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.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Movie Trailer Special: Space Battleship Yamato

For people of a certain age (that is, my age), the Japanese anime series Space Battleship Yamato (translated liberally to Star Blazers here in America) remains one of the great sci-fi epics of all time. Indeed, I think it's fair to say that (along with Star Wars on the big screen) Star Blazers introduced a whole generation of kids to the idea of sci-fi. Created in 1974 but not available widely in the U.S. until around 1980, the first season of Star Blazers remains one of the most influential and mature animated series in the history of television, as it told a gripping tale of desperation, romance and even death that has few parallels in the cartoon world even today.

And now it's being turned into a live action film.

Yep, you read that right: Space Battleship Yamato, which fittingly is an all-Japanese production, is slated to hit theaters in Japan on December 1. And while anxious American audiences are still waiting to find out when the (hopefully) inevitable American release will be, fans can now tide themselves over with a look at the first extended length trailer for the film. So grab your wave motion gun, because dude, it is so on right now:

Not awesome enough for you? Okay, well how about this version, which not only has a brief clip of the Wave Motion Gun warming up to fire, but it features the awesome, unforgettable original theme song to boot:

Whew. I need a few minutes to towel off.

Okay then. So how awesome does this look, exactly? I admit that when I first heard they were making a live action version of Star Blazers, I was skeptical to say the least. I especially was unsure if a Japanese production could swing the money necessary for all the special effects. But while this doesn't quite look like Avatar-level CGI, it's perfectly reasonable in a Battlestar Galactica way. So no problem there.

Even better from a fan's point of view, of course, is the obvious devotion to the source material, as it's clearly based very closely on the first season. In the first trailer, for instance we get a shot of Alex Wildstar piloting his doomed battleship at the Battle of Pluto, while in the second trailer we see what appears to be a Gamalon fighter crashing into the side of the Yamato, which is a clear shout-out to one of the most memorable episodes of the original run (where the Gamalon pilot is nursed back to health and returned to his own people, only to be shot down by the Gamalons for being "tainted" by his association with humanity). The whole thing just reeks of authenticity, though it does suffer from Spanish Soap Opera Syndrome, which is the curious phenomenon where actors speaking a language you can't understand always appear to be way overacting.

But, whatever. Just check out this official poster (click on it to make it as huge as it deserves to be):

My Grades: A+. 8-year-old me gives it an A+++++++ times infinity +1. Maybe the coolest thing I have ever seen.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Game Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

There's no doubt that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is one of the all-time classic first-person shooters, thanks in large part to the wildly popular online gameplay that allowed millions of people to shoot the hell out of each other while talking trash via headsets. So it was a no-brainer for Activision to come out with the hotly anticipated sequel, Modern Warfare 2. But can it improve on what many thought was a perfect game?

The answer, as it turns out, is maybe, depending on what you consider to be an improvement. The campaign mode, which back in the day used to comprise entire games, picks up where the first left off, with a crack team of black ops guys doing battle against a crazy Russian terrorist. This time, the plot diverges even further from the reality of current politics by imagining a full-scale Russian invasion of America following a massacre of civilians at an airport that is so shocking the game offers you the option of skipping the level. Not that anyone playing this game to begin with is going to select that option. This leads to some really cool levels where you fight block by block through Washington D.C. and suburban Virginia. It's a nice, exciting and challenging storyline which unfortunately suffers, like the rest of the games in the series, from being too short (a few hours of play will complete it).

Of course, when it comes to Call of Duty 6: Modern Warfare 2, the real game is online play anyway. Once again the game picks up where the first left off, replicating the combat system almost exactly. There are, however, a number of twists beyond the simple addition of several fresh maps to play through. The array of weapons is vastly expanded, which in turn leads to a much greater level of customization, which is further enhanced by the ability to choose from a large selection of character traits and abilities called perks. Unlike the first game, you can also choose your killstreak rewards to suit your game play style. All this does lead to some confusion, of course, as every tactic and weapon has a counter to it, making it much more difficult to strategize your game. The upshot is that, to me, the new additions tend to favor those who play with speed and reflex rather than with planning and tactics.

