Monday, January 31, 2011

G Men vs. Infernal Affairs/the Departed

Earlier, I mentioned seeing the Hong Kong picture Infernal Affairs and its US remake the Departed. Both films concern a pair of police officers, one good, one rogue. The rogue cop is the cat's paw of a mobster who wants an operative working for him on the inside. The good cop works undercover for a respectable detective and had to be drummed out of the force to seem like a criminal-in-the-making. The good cop winds up working against the mobster who employs the rogue cop, so the films create some tension around whether one of the cops will realize which side the other is really working for.

Now, ultimately the rogue cop is out for himself, not his mobster benefactor and that's what brings me to William Keighley's G Men, starring James Cagney.

By 1935, Cagney was already infamous for his gangster roles at Warner Bros, with his fairly cold-blooded role in the Public Enemy becoming one of his all-time best-remembered performances. After a few years taking more gangster picture parts than anything else, G Men was a big change for Cagney; the content made it more-or-less another gangster picture, but this time Cagney was playing a proper protagonist: an FBI agent.

Cagney plays James "Brick" Davis, a struggling lawyer in the 1920s. Coming from a poor background, Brick only afforded law school because of his benefactor, MacKay ("Mac"), portrayed by character actor William Harrigan. MacKay runs a nightclub and is involved in some shady enterprises, but although Brick could use some extra money, he always refuses to work for Mac, preferring to remain legitimate. In fact, this is why Mac paid for Brick's education - he wanted to help out someone from a similar background, but always hoped his protegee would make it as an honest man.

One of Brick's friends is murdered by the mob, spurring Brick to join the FBI for revenge. Brick has to keep his relationship with Mac secret to gain admittance to the department and has one last friendly meeting with Mac.

Mac: "They want you in Washington."
Brick: "Yeah. I'm leaving tomorrow morning. That puts me on the other side of the fence from you, Mac."
Mac: "That's where you oughta be."
Brick: "Yes, but I'm out to get you! You, and everybody else in your racket! And if they assign me to go after you, I've got to use everything I know about you!"
Mac: "You've got to play ball with them, Brick. Go to it. You won't get me, Brick. I'm going to quit. I've been thinking about it for a long time."

Although Brick and MacKay's unusual friendship is a minor part of the film - which is mostly about Brick clashing with his superior in the department and leading fights with the mob - to me, this was the highlight of the film because it stands out so sharply from other law enforcement pictures of the time. Well into the 1950s, pro-law films portrayed lawmen as virtual paragons of justice and their opponents as the lowest scum of humanity. But this picture, one of the first gangster films post-Hays Code to take the law's side still finds space to treat some of the crooks sympathetically.

Of course, even the sympathetic crooks meet a bad end in classic Hollywood pictures, be it Scarface or High Sierra. So it is with Mac, who tries to cut his ties to organized crime, but his old associates choose his lodge in the woods as their hideout from the FBI, taking him hostage. When Brick leads the FBI to raid the lodge, Mac is used as a human shield and takes a bullet from Brick's gun. After the carnage, Brick realizes he's fatally wounded his oldest friend, but the dying Mac doesn't blame Brick, delivers some parting words of encouragement, then dies.

"It wasn't your fault. You're okay, kid. I was thinkin' about you the other day, wondering when you were coming up for that..."

In a sense, the all-but-irredeemable rogue cop of Infernal Affairs/the Departed is a step back in motion pictures to Hays Code-era unsympathetic villains. For that matter, the benefactor mobster in both films is repugnant, unlike G Men's Mac.

I don't really have a point to make with these observations...I simply found it interesting. There's life in those old gangster pictures yet!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Blockbusters of the Marvel Universe due tomorrow!

The latest and greatest Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe is released this Wednesday: Blockbusters of the Marvel Universe, a book devoted to events from throughout Marvel history! More about it here!

