Tuesday, January 16, 2018

All-New Iron Manual is back!

Another project from my Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe days has been re-released as a digital comic at Comixology. It's the All-New Iron Manual, which was released as part of 2008's celebration surrounding the first Iron Man movie.

At the time, I was overjoyed to receive brand-new artwork for the issue from two of my favourite creators - Carlo Pagulayan & Ron Lim. I also went to the OHOTMU legend Eliot R. Brown for a page about the technology in Iron Man's armor. I vividly recall my phone conversation with Brown where I explained Warren Ellis' science surrounding Extremis, only for Brown to angrily denounce it all as claptrap, but he offered suggestions for actual science on how to do what Ellis claimed it could do.

Comixology doesn't have my original solicitation text for the comic, so here it is:

These are the chronicles of Tony Stark: the playboy, the genius inventor, the philanthropist, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., the futurist, the hero. This Handbook is the definitive resource to the world of Iron Man, featuring Tony's closest allies (Happy and Pepper Hogan, War Machine, the Order) and deadliest foes (Justin Hammer, Mandarin, Obadiah Stane)! Includes a complete gallery of the Iron Man armors, plus all-new schematics of key armors and the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier!

Check it out at Comixology!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Cops on the moon, super hero cops and various non-cop-related titles (2017 review, finale)

My connection to the world of comic books has felt a bit off ever since I quit working for Marvel in 2012. Perhaps I miss the shared universe concept, the excitement of seeing different creators and their characters playing off of each other. Maybe. Still, I got into a few titles this last year.

What was the best new comic I read last year? I dunno. Let's say Mooncop or Baking with Kafka by Tom Gauld. The latter book is a collection of cartoons, while the former is a graphic novel about a police officer on the moon - unfortunately, people are steadily leaving the moon so his job seems to be a pointless one. It's funny and heartfelt.

I read a lot of other books from Canada's Drawn & Quarterly including Hostage by Guy Delisle and both of his Bad Parenting books, plus Rolling Blackouts by Sarah Glidden, which I reviewed here.

I followed Deathstroke by Christopher Priest, Joe Bennett, Carlo Pagulayan & others for most of the year until the book shifted from bi-monthly to monthly status and increased its cover price. Priest seemed to be having the time of his life playing on the fringes of the DC Universe while crafting a complex series loaded with conflicted characters. It's very much like his Black Panther, only with an amoral unstoppable protagonist. You can read one of my reviews from the past year here.

I'm also following G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama & S. L. Gallant, which spent most of the last year creating a new Snake Eyes for the series (Hama killed off the most popular Joe recently). I'm reading Cerebus in Hell? by Dave Sim which has been published in various different parody title formats (ie, Strange Cerebus) and while it sure ain't Cerebus proper, it makes me chuckle. Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai published a number of issues last year and it's as consistent and strong as ever. I also dipped into the past for Top Ten by Alan Moore & Gene Ha, which I missed back in its heyday; it was as complex as I expected from Moore, but I had difficulty sorting out my feelings about the large cast.

For a time I followed the controversial The Divided States of Hysteria by Howard Chaykin, right up until my comic shop stopped putting it on the shelves! It was easily the second-most reviled book of 2017 (after Marvel's Secret Empire) and isn't that enough reason to check it out? I wrote up my thoughts here.

As I had thoroughly enjoyed the film Edge of Tomorrow I decide to give the earlier manga version a try and read All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka & Takeshi Obata. It has many differences compared to the film and definitely opts for less-optimistic ending. I'm still following Astro City by Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson, which had a few noteworthy issues last year, particularly a two-parter about a man who learns to be a hero from the example of his dog.

Some more recent reads of mine include the Charles Dickens adaptation Marley's Ghost by Gideon Kendall, which I reviewed here; Captain Kronos by Dan Abnett & Tom Mandrake, reviewed here; The Sworn Sword by Ben Avery & Mike S. Miller which is set in the world of George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones world but is a shade more optimistic; the M. R. James adaptations found in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary Vol.2 by Leah Moore, John Reppion & others, reviewed by me here; and the European book Alter Ego: Camille by Pierre-Paul Renders, Denis Lapiere & Mathieu Reynes, which I hope to review soon as it has elements worth talking about... and people don't seem to be talking about it online.

Happy 2018!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Moving images (2017 review, part 2)

The film genre is something I approach with just a little ennui. Having made deep dives into film history and seen all the acclaimed masterpieces of the past, I seldom seem to find something new to speak about. There wasn't a single film I saw in 2017 which I would call 'perfect,' but there were many great films. That will suffice.

