that the talent of tomorrow will arise. One of the highlights was mys discussion with the creators manning the Comicbook Artists' Guild booth. The CAG is an organization where independent creators meet to discuss the theory of comics craft and the practicalities of self-publishing comics in both print and online. It also acts as a way to meet with potential collaborators and get your work peer reviewed in order to hone your craft. For up and coming creators like myself, it may be an avenue worth looking into, especially if you are in the New York or New England areas, since they hold regular meetings in those locations.

Lastly, a special shout out must be given to longtime friend of The Vault, inker Bob Almond, who as always was in attendance to promote The Inkwell Awards. If you happen to be at a show with Bob, I recommend stopping by his booth with your purchases so he can diagnose at a single glance what art team -- and inker in particular -- worked on the cover. It is a singular skill that helped make this convention one of the more interesting and educational that I have attended in recent years.

Tomorrow: But wait, there's more! What would a show be without interviews with some of the creators who make comics so great? That's right, beginning tomorrow it's another batch of interviews with the Voices From Artists Alley, including a more detailed talk with the people at the Comicbook Artists' Guild.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tales From the Vault: NIGHT NURSE #1

Yesterday we extolled the virtues of the legendary, misunderstood series Night Nurse, which over the last few years has slowly morphed from a punchline into a cult classic. Well, by popular demand, today we're proud to bring you another injection of the comics medicine that will get your heart pumping as we present our timely review of Night Nurse #1. Enjoy!

Details: Coming at you straight from December, 1972, it’s none other than Night Nurse. This heady concoction of love, betrayal and womanly compassion is brought to you by the team of Jean Thomas and Win Mortimer, though Win is actually credited here under his full name of Winslow Mortimer, which sounds like the uppity city mouse who visits Tom & Jerry out on their farm. I also want to mention that even though Win does the cover to this issue – and a nice one at that – the picture of poor Linda Carter shedding a solitary, tiny tear that graces the corner box appears to have been drawn by John Romita for whatever reason.

Synopsis: And... here we go. The splash page, like the cover, is symbolic mostly. Linda Carter, student nurse, is in tears at having to make a decision between her vocation and her man. This triggers a flashback that takes up the rest of the issue. Yeah, I had a flashback like that one time at Burning Man. Anyway, seems that three years ago, when she entered nursing school, Linda Carter (daughter of a family of pale and doughy doctor people) was randomly assigned two roommates -- the African-America Georgia and a redhead named Christine. Turns out the three of them really don't get along at all, which leads to tension and discomfort all around. But sadly, no outright cat fighting in tiny nurse outfits. Darn it.

But, you know, they have other things to worry about besides bickering. Namely, a bunch of nursing nonsense they have to learn. They go through endless classes and on the job training in the hospital, working themselves to the bone, only to go home and argue themselves to sleep. One day, though, they are alerted to a large emergency, with an influx of patients. They all rush to the hospital and spend hours helping patients, one of whom has a little boy that reminds Linda of her brother. Overcome by homesickness, Linda breaks down. Georgia and Christine find her and start yelling at her, but when she explains what's going on they reveal that they, too, are homesick. Suddenly they become best friends! Hurray!!!

Well, that certainly helps them all out, as they can now support each other, so things start to go better at the hospital and in their work. I love it when that happens. And even better, Linda finds herself working closely with a wealthy, handsome patient who falls for her. When he is let out of the joint, he calls her up and they begin dating. Yes, it's true love, and he ends up proposing, but with one catch: she has to quit this nursing nonsense so she can focus on being his wife. Men have needs, you know? Full time needs.

She says she has to think about it, but her friends are facing issues of their own on their time off. Christina is approached by her estranged Dad, who tries to make up with her by promising her anything she wants if she'll just drop nursing and come on home. Meanwhile, Georgia, who lives in the city, finally gets to go home to visit her family in the hood, where she breaks up a fight and then helps her poor neighbors who are too poor to get medical care. Yeah, because they… wait. That’s not funny. Save us, Obama!

Yes, things are tough all over. It's a long, hot summer, and there are power shortages that especially affect Georgia's poor neighborhood; often, their power is completely shut off by the power company, leaving only the hospital to run on generators. The angry folks of the hood are getting tired of this, and they think the big fancy hospital is getting special treatment while they swelter without fans or air conditioners or TVs to watch the Mets lose on. It’s preferential treatment for the rich, once again.