That would be fine if it weren't for the biggest issue to plague online play, one carried over from the original, which is the problem of latency. Modern Warfare 2, like its predecessor, uses a "peer to peer" system of online gaming, which in this case means that the game picks one player's console the host the game on and everyone else connects to it via the ol' internet. As you might imagine, this provdies an unfair advantage to whoever happens to be hosting the game, as well as a smaller but still tangible advantage to those with faster internet connections. There's nothing more frustrating than getting the drop on someone, opening up with a fully automatic sub machine gun right in their face and watching them run right through your hail of bullets and stab you in the face. Then on killcam you get to see the action from their point of view and discover that on their end, your character never even fired his weapon at all -- because of latency, by the time the opponent shows on your screen, on his end, he's already killed you.

Usually the advantage isn't quite that pronounced, but it's often enough of an edge to be able to tell while playing which characters have a technological edge. This, as you might expect, kind of undermines the game to a degree, an issue that is exacerbated by some iffy AI that regulates respawns. The game is supposed to somehow judge a good place to respawn you based on what bits of territory your team controls... or something... but in fact it often dumps you directly into someone's line of fire, out in the open where you die instantly under a hail of dropping bombs from enemy air support or boxed into a death trap where your foolish teammates have gotten stuck. These are what players call spawn kills, and they are a major irritant, as one death can suddenly send you into an irreversible spiral of deaths that are totally beyond your control.

I'm emphasizing the negatives, of course; obviously the game is massively popular (I've racked up over 3000 kills and 2+ days of game play and still rank well below 5 million in the world) and for the most part it's fun. And Activision has added some MMO elements as well, such as questable gamer tags and emblems that give you specific in-game goals to shoot for beyond just killing opponents. But the many positives of this addictive game only help emphasize the unnecessary negatives. Here's hoping that Activision listens to complaints form players and sorts out these issues before Call of Duty 7: Black Ops comes out in November.

My Grades: Console play gets a B for just being too short to make the game worthwhile without the online component. Online play gets an B+ overall, a score which is dragged down by a D for the peer to peer system and an F for the terrible respawn AI. Seriously, this can't be that hard to fix, can it?

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

June Answers From the Vault part 2

Welcome back to part two of June Answers From the Vault, where we provide another batch of questions and another slew of incisive answers designed to entertain, inform and, most of all, give you a way to waste ten minutes of your workday. And today we have a special theme episode, as all of our movie-related questions have been provided by former Marvel Bullpen stalwart Robert Lettrick. So take a moment to familiarize yourself with our last round of questions and answers (displayed here) and dig in with both grubby hands.

Okay, let's go!

1). Which new characters should Nolan bring in for the third Batman movie and who should play them?

This is a pretty tricky question. I'm tempted to say NKVDemon and Bat Mite, but... no. What makes this a bit more difficult than maybe some other comic book movies is the fact that a) the third movie not only comes on the heels of an indelible performance by heath ledger but also has to deal with a specific setup left by the end of the second movie and b) unlike most other comic book franchises, Nolan has figured out that audiences are familiar enough with the trope now that he can just focus on telling good stories.

A lot of studios still haven't figured this out. They think that audiences need origin stories to convince them that characters this crazy can exist. But we don't because we've had two decades of comic book movies to set things up. We get it. And that means that Nolan doesn't have to waste a bunch of time setting up characters like Joker, he can just drop them into the story and count on the fact that audiences will accept him. And that in turn explains why, almost alone among comic franchises, Nolan's Batman stories can handle multiple villains without being overloaded, as we've seen both with Joker and Two-Face in the second film and Scarecrow and Ra's al Ghul in the first movie.