Also keep your eyes open for Proof: Endangered#2, featuring more back-up profiles from yours truly!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Index to Thor: collected!

Due this April from the House of Ideas...


Get the complete history of the God of Thunder from his earliest appearances all the way up to the present day. This book comes packed with synopses — introducing you to the characters, teams, places and equipment that appeared within; and providing vital information about all things Thor! Collecting material from AVENGERS, THOR & CAPTAIN AMERICA: OFFICIAL INDEX TO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #1-12. 328 PGS./Rated A …$19.99 ISBN: 978-0-7851-5098-5

These tomes are great, the perfect way to read the Index. If you haven't been following the Official Index in single issues, I highly recommend these volumes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Marvel Index in April


Return with us to the Silver and Golden Ages as the chronicle of the Marvel Universe continues its coverage of the Avengers (from AVENGERS #385), Thor (from 2002’s THOR #43), and Captain America (from both CAPTAIN AMERICA #426 and 1944’s CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS #37). Watch the Marvel universe’s history unfold month by month as we provide synopses for dozens of individual comics, including back-up strips — introducing the characters, teams, places and equipment that appeared within with vital information about first appearances, where they last showed up and where they appeared next! 64 PGS./Rated A …$3.99

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Official Handbook to Thor in April!

Why, you'd think he had a movie coming out or something...


Select Character Artwork by GUS VAZQUEZ Cover by TOM RANEY

Verily! The ideal companion for the THOR motion picture! Begin quenching thy curiosity of all things Asgardian with this assemblage of all-new Thor-related profiles in the time-honored OHOTMU manner! Learn of foul rogues such as Malekith, Mangog and the fiery Surtur; lovely visions like Jane Foster, Kelda and Karnilla; mystical items including the Norn Stones and the Oversword; and, of course, heroes worthy of song: the new Thunderstrike, Vidar, Volstagg and an update on the noble Thor himself! Plus: the Nine Worlds of Asgard, an Appendix of its citizenry and more! Featuring new art by Gus Vazquez! Truly, a tome worthy of the gods! Miss it not! 64 PGS./Handbook/One-Shot/Rated T+ …$4.99

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Considering 2010: Music

Music is not tremendously important to me. In fact, this is the first post on the subject for Section 244. There was a time (high school) when I spent a lot of time fixating on albums, music videos, concerts, etc. By college I had lost interest in music altogether and never really recaptured an ear for contemporary sounds.

Still, in 2010 I did attend a concert with my brother: we went to see the Newsboys with their new front man Michael Tait (formerly 1/3rd of DC Talk). I was impressed at Tait's ability to perform familiar Newsboys tunes from the 90s and it was clear to see the band benefited from adding him to their lineup since he brought the entire DC Talk back catalogue to their repetoire; it's a shame the band had to lose their long-time front man Peter Furler, but Tait might be the only man alive who can fit his shoes. I've bought the new album for my brother, but haven't snagged one for myself yet.

At work I listen to classical music all day long but I haven't sought out recordings of classical music. I don't know enough about particular performers to know which I would want to own and classical tends to be more expensive than contemporary.

However, thanks to some sage advice from my friend Craig, I've made film soundtracks my new diversion. In 2010, I probably played the soundtrack of Avatar more than any other disc; for his part, Craig provided me with How to Train Your Dragon. I've also found a nice collection of Bernard Herrmann scores and the various Halo soundtracks have a great sound.

Finally, I've been taking an interest in Oscar Levant's music, due to suddenly realizing...there are recordings of Oscar Levant's music! As an old-time radio buff, I had heard Levant on various broadcasts of Information Please, where he impressed me with his intellect, humour and piano playing. It took me some time to realize Levant recorded albums of his performances, albums which can obtained via cd.