And I have to say that it’s true; the hospital is getting special treatment – because it's a FRIKKIN HOSPITAL. Jeez, WTF. Poor people, am I right?

Anyway, all the girls are back at the hospital when Georgia's brother Ben and a friend show up. They claim that they are working as janitors in the hospital, and she lets them go, but they actually have a bomb. Ben's plan is to force the power company to restore power to the entire neighborhood. He doesn't realize that the hospital has actually lost power as well due to a citywide blackout and that it's just their own emergency generator giving them energy, so his ploy is going to be useless anyway.

Too late, though -- his friend shoots a guard a kills him. Just then, Georgia and the girls burst in and tell Ben that this is stupid because the whole city is without power, and it's just going to kill a bunch of sick people. Ben's friend, it turns out, doesn't care, because he's been paid by somebody to blow up the hospital for sneaky financial reasons, which Ben didn't know anything about. But the guy shoots Ben before Ben can process this information and turns to attach the bomb to the generator. Suddenly, Linda trips him! She grabs the bomb out of midair and… then realizes, well, that doesn't help anything because he still has a gun pointed right at her. Nice try, lady.

However, this does delay him just long enough for the cops to show up, because it turns out that Linda had alerted them before she went to the basement. They blast the guy (in the back, mind you) and rush in, saving the day, while poor, deluded Ben is wheeled off to surgery.

And now, the flashback ends, and Linda has made her choice -- she and her friends have learned the importance of nursing and have decided to stay on and graduate from nursing school to become honest-to-god nurses. The rich boyfriend dejectedly leaves, amazed that his ultimatum hadn’t worked and the issue ends with the three night nurses ready to face a new day of nursing challenges.


Extras: As I noted yesterday, this issue reads more like a soap opera or prime time drama than an actual comic. There are a couple pacing issues caused by the format, such as the fairly abrupt transition between the girls from enemies to friends, but for the most part this is about as close to reading a TV show as you're likely to find. It's also quite atypical not just for comics, but even for romance comics of the time period, which were mostly formulaic (though occasionally fun in a campy way), pandering nonsense (in the best sense of the word).

It's also unusual in the way it works contemporary social and political concerns into the storyline, such as class struggles, minority issues and the challenges the girls face as they try to enter the workforce. While the feminism isn't overt by any means, there is a general message of empowerment, as each of the women in the story goes against the (mostly male) authority figures in their lives in order to pursue their dreams.

It's interesting stuff, though it's easy to see how this may not have necessarily caught on with the comic audience of the day. I'm curious to see how the later issues played out in light of this, especially the final issue, #4, which features Christine solo in a story where she goes out to do in-home hospice work and discovers the house is actually a haunted gothic mansion. I don't know if that was a change in style necessitated by poor sales or if it fits in with what preceded it, but as soon as I can find a copy that doesn't cost more than my car I'll let you all know.

My Grade: I went into this expecting high cheese and instead discovered a hidden gem. That made it harder to make fun of, of course, but so be it. A+.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ode to a Night Nurse

Night Nurse. If you're a long time comics reader, the mere mention of those words likely brings a small smile to your face. For decades, likely since the moment Marvel published the first issue back in 1972, Night Nurse has been a running joke among fans, synonymous with lame or ridiculous comics. Want to snark on some hapless new title that came out? Give it the ultimate insult: it's worse than Night Nurse. Yes, for years Night Nurse has been the joke of the industry, which would be fine if it weren't for this terrible, astonishing secret: Night Nurse was actually very, very good.

Now, we know what you're thinking: wha? Vault, have you gone crazy? Are you off your meds? Did you fall out of bed and hit your head on a stack of Essential Defenders? At the risk of being shot by an Elf with a Gun, the answer is no, we have not gone crazy. Not only was Night Nurse a good comic, in many ways it was ahead of its time. So today we're going to take a look at the series and examine why it failed and why it has such a bad reputation among fans.

Those two questions, as it happens, have the same answer, but in order to understand Night Nurse first we need to explain just what the series was. Running for four issues before being canceled, Night Nurse followed the lives of three inner city nurses (Linda Carter being the "main" character) as they tried to save lives while also getting tangled up occasional crimes and romantic boondoggles. In the first issue, for instance (and in the interest of full disclosure, the only issue I've personally had the chance to read so far), we meet the three girls while they are in nursing school and follow them as they first put aside differences to become friends and then deal with a bomber trying to blow up the hospital for political reasons, all while Linda is mulling over a marriage proposal to the man of her dreams that would also require her to give up nursing.