So, with that said, and considering how the second movie ended -- with Batman taking the fall and becoming outcast -- what I would do for the third movie is show what happens to Gotham without Batman to protect it. Specifically, I'd have the city be the site of a gang war situations where different supervillains are trying to take over. This would allow the use of all sorts of Batman villains without needing to really spotlight, explain or overuse any specific ones, meaning we can get guys like Clayface and Killer Croc and even Penguin, who I have to say I'm not a huge fan of (in terms of movies anyway), among the combatants.

The lead villain, though, has to be Riddler, but I would use the really brilliant setup DC recently used for Ridder's reappearance in Detective Comics over the last couple years, which is to have him appear not as a villain but as a media-hungry detective who provides more competition to Batman that opposition. I'd have him be a shady, secretly villainous but publicly clean media darling who steps into the gap left by Batman's departure to become the next big thing in Gotham, using his skills to take down crime lords like Killer Croc in order to get more accolades and attention from a grateful city that's he's bilking behind everyone's back. While Batman, of course, does the real legwork to save the town and expose Riddler as a fraud.

Now that I've supplied Warner Bros. with a plot (you're welcome), I guess we have to cast the movie. Riddler is a tough one, as he has to have a certain physical appearance to go with a bounty of style and panache along with cunning and intelligence. A lot of online people are pushing for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which seems hard to fathom since Riddler is supposed to be a grown-ass man. Others are pushing for Johnny Depp, which would be a better choice, if maybe a bit dangerous in terms of putting together a coherent movie. But my choice would probably be David Tenant, who has the brains, the charisma and, I think it's fair to say, a touch of the madcap to boot.

I'd also bring in a real, honest-to-god mature love interest in the person of the incomparable Silver St. Cloud who I guess I would have played by Cate Blanchett; she's maybe not quite as sexy as Silver, but she seems like an adult and that's the really important thing.

2). Why does Nic Cage continuously lobby to taint every super hero movie made with his stink?

Ah, good ol Nic Cage. Actually, I don't blame him for wanting to be in comic book movies, even though I do blame him for sucking in pretty much all of them. Ghost Rider was abysmal and Kick-Ass was a letdown as well. And just think what would have happened if he had been able to get Warner Bros. on board his version of Superman. Yikes.

Still, as I'm sure you know, Cage is without a doubt the highest profile comic book geek in the world. Not only did he name himself after a comic book character (taking the stage name Cage in honor of Luke Cage when he decided to distance himself from the Coppola brand), he also named his son Kal-El after Superman. Now that's dedication. And he also once owned one of the premiere comic collections in the world, including copies of Action Comics #1 and Detective Comics #27, before he was forced to sell his comics due to a robbery. Which is probably for the best, as otherwise they would have been seized by the government during his current bankruptcy woes.

So the answer to your no doubt rhetorical question is that he does this because he loves comics, which I can respect. Why his comic book movies suck so hard, though, I'm not really sure. For his sake -- and ours -- I hope that his next comic book film (which may be, believe it or not, a sequel to Ghost Rider) manages to break the cycle.

3). What are your thoughts on Chris Evans being cast as Captain America? And don't go easy on him because he's from Framingham.

Actually, this may surprise you, but I like it.

For those of you who don't know, Chris Evans is no stranger to comic book movies; in fact, his career no doubt has Nic Cage Hulking out in a jealous rage. Not only did Evans play the Human Torch in both Fantastic Four movies, he also provided voice work for the recent animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feature, played Jensen in the adaptaion of the Vertigo Comics title The Losers, and stars as one of the seven evil exes in the upcoming comic flick Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. And that's all before being cast as Captain America for what is likely to be a whole raft of Marvel movies.

So he's got that going for him, which is nice, but nothing in that group suggests for one hot second that he has the chops to play Captain America. So why do I like it? Well, it's because of his role in the almost entirely forgotten 2007 sci-fi thriller Sunshine, which was directed by Slumdog Millionaire honcho Danny Boyle. In that movie, Evans played a no-nonsense soldier named Mace who was selected to lead a desperate expedition to re-ignite the sun before ti went out and destroyed the Earth. I had the pleasure of catching the last half of this movie on TV several months ago and my actual comment during the movie was "boy, they should hire Chris Evans to play Captain America."

