Hero Whipped: Hellraiser

Note: Images below are gory and may be found disturbing by some. Proceed with caution.

If this is your first time reading one of these posts this is where I discuss my return to the comics medium after a long hiatus. The journey to that return in chronicled in this post and this one. Since detailing that journey subsequent posts have usually been on topics surrounding one particular character and the depiction in various media.

Now in discussing Hellraiser as a franchise I do realize that I am not dealing with a hero. When you’re dealing in the horror genre, particularly as the franchises spawn sequels and spin-offs, you are more concerned with the villain. In the case of some truly unfortunate films it’s the antagonist you prefer because the protagonist(s) are lacking.

When discussing Hellraiser specifically one interesting aspect of the property is that it really does illustrate another area wherein prose, film and comics have some overlap. Specifically I am thinking of the connection between auteurs, or writer/director if you prefer, and comic creators. Naturally the link between those and author exists there too. For one of the films, a book and now a few comics series that title is held by one man: Clive Barker.

The Hellbound Heart (1988, HarperCollins)

The Hellraiser concept was first introduced in a novella by Barker entitled The Hellbound Heart. This story was first anthologized in November of 1986 and was released as a standalone book after the success of the film.

Clive Barker is one of the few artists working today that one can truly call a renaissance man. There is virtually no creative endeavor he hasn’t sought out – he writes novels; has written and had plays produced; he’s a photographer; and he paints, hundreds of his works now form the illustrations for his Abarat series. Prior to writing and directing Hellraiser, he’d acted as writer or director on a number of films including SalomSalomé, The Forbidden and Rawhead Rex. When the narrative of The Hellbound Heart was to come to cinemas he took on both challenges.

Hellraiser was one of New World Pictures most successful titles and a work of visionary horror. Though Barker did have input in the sequel and the third film his control over the film series was never equal to what he had that first time around. The results have never been the same again either. Considering that it’s a world of his crafting that he executed on film so brilliantly the first time around, it was folly. If you’re brave enough to watch the decline of the series, it is a sad thing; one I didn’t have the stamina to write about.

Hellraiser (1987, New World Pictures)

However, with horror franchises on film that tends to be the case. It’s a case of gradual decay and occasional slight resurgence after the studio takes control of its fate and the creator of the entity eventually moves on to bigger and better things. However, Barker’s name still has caché, and is so synonymous with Hellraiser, for obvious reasons, that Dimension has taken to using his name in sequels he had nothing to do with. This has caused Barker to publicly disclaim these assertions stating that the story did not come from his mind or any other orifice of his body, to paraphrase.

It is lamentable when a film franchise falls that far from grace. There is a reboot in the works, which he is producing that may right that, but there is all that wreckage in the past and only the original film stands as a masterful work of horror. That is, of course, if you limit yourself to film.

Recently, Barker has taken to writing for the comics medium for the first time. Since Hellraiser joined the Boom! Studios line-up he was the guiding force behind a 20-issue series, followed by a 4-issue mini-series and now a new Hellraiser ongoing series has picked up a different thread of the mythology. Barker is not always credited as authoring the script, but has been, and is definitely guiding these tales.

Hellraiser Annual #1 (Boom! Studios)

Just sating that creator/auteur urge of having someone who understands the world and how to tell new stories within it would be enough for most. However, the series have also been fantastic so far. I’m fairly selective about monthly titles and have never dropped them off my pull-list and more often than not these titles have been at or near the top of best issues of the month. Many times they show what the medium can do. The artwork, typically done by different artists, appropriately and seamlessly, is gorgeous and lush. The writing is smart and the structure intricate. It lends itself to re-reading, and reading in trade, but also works in single-issue format, I believe. That’s a hard trifecta to pull off.

Fans of the world, the antagonist Pinhead and the heroine Kirsty Cotton would likely be pleased by this run of books which is ongoing. Fans of Barker in general should be glad that there’s yet another outlet for his creative genius as in June Boom! will debut his first original 12-issue limited series called Next Testament.

It seems that both Barker and the Hellraiser have found a new place to call home, the comics medium. That’s a good thing for both of them, but it’s an even better thing for fans and we should all be reading.