Legend (and wikipedia) has it that Stan Lee came up with the name and concept for the book as part of an initiative to draw female readers into comics. Along with Night Nurse, he also put forward ideas for The Cat and Shanna the She-Devil. Roy Thomas, the new editor in chief at Marvel, then took this one step further by hiring women writers (and in the case of The Cat, artists) for all three titles, figuring that this would give the comics a better chance at reaching those elusive girl readers.

Unfortunately, all three comics flopped and were canceled almost instantly. So what went wrong? It's hard to say for sure, but quality doesn't seem to have been a problem, as the first issue of Night Nurse is features compelling and surprisingly complex characters and plotlines from writer Jean Thomas (Roy's wife at the time) as well as sharp artwork from veteran penciller Win Mortimer. No, what I believe caused the series to fail is the same thing that led it to becoming a bit of an industry joke for the past three decades: marketing.

It's important to remember (but easy to forget) that Marvel at this time was not just publishing superhero comics, or fantasy or horror; even though you could scour the Bullpen Bulletins for the era until your face turned blue without ever finding any mention of it, Marvel was also still publishing multiple romance titles, including My Love and Our Love Story. But even though these comics were produced by the Marvel Bullpen and featured writing and art from all the classic Marvel creators, they existed almost as an entirely different line of comics. Just as a regular Marvel comic would never mention these romance titles, so too would the romance titles never acknowledge the existence of the superhero line.

It can be inferred from this that there wasn't a lot of crossover in terms of the reading audiences between the two lines of comics (or at least, Marvel did not think there was). And this is where I think Marvel made a misstep with Night Nurse: rather than advertising and hyping it within the line of romance comics where the title's most likely fan base existed, instead they pitched it to their regular, superhero and fantasy loving Marvel Zombies.

Night Nurse, they promised, "sounds like just another romance mag, however well-written and drawn; but take it from us, fried -- this one is realistic, exciting -- and different!" And while it was written by a woman, it was "aimed at neither guys nor at als, but at true lovers of comix literature everywhere!" Fans were assured that if they tried it, they would like it.

Now, Marvel fans are notoriously loyal, which was even more the case at that time, when Marvel had roared out of obscurity over the course of the previous decade to become the biggest publisher in comics. So when Stan and Roy told them something was good, well, chances are they believed it. And the comic is good. But what it isn't is anything that would be recognizable to a fan of Avengers or Conan or Tomb of Dracula. So instead of catching on and bringing in a new wave of new female readers, the title instead became the punch line for decades of jokes by the typical male superhero fans who were duped into buying it.

Had the title instead been pitched to the romance readers, there's no telling whether or not it would have succeeded, of course; but I think it's fair to say that it would have had a better chance of at least picking up a smaller but steadier group of readers that might have sustained it for at least as long as the other romance titles lasted. As it is, though, the series lasted only four issues (as did The Cat, which is a whole different story), which when you factor in the lead time it takes to produce comics, means it was probably canceled as soon as the sales figures for the first couple of issues had come in.

Of course, there are other factors as well, the main one being that Roy was exactly right one one count: Night Nurse was "different". Indeed, if you read romance comics of the time, you'll see that it was very different even from romance comics, which tended to be anthologies rather than full issues or ongoing stories, and which generally followed a formula (even at marvel) with girl losing guy, hand wringing and then girl getting guy back (or a new guy) at the end. Night Nurse totally destroyed that cliche and, in my opinion, was actually way ahead of its time in terms of the stories it was trying to tell. Night Nurse #1 doesn't, in fact, resemble a comic at all, but rather is closer to a TV medical drama or soap opera than anything else. The kind of plots going on in the first issue -- romance mixed in with gritty scenes in the big city hospital, all topped by the bomb threat and shootout in the hospital basement -- could easily have been taken right out of an episode of ER or St. Elsewhere. Advertising mistakes aside, then, it may simply be that Night Nurse was too atypical and forward thinking to succeed anyway.

Of course, if it was ahead of its time you would think that eventually people would discover that the jokes were unwarranted and the title was, in fact, pretty darn cool. And in the last few years, that's exactly what has happened. As collectors and fans have discovered Night Nurse, prices on the relatively rare back issues have skyrocketed; a check on ebay earlier this week showed even average VG copies going for $35 or more. Some of this rediscovery has to also be attributed to Brian Michael Bendis, who reintroduced Night Nurse to the modern comics audience a few years ago, bringing Linda Carter back as a physician who attends to injured superheroes; she even enjoyed a minor role in Civil War when she joined Captain America's resistance team and patched up their wounds against government orders.