Mind you, I couldn't believe I was saying that either considering his portrayal of Human Torch, but apparently the folks at Marvel also saw Sunshine because sure enough, there it is. I understand the skepticism and I still share some of it (specifically, I'm not sure how he will fare when he has to go up against Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark in Avengers) but I urge you to check out Sunshine, because it's really cool (kind of like Alien without the alien) and because Evans gives a real eye-opening performance in it.

4). Why is the Punisher listed as being in Captain America AND Avengers, according to IMDB?

This is a very good question and the answer is, I don't know. The listings, which have since been removed, first appeared just a couple days before your question and showed a dude by the named of Craig Fairbrass as being in both films. I checked around with my numerous industry contacts, but nobody was quite sure why those listings existed, which probably explains why they were taken down.

Which isn't to say that it's out of the realm of possibility. Unlike X-Men or Fantastic Four, the two Punisher films done by Lionsgate were in conjunction with Marvel Studios, meaning that, like Hulk, it's possible that marvel could include him in their own films depending on the language of the agreement between the two parties. Of course, Captain America takes place in World War II, while Avengers takes place in the present day, which would complicate things. However, we've also seen that Marvel has become pretty good at teasing things at the end of each movie in a weay that leads into the next, so here's my guess on how this could happen: Frank Castle would be introduced into the new film Marvel Universe as an agent of SHIELD, rather than as a run of the mill war veteran. He would then appear in a post-credits sequence in Captain America showing SHIELD working on finding the iceberg Cap is frozen in, which would lead into Avengers where Castle would reprise this role in another iceberg related cameo. Thus we end up with "Punisher" in both films, even if not yet in costume -- a decent way to introduce the concept to a broader audience before springboarding him into a rebooted franchise done by Marvel.

We'll have to wait a while longer to see if that actually happens, though.

Okay, that's it for this round of Answer From the Vault. As always, thanks for your questions and keep reading them there comic, y'all.

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June Answers From the Vault part 1

Welcome back to another edition of Answers From the Vault, the semi-regular feature where you ask the questions and we pump your brain full of knowledge until it cries out for mercy. This time around we received such a bounty of questions that we're going to split the answers into two batches. That's going to take up a lot of grey matter, so if you need to subject your mind to gamma radiation in order to absorb these answers, now is your last chance.

Ready? Okay, here we go.

What's the best use of weather in a superhero comic that doesn't involve characters with weather-wielding powers? -- Mark

Thanks for the question, Mark. Boy, that's a really tough one. As you note in your extended version of this question, weather is usually used solely for noir/horror effect (in books like Batman, Daredevil and Tomb of Dracula) or for plot points that involve weather being controlled by people like Thor or Storm and/or by villains intent on destroying Earth through giant tidal waves or whatever. Weather just for the sake of having some variety is extremely rare, which makes you wonder just how sunny the DC and Marvel universes are. Maybe that's why those realities have so many superheroes.

But to answer your question, there are a few nice uses of weather that stand out to me. Mike Grell's Green Arrow was set in Seattle, one of the few DC books to take place in a real city, and he frequently used rain, fog and in the winter months, snow, to give the series a real sense of both place and time that few other superhero books have had. Similarly, on a much smaller scale, one memorable scene for me takes place in Avengers #197, where some boys heave snowballs at Captain America while he is having a heart to heart chat in the garden behind Avengers Mansion; it's a great little throw-away sequence that somehow ended up being more memorable than perhaps all the stories that surrounded it, in large part due to the use of weather.

Still, for my money, there can be only one choice -- Avengers #257. Now, everyone knows I am a huge Avengers fan, and this two part battle against Terminus is the first Avengers story I ever read, so there's certainly some nostalgia involved. But the end of this story still sticks with me: after terminus destroys the weather regulation system that allowed the Savage Land to exist, the Antarctic weather comes raging in, destroying the tropical paradise. In a raging blizzard, the Avengers battle Terminus until all sides are overcome by the elements. Only Hercules is able to stand up to the storm; he destroys Terminus's armor, revealing the immobile alien stuck inside it, and then leaves the beast to freeze to death in the ever growing drifts of snow that cover and finally bury him in a grave of his own making. A great ending to a powerful story. And speaking of Avengers, you had a follow-up question:

And is Avengers 185 the only issue of the run where it's raining on the cover?