I didn't discover many older films of note, but I finally went through The Fly (director: David Cronenberg), a horror film I had avoided because I sensed it was too gruesome for me. As it turns out, it is as gruesome as claimed, but the performances and storytelling kept me compelled. On the small screen I also saw: Get Out (director: Jordan Peele), which I liked although it was neither as scary nor as funny as online chatter made it appear - just a very tense thriller; Race (director: Stephen Hopkins), which was a fine bio-pic about Jesse Owens which felt a bit confined at having to adapt his life into a traditional three-act structure; and there was Arrival (director: Denis Villeneuve), which I enjoyed as a compassionate science fiction film (although the only aspect I shared on this blog was a musing on artificial gravity).

Theatrical Films

I went to the cinema eight times in 2017; each time I had at least one person who went with me. Without company, I wouldn't have gone to see any of these films. Which is not to say they're bad, just that I don't enjoy being alone in the theater unless the film is as unusual as Shin Godzilla was the year before. In particular, I would definitely not have bothered with Kong: Skull Island (director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts) or Dunkirk (director: Christopher Nolan) but for friends who wanted to see them (the former because my friend lost a bet on the Oscars with another friend and had to see a non-Oscar-worthy film with him as punishment). Kong wasn't bad, certainly better than I expected given my feelings about Gareth Edwards' Godzilla. Dunkirk became more engaging to me as it went on and presented some well-crafted tension through its gimmicky non-linear storytelling.

My friends wanted to see most of the big super hero films so who was I to refuse them? I dug Logan (director: James Mangold) with its somber tone, although the climax didn't quite sit right with me given all which had come before; I laughed a lot at Thor: Ragnarok (director: Waika Waititi), although as a huge fan of Planet Hulk and the last stand of Skurge the Executioner I wasn't particularly enthused at the truncated versions the film employed; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (director: James Gunn) felt very thin to me - way too pleased with itself and far too glib, but had a few great emotional beats when not trying to undercut its own drama; Wonder Woman (director: Patty Jenkins) was the super hero triumph of the year, despite having a pretty same-ol-same-ol climax - I wrote my initial thoughts here.

I also went to see Hacksaw Ridge (director: Mel Gibson) at the cheap theater and I was impressed to see a Hollywood film endorse pacifism, given that usually Hollywood war films which touch on the subject are crafted to speak against it (ie, Sergeant York). And there was Star Wars: The Last Jedi (director: Rian Johnson) recently, which I'm not certain how I feel about. It had various decisions I enjoyed, namely establishing Rey as a person who came from nothing instead of yet another member of the space-elite, but the questions the film raises about whether people should sacrifice themselves to achieve a greater good seem way too introspective for the Star Wars franchise and totally against what every film - particularly the last one, Rogue One - believe in. In Star Wars, you always play the odds even if you lose.

Television

Being that I don't have a television subscriber, my only source of television programming is on Netflix. This past year they brought in my old favourite Mystery Science Theater 3000 with brand-new episodes, a series I had backed on Kickstarter. Although I enjoyed the new programs I found the production a little too mechanical, not quite organic enough - the riffing was near-constant and I actually didn't find that a plus - I wanted more time to appreciate the jokes, to let them land before the next one started. It's good enough.

Fortunately, Netflix also brought me the event of the year: Five Came Back, the documentary series based on the book I finished earlier in the year. I adored this series. Although it had less information than the book, the manner of presentation with the film clips makes it indispensable and the ways in which the five famous director-commentators reflected on each of the book's five directors brought up interesting parallels and insights into those men. I showed this series to one of my friends; my friend had an interest in World War 2, but not classic film. After the series was done he wanted to see films by each of the directors, so I showed him at least one my each director from my library.

About two months later my friend and I were meeting another guy for dinner before watching Dunkirk. The second friend asked, "What's the best movie you've seen this year?" I considered and chose Logan. My first friend? The Grapes of Wrath by John Ford, from our Five Came Back-related sessions. Now he's into the classics!

Tomorrow: Comics!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Books Worth Going Back for (2017 review, part 1)

2017 was very good to me and to this blog. Blog readership has climbed significantly this last year. The most-read post was my list of 10 Great Princess Leia Moments from the Comics, but I was personally most fond of The Quality of Mercy, the first time I seriously attempt to discuss my spiritual beliefs on the blog.