So, looking ahead to 2011 I see myself finally getting the Newsboys' Born Again, tracking down more soundtracks to films I enjoy (hopefully with some more Herrmann) and scouring for a bit of Levant.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Considering 2010: Books

I didn't read many novels in 2010 as compared to other years. I usually have two books running at a time: one at work, one at home. But I spent most of this year reading short story anthologies instead of full-length works. The most notable books I delved into were non-fiction (very unusual for me) and even the two major fictions I read came more tightly hewn to real world histories.

I'd been interested in Michael Shaara's Killer Angels ever since I learned it was an influence on Joss Whedon's television show Firefly. I didn't realize at first that it was adapted into the film Gettysburg (a movie I quite like) and when I finally read it for myself I was stunned to see just how closely the film followed the novel. Given that both are fictional recreations of the Battle of Gettysburg, it's amazing to learn how closely the filmmakers followed Shaara's sequences and dialogue.

The other big historical novel (with a film adaptation of its own) was the Name of the Rose. To this, I credit my cousin Andrew for repeatedly bringing up Umberto Eco and encouraging me to seek out his work. Having read Eco's most famous book - and being rather impressed - I hope to seek out some more in the future.

Also thanks to Andrew I sought out Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond, a tome which recounts various tales of human civilizations which passed into history and what factors undermined them. I hear that Diamond has his critics, but I found this book an eye-opener, particularly his chapter on Arizona which describes how the state is barely able to sustain itself.

I really treasured Michael J. Lyons' World War I: a Short History and World War II: a Short History. I needed to research both wars for a Marvel Comics project (Blockbusters of the Marvel Universe, on sale this month!) and these books filled in the gaps of history I barely understood (or had forgotten). I particularly appreciated how the Pacific war was described in his World War II volume as my high school education fixated on Europe.

My growing interest in mission work lead me to Ishmael Beah's Long Way Gone and Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands With the Devil. Dallaire's book has one described moment so horrible that I had to put it down for a while before resuming. Both made me upset with the world's indifference to human suffering and what better way to put my money where my mouth is than to volunteer myself to a mission?

Next: Music

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Western/War/Horror site updated

I've just updated my website's guide to Marvel's Horror, War, Jungle, Romance and Western stories. I'm acquiring 1950s Atlas Comics faster than I can index them, so this update has many, many dozens of new entries peppered throughout, with various old errors fixed.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Considering 2010: Comics

During 2010 the flow of comic books into my home took on a crazed life of its own. Marvel themselves provided me with a hefty supply of titles, but I also bought into plenty of graphic novels and continued to branch out into other publishers' work.

So, I think it makes the most sense to divvy up 2010 into what I most enjoyed from Marvel...and everything else.


Many years ago (before I was a freelancer) I toyed with the idea of telling the story behind Jeff Mace, the man who (via retcons) served as Captain America circa 1946-1950. I was fascinated at the idea that he was a normal man filling in for a believed-dead hero at a time when no one (including readers) cared about super heroes. Fortunately, Karl Kesel has finally told this story in Captain America: Patriot and he hit on every point I wanted to see covered. This book hits the notes of continuity perfectly (which as a handbook writer I'm still impressed by), but I felt it also did a fine job of characterizing Mace and his personal struggles filling a role he didn't really want for people who don't really want him. Also, Kesel's Sub-Mariner is an absolute delight.

I'm constantly impressed at the work editor Stephen Wacker does on Amazing Spider-Man, employing some of my personal favourite writers (Mark Waid, Fred Van Lente, Roger Stern, Dan Slott) and teams of excellent artists, most notably Marcos Martin. In recent issues, I was stunned to find how much I enjoyed Humberto Ramos' art, having been disappointed with his work almost a decade ago. However I felt about the Ramos of 2001, the Ramos of 2010 is worth following!

As part of a research assignment, I went over Peter David's X-Factor, which I don't normally follow. I already knew some of the details of his most recent storylines, but it was eye-opening to read them for myself. In particular the X-Factor Special: Layla Miller which detailed the young mutant Layla surviving in a totalitarian future, X-Factor#39 with the birth of Jaime Madrox's son and X-Factor#40 featuring Madrox's grapple with life were some of the best stories of David's on this title.