Nope, though you're right hat there aren't a lot. But besides the classic Avengers #185, there's an equally awesome if not as famous cover that features rain: Avengers #41. Usually I'm not a huge fan of Buscema's very early covers, as I think his early inking and the printing process at the time often end up muddying the finished product, but that's not an issue for a dark and moody cover like this one. Top work from a master in the making.

Why aren't comics fun anymore? -- Jim

Thanks for the thoughtful question, Jim. For me, there's a pretty basic reason: most comics aren't meant to be fun. And the reason for that, in my opinion, is a residual effect of fans becoming creators back in 70's and 80's.

Sure, there were plenty of fans-turned-writers/editors that still had a lot of fun with their comics, particularly those who both recognized and embraced the more absurd elements of the superhero genre. And some of these stalwarts can still be found today, doing what is now widely called "nostalgia" work, like Kurt Busiek and Mark Waid, for instance. What these guys are nostalgic for, though, isn't a specific time period or status quo, it's a mindset -- the mindset that comics are fun and that anything can happen in them.

But this isn't really the norm anymore, and the reason lies with the more "serious" fans-turned-creators -- the second generation of creators who, determined to prove that superhero comics could be a serious genre that should be taken seriously, decided to deconstruct the fun. Take it apart, prove how ridiculous it all is, dissect the genre like a pre-med student doing a thesis. In other words, take an essentially illogical genre and try to impose logic upon it. The result: grim, gritty, more realistic stories that certainly have been taken more seriously.

But have they been enjoyed as much? Are they fun? Or have have works like Watchmen led to second rate copycat works that just depress and turn off potential readers by draining all the wonder out of the genre? And just look at what DC is trying to do these days and you'll see how the current generation is still missing the mark: they're trying to combine grim and gritty with nostalgia by bringing back all the silver age heroes, but they've missed the boat on just what people are actually nostalgic for.

All of it goes back to the mid-70's, when the fans chafing at the lack of respect comics -- and by extension, they themselves -- had been getting became creators and set out trying to prove the merit of the genre. Well, now they have some of that respect. It just cost everything they loved about comics to begin with.

What happened to that Nagel-print that hung on Peter Parker's wall?

I have to admit I don't know the answer to this, but I have a pretty good guess -- I assume that like everyone else's Nagel prints, it's at a flea market somewhere with a $1 tag taped to it.

Next: A whole batch of questions from a former member of the Marvel Bullpen. I answer them all! That's how this thing works, homeslice.

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New Comics Cavalcade: Avengers #1 and More

You may recall that last month we had a little shindig called Avengers Day to celebrate the relaunching of what seems to be upwards of five hundred new Avengers titles. We covered both the best Avengers stories (here, here, here and here) and the worst (here). We embraced and laughed and learned a little bit about both ourselves and our world. But still, one question remained unanswered: were the new Avengers titles any good?

Well, as it happens, I have some of them right here, so let's take a look, shall we? There are a bunch, so these reviews will be pretty short. But still tough. Kind of like Puck.

Avengers #1
Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr.

Yes, this is still being written by Bendis, but I went ahead and bought it anyway, being either open-minded, a sucker or both. And, actually, it's not too bad. Bendis still has some of the same flaws that always mar his team books for me -- namely, the characters all talk in the same voice (i.e. Bendis's voice) and fill arbitrary roles based on Bendis's plot needs rather than being driven by their character (see: use of Wonder Man in this issue). But this issue still manages to come at least closer to the spirit of the original Avengers title. Bendis does a couple weird things that you may either like or hate (namely, this storyline is apparently the sequel to a direct-to-video animated DVD, a fact not referenced in the comic) but while I am a bit skeptical about how he will handle Kang and Ultron, I'm willing to keep giving him the benefit of the doubt a little while longer. The JR Jr. art was solid but didn't blow me away.