Still, it's a shame that Night Nurse didn't last longer and a bigger shame that for years fans would bag on the title without most of them having ever even seen an issue, much less read it. One way that Marvel could help rectify this would be to put out a trade reprinting the four issues so that everyone would have a chance to read these otherwise difficult to find cult classics. It would also be interesting to hear what the creators of the series thought about the comic and the reputation it has had over the years. So if you're listening, Marvel, here's your chance to right a wrong and do us all a favor at the same time by bringing a little night Night Nurse into everyone's life.

Footnote: One last note I wanted to mention is the "controversy" over whether or not the Linda Carter in Night Nurse is the same character from the pre-Marvel title Linda Carter, Student Nurse. Even the wikipedia entry for Night Nurse claims that there is no definitive connected between the two and I have seen people argue that they must be different characters. This argument seems to be based entirely on the fact that the original Linda carter was a brunette while the one in Night Nurse is a blonde. Firstly, this is ridiculous on the face of it; I mean, who ever heard of a woman dyeing her hair, right? Secondly, the connection is implicit in the opening to Night Nurse #1, which reads in part "Linda Carter, Student Nurse must make the most difficult decision of her life" (bold text in the original). The idea that Roy Thomas, who edited this comic and was the most notorious continuity fanwank in the world, would do this unintentionally is preposterous. Thirdly, in the Bullpen Bulletins for this month, when announcing the new titles, the series is actually referred to as Linda Carter, Night Nurse, a clear callback to the original series. And lastly, as if that all weren't enough, in the new appearances of the character (which Bendis has specifically stated in New Avengers #34 is the same Linda Carter from Night Nurse), Linda has been drawn with her original black hair. This show that, regardless of what her true hair color is, she does occasionally chance it one way or the other.

In conclusion, then, of probably the dumbest argument I've ever participated in, it's painfully obvious that Linda Carter from Night Nurse is the same character as Linda Carter, Student Nurse. Hopefully that ends whatever question you had about that. And just as a side-note, the other claim to fame that Linda Carter, Student Nurse has? Well, back when Marvel could only publish a limited number of titles due to their distribution deal, whenever they put out a new comic they had to cancel an old one. The new title Student Nurse was canceled to make room for? Amazing Spider-man.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Answers From the Vault

Sharp eyed readers may recall that last week we introduced one of our new features, "Ask the Vault", where you, the general public, have a rare chance to get answers to whatever existential dilemmas currently face you in your daily lives. Well, the wait is over: today, we're proud to present our first batch of answers. And just like that, the veil of mystery that has shrouded this world since time immemorial is lifted, if only for one brief and shining moment.


Who was that elf in the Steve Gerber Defenders? -- Jim

Thanks for the question, Jim. First, for those of you who may not have read Defenders during the mid-70's (which means... just about everyone alive), Jim is referring to one of the most inexplicable episodes in Marvel history: the Elf with a Gun. First appearing in Defenders #25, the Elf with a Gun is, well, exactly that; during interludes that didn't appear to have anything whatsoever to do with the Defenders or the current story, Gerber would show some random, average person who would then be confronted -- and murdered -- by an elf with a gun. This went on for nearly two full years, with readers desperately wondering just what this had to do with the Defenders and when it would tie into the story. The answer: nothing and never, because in Defenders #46, during one of these interludes (after Gerber left the title, for what it's worth), the Elf with a Gun was run over by a truck and killed.

Needless to say, this drove a lot of people totally crazy wondering WTF had just happened. And the answer depends on who you talk to. Among those who weren't satisfied with the story was (apparently) J. M. DeMatteis, because when he took over Defenders years later, he wrote a long storyline introducing a new Elf with a Gun and explaining that these elves were time traveling agents from the future who had come back in time to prevent some calamity that would destroy Earth -- a calamity caused by the Defenders themselves. Later, however, Gerber got a hold of the character again briefly and revealed that that whole story was just a hoax played on the team for unknown reasons, effectively restoring the mystery. So just what was that original Elf supposed to be doing?