Like so many on the internet, I loved Roger Langridge & Chris Samnee's Thor: the Mighty Avenger, sadly cancelled after a mere 8 issues. Written in a stand-alone continuity intended to bring in fans of the upcoming movie (who will, I guess, get to buy the trade paperback anyway), this is the best Thor comic I've read in about 15 years. The gentle humour and fun characterizations are part of what makes it so engaging, but more than anything it's that Langridge takes nothing for granted - nothing. He doesn't waste the reader's time and he doesn't invest in characters or scenes that aren't worth investing in. Every page and every panel matter to the story, so they matter to me.

Avengers Academy is Christos N. Gage's new series to replace Avengers: the Initiative. The concept - superhuman teenagers considered potential super villains being taught to be heroes by the Avengers - has endless potential. Although the series spun out of the Initiative it's actually the spritual successor to Brian K. Vaughn's Runaways as a series about teenagers grappling with their morality.

Even though Greg Pak returned to Incredible Hulk last year, I felt it wasn't up to the standards of Pak's earlier Planet Hulk or World War Hulk. Well, with an exception: Incredible Hulk#611 in which the Hulk battles his son Skaar led to an exceptional pay-off not only for readers of Pak's work, but for anyone who followed Bill Mantlo or Peter David's Hulk.

Fred Van Lente is always good (and needs to get his Comic Book Comics to ship regularly), but I felt his best work in 2010 was on the mini-series Shadowland: Power Man, featuring a teenager who adopts Luke Cage's old "Power Man" handle, along with Cage's old "Hero for Hire" job. Van Lente crafts a believable picture of life in Harlem...or, at least, the Marvel Universe version of Harlem where you're as likely to meet a ninja as anything.


Sticking with super heroes, I've been giving Grant Morrison a sober second look lately by trying out some of his most esteemed work. So far that's included All-Star Superman, WE3 and the beginning of his Animal Man. I'm definitely learning to appreciate his writing, although I prefer him on stand-alone projects rather than his shared universe work at Marvel and DC. All-Star Superman has at least three panels which struck me with their visual, emotional power; I want to see more of his work. I blogged some more about WE3 here.

2010 was also the year I discovered Joe Sacco via Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde and Footnotes in Gaza. With all the flat-out fiction I read, it's nice to experience something of the real world in my comics. Sacco's work has done a lot to educate me on Israel and Bosnia and inspired me to learn more; it also helped inspire me to commit myself to a mission in Angola for 2011. After all the suffering I witnessed in Sacco's books, I felt the need to get overseas and help people. I blogged some more about Palestine here.

From Sacco I took an interest in How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less by Sarah Glidden. This is an autobiographical story where the author goes on a birthright trip to Israel and confronts her prejudices about the Israelis. She never really confronts the issues about Palestine which formed her beliefs so her story's finish is a letdown...but that's real life, eh?

After promising myself for years that I would delve into Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo, I finally took the plunge in 2010 and it's been providing me with some of the most consistently enjoyable stories on my bookshelf. With more than 20 volumes of trade paperbacks in print Usagi seems daunting to outsiders, but as fans in the know promised me, you can start almost anywhere in the series and find the story easy to flow into; I'm currently devouring the snake at both ends, working my way through the trades in order while buying the new issues as they ship.

The concept of a cat-man who solves crimes sounds simplistic, right? It is. What isn't is the art of Juanjo Guarnido, whose ability to render a lush, verisimilitudinous "funny animal" version of 50s noir made Blacksad an instant favourite. The fact that John Blacksad has whiskers is a tool to catch your attention, and it certainly worked on me. I'm eager to see more of Blacksad as it's translated. I blogged some more about Blacksad (and Usagi Yojimbo) here.