My Grades: B-. This could go either way. Here's hoping.

Secret Avengers #1
Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato

This comic is kind of an old-schoolers dream, as it's essentially Steve Rogers leading a SHIELD covert ops group on a secret mission that happens to revolve around the Serpent Crown, which once upon a time was a major source of storylines in the Marvel world. And it has the Beast back with the Avengers where he belongs. It's not completely perfect -- I still don't really understand the inclusion of Valkyrie on a covert team, and sure enough she blows their cover about one minute into the mission -- but even the Deodato art seems to be a notch above the norm. It also has a great cliffhanger to boot that should have fans buzzing. Again, I'm not entirely sold on the line-up, but this is a top shelf first issue and with Brubaker's track record, it seems safe to say that this will likely be the most consistently good book among the new Avengers line.

My Grades: A-. A couple roster headscratchers (new Ant-Man? Really?) and a terrible costume for Beast prevent a higher grade.

Avengers Prime #1
Brian Michael Bendis and Alan Davis

Heaven help me, but I actually really liked this comic. There, I said it. Sure, there were a couple little details I didn't care for -- the title, for instance, is terrible, and the post-Siege argument between Cap and Tony that kicks off the issue seems forced to say the least -- but despite the arbitrary setup (the big three of Cap, Iron Man and Thor just happen to be the only people sucked through a vortex to the nine realms), I really dug it. Some of the credit goes, of course, to the always awesome Alan Davis, who provides great art as usual. But some of it has to go to (gulp) Bendis, who does a surprisingly solid job of making Steve Rogers look like a total badass. The ending was a nice twist also. I'm looking forward to the next issue, amazingly enough.

My Grades: This gets an A-. Funny how great characters and great art can inspire good stories.

Hawkeye & Mockingbird #1
Jim McCann and David Lopez

I have mixed emotions about this series. One the one hand, I love Hawkeye. On the other hand, I still can't figure out any good reason to have brought Mockingbird back from the dead, nor do I buy the explanation for her return. So, there's that. And this issue, while solid, doesn't really change my feelings about her. I've never been a fan, I don't get her relationship with Hawkeye and it just doesn't work for me. McCann, for his part, is obviously a huge fan of both Mock and the relationship (he's apparently the primary lobbier behind her return) and his enthusiasm shows, so the book has that going for it. The art is solid enough as well and it's clear that McCann has spent a lot of time studying back issues, as this first arc brings back both Hawkeye arch-nemesis Crossfire as well as the Phantom Rider. But some elements, like Mock's secret cadre of ex-SHIELD kidnapees just don't work for me (like, what's the purpose of their organization again exactly?) nor am I a huge fan of the use of Dominic Fortune here, though you'd think I would be. overall, then, this issue is just okay for me though it's solidly enough put together.

My Grades: This is probably a B+ objectively, but I can't give it better than a B- at best for personal reasons. I do like Mockingbird's new costume a lot better than her old one, anyway.

Free Comic Book Day 2010: Iron Man and Thor #1
Matt Fraction and John Romita Jr.

Okay, so this isn't part of the new Avengers relaunch, but after my review of the free Iron Man comic given out before showings of Iron Man 2, I wanted to discuss it briefly. This Iron Man / Thor team-up story was also a free comic, given out on free comic book day, which also was back in May. Unlike the comic given to theater-goers, it's actually written by real Iron Man writer Matt Fraction. Further, it features Thor (who as you know is teased in a bonus scene after the credits in Iron Man 2), meaning it even ties in better with the movie than the actual comic they gave out at the movie, which had nothing to do with anything really. Add to that the cool art by JR Jr. and the fact that this comic is totally awesome and you have a real head-scratcher for me. I can't think of a single good reason why this comic wasn't given to audiences at Iron Man 2 instead of the comic that was given out, as it is vastly superior and much more likely to bring in new readers. The story centers on a group who swipes from Stark tech to try and terraform part of the moon, which has negative impact on Earth weather, drawing Thor and Iron Man together. It's a fast paced, fun adventure -- everything a movie viewer and comic reader could want. What's not to love?