The answer -- based on comments Gerber made over the years -- seems to be that he was just Gerber's way of showing how random the universe is, and how you can work and plan and without warning something can happen that you never could have planned on that destroys everything. Of course, some could argue that Gerber's entire body of work represents this randomness, making the Elf a bit redundant. But for good or ill, there's the answer: the Elf is just Gerber's idea of a cosmic joke.

Which is more egregious: Marvel stealing the Captain Marvel name, or DC making The Black Mask look exactly like The Red Skull? -- James

Good question, James. Good, but for me, very easy to answer. Without question, DC making the Black Mask look exactly like the Red Skull is more egregious. I say this because I don't, in fact, have any problem at all with Marvel stealing the Captain Marvel name; on the contrary, I fully endorse it.

For those who may not be familiar with what James is talking about, back in the 1940's, the most popular superhero in the world -- bigger even than Superman -- was Captain Marvel. Eventually, however, Fawcett, the company that published Captain Marvel, went under and the trademark lapsed. So while Marvel couldn't actually use the character, the name was there and they grabbed it, creating their own Captain Marvel. And since then, they have made sure to at least occasionally publish a new Captain Marvel issue here or there in order to maintain their trademark and prevent the current owners of the actual Captain Marvel from putting out a comic with that title.

So why am I siding with Marvel here? Because Fawcett never would have gone out of business in the first place if DC hadn't sued them into oblivion. DC claimed that Captain Marvel was too similar to Superman, which is in my opinion outright bullcrap considering how many bazillions of comic characters are just as similar or more similar to Superman than Captain Marvel. The difference, of course, is that Captain Marvel was the only one actually more popular. So DC used their massive financial might to tie up Fawcett in litigation that dragged on for a decade or more and eventually caused the company to go bankrupt. And what did they do at the end? After strongarming Fawcett and Captain Marvel's creators out of the industry, they metaphorically pissed on the corpse by then buying the rights to Captain Marvel from them after the fact.

So from my point of view, anything Marvel can do with their own Captain Marvel is more than fair game; it's karmic retribution. Granted, all this stuff happened over 40 years ago at this point, so the people actually involved are almost all dead, but it still was a dirty, underhanded thing DC did and if Stan the Man can get even a soupcon of revenge out of it, good for him.

The Black Mask/Red skull thing, on the other hand, just seems like a lack of creativity. Dudes with skull faces aren't unique, though this is taking it a bit far in terms of how the artists actually depict him. But overall, while I don't think it's a big deal, by default it has to be the more egregious of the two. Advantage: Marvel Comics.

What did you think of Zombieland? -- Chesley

Hey, thanks for the question, Chesley. Zombieland is, of course, a current popular film about a bunch of post-apocalyptic survivors who congregate in an amusement park to escape zombies. My personal reaction to it is, I think, probably specific only to me. As you probably all know, I am currently working on busting into the comic industry and as part of that effort I am trying to develop stories in a wide variety of genres. Now, I don't really care for horror in general or zombies in particular, but I figured I might as well give it a crack, and after some effort I came up with a zombie story I liked okay and that I decided to title "Zombieland". Now, the story itself bears no resemblance to the movie, but I was still a bit irritated when I found out about the movie since I don't have another good title for it.

Of course, I don't think that's what you were asking. As I mentioned, though, I don't really care for zombies, so I haven't seen the movie. But on the third hand, we just discovered yesterday that you don't need to actually see a movie in order to review it, so since I have seen the trailer for Zombieland I will give my opinion: it looks funny enough, I guess, though I have a feeling it doesn't really live up to whatever potential this high concept might actually have. Because of that, the best I can give this trailer is a C+.

Have there ever been any comics about cheerleaders? -- Pat

Wow, that's a good question, Pat. I have to admit, I couldn't think of any off the top of my head even though it seems like there must be cheerleader comics somewhere in the world. Of course, Archie's best gal pal Betty Cooper is a cheerleader (as is Veronica, to a lesser extent), so that probably is the most obvious example of a cheerleading comic character, but I'm not sure that's quite what you meant. While there are issues of Archie that deal specifically with her cheerleading, they aren't really "cheerleader comics" per se.

There have been surprisingly few actual cheerleader comics as far as I can tell. However, my search has been somewhat hindered by what happens if you try searching for cheerleader comics. Let's just say, I don't recommend it. There are some weird people out there. I did find a comic called Cheerleaders From Hell put out about 20 years ago by Caliber Comics, but other than that I suspect that most cheerleader themed comics were "good girl", Archie style teen comedy/romances back in the late 40's and 50's. And I'd back that up with evidence if I weren't afraid of contracting a virus by looking for proof.