James Turner's Warlord of Io seems to have run its (troubled) course, drifting from serialized print format to electronic-only to trade paperback. It's much more plot driven than Turner's earlier Rex Libris, but the plot - video game crazy Zing being named emperor but facing an immediate coup - serves to introduce all sorts of fun characters, situations and opportunities for Turner to flex his artistic muscles. I blogged some more about Warlord of Io here.

Two of my favourite humourous writers came out with projects in 2010: Jim Rugg with his blaxploitation satire Afrodisiac and Bryan Lee O'Malley with Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour. Actually, while Afrodisiac is straight-up satire on every page (to the point where you can predict the outcomes - Afrodisiac gets every woman because every woman wants him; lather, wash, repeat), O'Malley's final Scott Pilgrim took itself with a smidge of seriousness when it came to Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers' relationship (as in the previous volume).

I took a gamble on American Born Chinese, but considering it had already won a few awards, it seemed like a safe bet. This book collects seemingly-unconnected tales about people who want to be something other than what they are (notably the titular Chinese-American protagonist). I can't know how growing up Asian in a mostly-white society feels, but I empathized with the feelings of otherness and ultimately, it's why I read fiction - to gain insight into other people's experiences.

For decades now, Batton Lash has been producing Supernatural Law - currently on the web - yet it's seldom brought up in comic book circles and the collections are difficult to locate. Happily, I found the volume Sonovawitch! in which Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre, represent a man accused of bewitching a woman to love him. In reality, he's a victim of his witch mother, who just wants her son to get married. Sonovawitch! is just one of the stories collected in that trade but it's typical of Wolff & Byrd's misadventures; I look forward to finding the rest of the series.

Finally, I delved into two well-described titles by John Ostrander: Grimjack and the Spectre. The Grimjack Omnibus was a nice little tome with interesting mash-ups of detective, horror, science fiction and comedy; my favourite was a story where Grimjack was hired by a vampire to catch his killer. Ostrander's Spectre may be the best of his work I've read; over 60 issues he delves into Jim Corrigan, a murdered police man bound to the spirit of vengeance, cursed to combat evil until he understands it. Corrigan's journey through the series, particularly his grief at losing his closest mortal friend, a fight with Superman that's unlike any I'd seen before, the character's philosophical and theological discussions with the level-headed Father Craemer and that final issue, with Corrigan's out the Spectre; back issues can be difficult to locate, but it's well worth the effort.

Tomorrow: books!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Considering 2010: Films

2010 is past and it brings me (like many) to look back over the media I used that year. Rather than blast the media I didn't enjoy, I'm going to briefly consider what I did like about movies in 2010.

AT THE THEATRE The cinemas of 2010 were much more kind to me than those of 2009; although I went to see fewer films, I avoided seeing anything truly terrible. I'm beginning to learn!

The theatrical film I flat-out enjoyed the most last year is a toss-up between How to Train Your Dragon and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Both films had plenty of action and comedy, but affected me in different ways; Dragon was an excellent character-driven story about proving your worth; Pilgrim's most endearing feature was Edgar Wright's direction, as always comprised of hundreds of quick cuts but so perfectly edited that the flow of the story is never lost.

I also went to the theatre for Iron Man 2, Tron: Legacy and Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which were all good.


I'm currently keeping a lengthy list of films I want to see and constantly trying to strike titles off the assembly. Consequently, in 2010 I watched a lot of well-regarded films. I won't bother to delve into the best-known of these movies, but I'll list them:

the Aviator, A Bridge Too Far, Dances With Wolves, the Departed, A Few Good Men, the Godfather, Goodfellas, Grave of the Fireflies, the Killing Fields, Last of the Mohicans, Patton, Rosemary's Baby, the Shawshank Redemption and John Carpenter's the Thing.