My Grades: A+. Unlike all the other comics in this review, which each cost a somewhat ridiculous $3.99, this comic was totally free, making it kind of ironic that it was also the best of the bunch hands down. Marvel, however, still gets a huge F- for not giving out this great comic to film crowds instead of the boring issue they actually gave out. It's a rare Double F- for one comic. What are you thinking, Marvel?!

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Movie Review: The A-Team

A week ago, I went to see the blockbuster, big-screen remake of the 80's cult TV hit A-Team, and now I can barely remember a single thing about it. That makes writing a review of the film both difficult and somewhat unnecessary. But, just as a writing exercise, I'll try to come up with something anyway.

Here are a couple details I do recall. Liam Neeson stars as Hannibal, an Army Ranger who is no relation to the guy with the elephants. In a fairly action-packed if arbitrary opening sequence, we see how Hannibal accidentally puts together his expert squad while battling some evil Mexican druglords, a plot point that I'm guessing only intended about half of the subtext it has acquired since the script was written.

Fast forward eight years (in the movie, I mean -- don't actually jump to 2018 for the rest of the review, it's right here) and we're in Iraq, meaning this movie could take place theoretically at any point in either the last decade or our vast and infinite future. Long story short, the A-Team does some stuff and there's a set-up and Major Dad is involved and then my eyes glazed over as a warm blanket of thoughtlessness swept me away until I awoke, pale and shivering several days later in the shadow of a dumpster behind the local KFC.

That's pretty much what A-Team is like: it's pretty fun, pretty fast paced and entirely unnecessary. Compared to this summer's other big studio releases, that means it's really awesome. Compared to good movies, well, why would you even make that comparison to begin with?

Fans of the TV show will almost certainly like it, as will fans of Bradley Cooper's always-visible abs; and pretty much anyone who doesn't require higher cognative abilities to enjoy a film will at least not regret spending the money on this one. If you're looking for the next Bourne Ultimatum, well, this is not your movie. If you want to see something that's got all the cheese factor of The Expendables but probably only half the suckiness, then go to it, home slice.

My Grades: As far as capturing the spirit of the TV show, the movie version gets an A-. As far as that being a desirable goal for a movie to strive for, this can only get a C at best. Overall summer film grade: B-. Not as bad as it should have been.

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Breaking News: Al Williamson Dead at 79

There's an old saying that no news is good news, and nowhere does this seem to be more true than when it comes to comic book legends. It seems like barely a week passes these days without the industry losing another one of its greats. And unfortunately, the inexorable loss of the men and women who invented comics and made the Golden Age so golden is continuing, as Al Williamson has died. He was 79.

The timing of Williamson's death is particularly ironic (if that's the word for it) considering his close friend and collaborator Frank Frazetta also passed away just a month ago. The two artists were among the "second wave" of creators that entered the industry following the initial Golden Age surge that created the comics medium. But while Williamson might have been in the second wave, there was nothing second rate about his fantastic -- and fantastically detailed -- artwork. Like Frazetta, Williamson rose to prominence thanks to his early work at EC Comics, where he became renowned for his work in science fiction. And though he was proficient in any number of other genres as well, Williamson remained associated with science fiction for the remainder of his career, thanks to high-profile and critically acclaimed projects like Flash Gordon and his adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back.

Williamson also holds a unique place among the pantheon of comics creators in that he was apparently universally beloved. Though I never had the chance to meet him myself, since his death over the weekend. Joe Quesada, Jimmy Palmiotti and Jeff Parker, for instance, have all written memorials to Williamson -- and that's just the J section. By all accounts, Williamson was a kind and generous man, traits that aren't often ascribed to artists as popular and successful as Williamson.