Okay, that's all the questions I have so far. Thanks to everyone who wrote in, and as soon as I've gathered enough brain teasers for another go-round, we'll bring you the next batch of... Answers From the Vault!

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Movie Trailers: Alice in Wonderland and More

In today's fast paced, internet society, time spent analyzing and examining is time wasted, because there's always something new and exciting coming down the pike that is shinier, bigger and, well, newer than the last. This is especially true, of course, of the film industry, which has lasted for a century on the idea that audiences always need new product. But now the question is, who has time to watch a whole movie, much less spend precious minutes reading a review of it?

Luckily, that's where we come in with a new feature here on the Vault: Trailer Reviews. While some people believe you should actually watch the movie before you make up your mind about it, we disagree, After all, what is a trailer other than an attempt to make up your mind for you before you see the movie? But while the studios want you to have positive preconceptions about their movies, we're under no such obligation.

So sit back and check out the first batch of Trailer Reviews. Because in the time it takes you to watch one feature film, you could instead form opinions about 50 trailers. And in today's time-conscious society, which is really the better use of your precious hours?

The Expendables
Scheduled release date: August 20, 2010

The producers of this movie refer to it as a throwback and boy, they are not joking. The Expendables takes all the action, dialogue and directing cliches of a mid-80's Stallone film and pretty much doesn't change a single thing. While you might expect a production like this to be tongue in cheek, this is strictly pre-ironic territory. It's not that the people making the film don't recognize what they're doing, it's that they do recognize it and think that it's still totally awesome.

And for some fans, it probably will be. If the idea of a group of machine-gun toting mercenaries consisting of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Jet Li fighting against the evil and vaguely foreign forces of Dolph Lundgren sounds like a treat, then this is probably the film of the century for you [yes, it's the long awaited Rocky IV rematch]. And yes, this movie also features roles by Mickey Rourke and Arnold Schwarzeneggar. Is a parody a parody if it's played straight? At last we'll get the answer to that question.

My Grades: This is probably either an A+ or an F- depending entirely on whether or not you enjoyed being an 11-year-old boy in the mid 80's. But even though I did, I still can't give this more than a D because wow does it look terrible.

Toy Story 3
Scheduled release date: June 18, 2010

And now, on a slightly different note, it's Toy Story 3. I have to confess that Toy Story, and particularly Toy Story 2, are two of my favorite movies of all time. So while I am very happy to see that they are doing a third film, I have a slight bit of trepidation, because they have a very high expectations to live up to, not just from me from from the entire movie watching world.

And after watching the trailer... I am still a little worried. Mind you, everything about it looks impeccably crafted; the art is a beautiful as ever (and this time will be in 3-D), the voice acting is all great and whatever. My concern is simply that they may be repeating themselves just a bit. The "kid has outgrown the toys" theme was done perfectly in Toy Story 2, for instance, while the characters themselves even comment on Buzz returning to the "space nut" personality he had in the first film. Of course, this being Pixar, I have to give them the benefit of the doubt, because they haven't let me down yet. I just hope that they can continue to prove that there isn't necessarily a first time for everything.

My Grades: A for execution, B- for actual content. Prove me wrong, guys!

Alice in Wonderland

Scheduled release date: March 5, 2010

Speaking of Disney films, here's a live action version of Alice in Wonderland directed, of course, by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter. Now, if you're anything like me, reading that sentence probably made you so exhausted and spent by life itself that you nearly wept. But, what are you going to do, right? This movie is kind of like Nagasaki; everyone could see it coming but nobody could stop it.

Having said that, the first half of the trailer is actually pretty cool. The character design is intriguing and appropriately creepy (unlike the usual, inappropriately creepy Burton stuff), though the Queen does look a little too Shrek for my taste. The second half of the trailer, of course, is full-on Depp pimpage and should therefore be taken as a necessary marketing evil, if anything in this production can be called necessary. And the thing is, I like Depp. But this is really pushing it.

My Grades: It's an effective trailer and it doesn't give anything away since everyone knows the story anyway. So for trailer competence it gets a B. For the movie it's previewing, though... if I didn't know it was Burton/Depp, I have to admit I would probably still give it a B. But that unholy marriage is so tiresome to me at this point that I have to give it a D+. We'll see if I change my mind before the release date.

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