There are a few other films I'd like to single out, some of them pictures I watched with my semi-regular "movie night" crowd:

I don't consider myself to be much of an authority on animated films, but I sampled two very different films from the 1980s: the adult and unnerving Plague Dogs and the richly-drawn, kid-friendly Secret of NIMH. Both have my recommendation.

The best documentary I saw was the King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, relating the story of a man who tries to become world champion of Donkey Kong, only to discover the video game judging system is run by an old boys' club with intense suspicions of outsiders. As a video gamer who considers himself something of an outsider, I felt where the protagonist was coming from in his trials.

A few films from the science fiction genres I enjoyed were the gently funny and endearing Brother From Another Planet, the haunting time travel romance of Somewhere in Time, the very 70s eoc-friendly message of Silent Running, the outstanding visual direction and photography of Alex Proyas' the Crow, and two of John Carpenter's cult classics: his off-kilter space invader story They Live and his homage to H.P. Lovecraft, In the Mouth of Madness.

I'm not much of a fan when it comes to the western film genre but I do put in some effort to seek out the westerns which are supposed to be good. I watched two of Jimmy Stewart's films: Broken Arrow and the Naked Spur; the former was interesting mainly because of how tolerant it was of Native Americans for its time, while the latter put Stewart in a challenging role where he was not his usual nice guy persona. The 80s ensemble film Silverado was quite enjoyable and the more recent pictures 3:10 to Yuma and Appaloosa were all right.

Working my way through the filmography of Akira Kurosawa I managed to find Hidden Fortress, his film which helped inspire Star Wars and it turned out to be quite funny. Sanjuro and Yojimbo were a nice back-to-back set of samurai battles which I appreciate all the more now that I'm delving through Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo comics.

I found a few nice mystery films, including Sleuth and Anatomy of a Murder, along with the rarely-lauded In a Lonely Place, where Humphrey Bogart played a film writer suspected of murder and how the suspicion destroys his relationships (much like Hitchcock's Wrong Man). But the best mystery picture I saw was Carol Reed's the Fallen Idol, the story of a boy who tries to cover up a death for his beloved butler, only to put his friend into peril with the police when his lies lead them to their own conclusions.

There were some good fast-paced comedies I enjoyed...which is saying something, because after westerns, comedies are the most challenging sell to me as a filmgoer. So, accolades to True Romance, the Mexican and Snatch, with a special citation to Thank You for Smoking.

In terms of action films, usually its the name Luc Besson which draws me in. In 2010 I finally saw his classic picture Nikita which ultimately surprised me in how its protagonist went from someone I couldn't bear to a character I felt for; Besson's productions District 13: Ultimatum and Taken were also up to his usual standards. Outside of Besson, I tracked down Humphrey Bogart in Sahara which was rather good for a World War II picture which came out during the war itself and was less USA-dominated than most Hollywood pictures of its type.

Beyond these, the World's Fastest Indian was immensely enjoyable, the Caine Mutiny was the best Bogart picture I saw last year, and Infernal Affairs is quite superior to Scorcese's remake (the Departed).

Tomorrow: Comics of 2010.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Proof: Endgangered#4 in March!

Now that I'm officially working for the creators of Proof, expect more posts like these:



“ENDANGERED,” Part Four; Proof has been fighting monsters for more than 200 years. Now somebody finally dies. Proof's running out of friends and may have to turn to his enemies for help.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Index tomorrow!

The latest issue of the Official Index to the Marvel Universe should be shipping tomorrow, but check with your local store to see if the holidays have caused delays. More about Index #9 here!

Speaking of delays, I took a week off the internet during the holidays so I missed mentioning on this blog that my most recent book Heroic Age: X-Men shipped last week. It's the third and final of the Heroic Age files series, so be sure to snag a copy while they're still on the shelves!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Iron Manual Mark 3: gone digital!

The Digital Comics Unlimited service at has recently added another one of my titles: Iron Manual Mark 3, last year's special Iron Man-themed Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Go here to read it now!