For another look at some of Williamson's more obscure work, you can check out Scott's Classic Comics Corner. In the mean time, here are a couple other classic Al Williamson covers.

They just don't make them like this any more.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lettercolumn Classics: Cat Scratches

Welcome back to another installment of Lettercolumn Classics, our semi-irregular look at some of the more interesting and offbeat lettercolumns in comic history. Last time out, you may recall, we explored the strange debate in the pages of Sgt. Fury about the treatment of German soldiers in Marvel comics (check it out here). Today we take a look at another hot button issue: women in comics.

Or, specifically, women in comics in 1972. That's when new Marvel editor-in-chief Roy Thomas came up with one of the riskiest, most innovative and most progressive initiatives in comics: a whole mini-line of comics featuring female characters and written and drawn by female creators with the idea of both expanding the role of women in the industry and drawing in girls and women who may not otherwise be reading comic books.

Sounds familiar? Yes, nearly 40 years later, the industry is still wrestling with these same issues -- check out the massive drag out internet fight in the comment section of this article, for instance -- so you can only imagine how groundbreaking this concept was back in 1972 when Thomas and Marvel unveiled Shanna the She-Devil, Night Nurse and The Cat to a skeptical fan community. Just how likely Shanna (a female Tarzan knockoff) and Night Nurse (essentially a soap opera, as I've discussed before) were to succeed is questionable, but if any of the titles had a fighting chance of making it, it was The Cat, which featured a classic Marvel-style origin of a woman named Greer Nelson who comes into possession of a costume that gives her superpowers. This was seemingly right in the wheelhouse for most superhero fans, except, of course for the fact that the main character wasn't a Spider-man type nerdy loner but instead a self-possessed, modern woman.

So how did the readers react? The lettercolumn tells the tale. Let's just say that not everyone was excited to embrace the idea of equality is the world of superheroes. Case in point, this typical exchange courtesy of The Cat #3:

And this was hardly the only letter expressing these feelings; here's another example from The Cat #4:

Of course, not everyone was unhappy with the idea of a liberated female superhero, but proving just how sticky the issue is, even supporters of the idea wrote in with complaints. And the reason should be no surprise to anyone: they were complaining about the unrealistic depiction of The Cat's body. Sound familiar?

The upshot of all this controversy? Well, unfortunately for Marvel and champions of comic book equality, it didn't translate into sales. Instead, all three titles in the female creator line were canceled after four issues. Shanna ended up becoming a supporting character in Ka-Zar, Night Nurse vanished into obscurity for decades and Greer Nelson, of course, was reborn as Tigra the Were-Woman, with the only negative side-effect being the fact that her character was completely re-written and has shifted to become the high-profile sex-kitten in all of comics. Not exactly what the creators of The Cat had in mind.

Lest you get the idea that all the letters were negative (they were actually split about 50-50), we'll leave you with this positive bit of commentary from a 15-year old boy who couldn't possibly have realized how ironic his words would later appear given his own adult self's less than stellar reputation when it comes to dealing with women in comics:

Tune in next time for another... Lettercolumn Classic!

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ask the Vault!

Welcome back to another edition of Ask the Vault! I know you're excited at the opportunity to ask the Vault your burning questions, so to reflect that excitement I've gone so far as to add an exclamation point to the title. Now that's pretty gosh darn exciting.

For those new readers who don't yet know the drill (and as you might guess, millions and millions of new readers are pouring in every single day) Ask the Vault(!) is a feature where you send in your questions about comics, movies or whatever the heck you want (but mostly comics) and I answer by dropping knowledge, answering trivia and educating the masses with massive heaps of wisdom.

Of course, this isn't our first merry-go-round, so you might want to brush up on some of our earlier Q&A sessions to make sure that your questions hasn't already been answered (for your convenience, I've collected those answers here, here, here and even here). So take a look around, collect your thoughts, formulate your query and then get off your lazy ass and ask me some questions already. You can do so either by emailing me, posting here int he comments or, like, whatever man. Send me a carrier pigeon if you need to. Just get it done.

Ask the Vault!

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