But you're not here to watch a victory lap; let's get to the recap!

Best in Fiction

I delved into many novels this last year, particularly in the science fiction genre. I read Citizen of the Galaxy and The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein and enjoyed both books. Heinlein is not an author I've consistently enjoyed but he's certainly one I want to enjoy. Citizen of the Galaxy is easily the novel of his I've most enjoyed, thanks to his comprehensible world-building and strong lead protagonist. The Puppet Masters was simply good fun.

Although a Halo video game fan I hadn't reach much of the Halo fiction but finally sat down with Halo: The Fall of Reach by Eric Nylund, the novel which was released to fill in the backstory behind the original game. It's a very strong novel, especially from my perspective as a fan of the games, but I think it stands well on its own as it tells from the beginning where the Spartans came from and how their war with the Covenant began.

I began watching Game of Thrones in the last 2 years and of late found myself introduced in the literature, beginning with A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin. I'm sure I'll read the rest of the existing material by the end of 2018. I'm most impressed by how carefully Martin builds his fantasy world and the various considerations given to making it feel lived-in. At this point the books are much like their television adaptations but I know that will change - and even then, I have noticed how the book's events are much better at developing mysteries.

From my friend Olav I took up recommendations for The Goblin Emperor by Sarah Monette and Old Man's War by John Scalzi, the first a fantasy political book in the vein of Martin, the latter a sci-fi adventure in the spirit of Starship Troopers. Both were very enjoyable reads with well-developed central characters.

I read Lay Down Your Arms! by Bertha von Suttner, an anti-war novel written before that field of fiction was famous. The book tells the story of a woman whose loved ones are repeatedly, throughout her life, destroyed by war. The book's diary format certainly shows its age, but the anti-war message remains timeless.

I picked up Leave It to Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse from a book sale and I clearly need to read more Wodehouse; I had previously read some Jeeves/Wooster stories, but now I see how fine Wodehouse's other works were. Leave It to Psmith is a fine farce, especially for people who know their mystery novel tropes and enjoy seeing Wodehouse dismantle it. In a much more ridiculous fashion, The Pyrates by George MacDonald Fraser was an extremely funny send-up of pirate film tropes. I've had a look at Fraser's other works, hoping I would find more cut from this cloth, but this seems to be an exception in his career.

Best in Non-Fiction

The book event of the year for me was Five Came Back by Mark Harris, the story of the five top Hollywood directors who became involved in World War II. It was a facet of the war and of the directors' careers which I hadn't paid attention to before and the tale became unexpectedly moving in many places. I was also very impressed at the thoroughness of the research. This was a Christmas gift to me in 2016 and got me excited for the Netflix adaptation (more on that tomorrow).

Also in film, I read Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho by Stephen Rebello and The Dark Side of Genius by Donald Spoto. Both helped me better realize Hitchcock's great filming instincts and his particular shortcomings. I had known of The Dark Side of Genius for decades but avoided it, fearing it might be salacious. It's not, and as both books made me want to rewatch my Hitchcock films, I think it didn't hurt his standing in my eyes. Finally, Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker's Journey by Harlan Lebo must surely be the most authoritative look at the film Citizen Kane ever written. It's particularly good reading for those people who are aware of the controversies surrounding which screenwriter was responsible for which elements of the final film.

I read Unquiet Ghosts by Adam Hochschild because Hochschild's books have all been engaging so far; the subject of investing Russia post-Stalin isn't one I had interest in, but Hochschild dug up some interesting people, finding folks who had been imprisoned by Stalin, yet wept when he died. It points to how easily people allow themselves to be led by authoritarians.

More directed to my faith, I read Devotions on Emergent Conditions by John Donne, a series of reflections Donne made while suffering a lingering death. It's a neatly philosophical book and many of Donne's ruminations were affecting to me. I used the book as a devotional during my last trip to Angola. A friend loaned me Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Quershi, the story of a Muslim man who converted to Christianity and how it was a very gradual process for him. It's unfortunate that Quershi died last year as he was gifted at sharing his story of faith.

Always being interested in Africa, I read The Colour Bar by Susan Williams, which tells about the marriage of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams and the many ridiculous political steps taken to try and break them up. There's a movie of their story as well, but this real life account has much more drama and plenty of ruthless villains. Finally, In the Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski is a collection of memoirs from Kapuscinski's various journeys to Africa across several decades and he expressed his feelings about the continent in a way which I felt akin to, given my own recently-discovered love of Africa.

Tomorrow: Film!