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Hero Whipped: Richie Rich

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Hero Whipped piece and I was considering this idea and several others to liven things up. If you’ve not read one of these posts before. Since the introduction the focus has been on one character, one who appears in comics but usually in many kinds of media, including films, of course.

With regards to Richie Rich there are really quite a few avenues of my return to comics, not to mention that but also the relationship between comics and film, which I can touch upon here. Before getting to a specific case study, which is where this post will differentiate itself. I’ll go through a bit of character history, as well as personal history with the character.

Histories

Richie Rich (Classic Media)

Richie Rich is one of the characters I grew up with when I was first reading comics before I abandoned them. The fate of his character and Harvey Comics was one of the hard truths I had to come to terms with upon returning to enjoying the medium after about a decade and a half hiatus.

Now, he and other Harvey creations aren’t exactly dead in the water. Harvey Comics met its demise not too long after the release of the Richie Rich film. It was second major film project based on their characters and ironically, the single-issue adaptation of the film’s story was actually released by Marvel, and that’s where the case study will come in.

Since Harvey went under the characters of their universe have undergone quite a journey. They were reprinted in a series of collections, most of which are now hard-to-find, by Dark Horse Comics.

Richie Rich: Rich Rescue (Ape Entertainment)

However, that didn’t last long, but Richie Rich has been revitalized through Ape Entertainment’s Kidzoic label. What Ape, with aid of the old hands that are still with us, have managed to do is that they’ve modernized the character in appearance, behavior and plot, but kept Richie’s essence the same. Through Rich Rescue he still gets into capers but the tales are more formalized and less random. He rings a bit more true but is still essentially a good kid, and not the spoiled silver spoon baby one would expect. Reggie, his antagonistic cousin, is a bit more rounded. The art is also more malleable inasmuch as there are reprints/recolorings of old tales as well as new stories with classical design of the characters.

Richie Rich (Classic Media)

Then last year, Classic Media, which is the company that took control of the intellectual property of Harvey and a couple of other companies was purchased by DreamWorks. This development is great for the future of these characters. Firstly, it doesn’t seem like right now it’ll endanger rekindled comic adaptations (while Star Wars comics will migrate to Marvel, comics based on Disney’s characters remain entrenched at Boom Studios, and Disney has never really had a proprietary brand) I don’t foresee DreamWorks or Classic Media entering the fray either, but do believe Spielberg/DreamWorks will try and build upon his investment, and considering he was executive producer on the first Casper cinematic incarnation, other films may be in the offing.

The Harvey Universe would be a prime candidate (and this could be a list at some point) for a motion capture treatment in the future.

Which brings me to the specific.

Case Study

Richie Rich (Warner Bros./Marvel)

Before I revisited, and read Richie Rich more voraciously than I ever had before my departure from comics, I hovered around what was in part wrong with the film version. I think if I saw the film again, I’d still like it but there’d be similar issues for me.

Culkin (and here may be another list ranking his films) was not necessarily the wrong choice for the part, but the part was written more to suit him than the character, there’s the occasional precociousness and snark that’s really not Richie. There’s that origin of meeting his friends where the trite envy is built in where the greedy adult world is really what’s supposed to be the enemy. Richie, his father and mother are fictitious, altruistic billionaires that are all childlike counter-capitalists in their desire to always do right over what’s profitable, yet, due to their virtue always come out swimming in money. This nuanced tonality, even with some similar dialogue and plot points comes through a lot better in a comic version of the film tale because the performances are my interpretations through reading rather than being presented a concrete interpretation onscreen.

Richie Rich (1994, Warner Bros.)

Granted some of this commentary runs counter to some of my fanboy advice, but it’s a lot easier to avoid these pitfalls when there are multiple cinematic versions to fall back on. With Richie Rich there’s just this one major film and the TV show. It’s still a better more complete film than the latter TV project Richie Rich’s Christmas with David Gallagher, but a more creative dynamic with thew friends and perhaps someone like Elijah Wood in the lead would’ve worked better.

With recent sociopolitical developments the atmosphere’s right for a new, more mature, dare I even say deep, handling of this character. The time has definitely come I think for a screen return of some kind and a continued proliferation in comics for Richie Rich.

Hero Whipped: Why This Spider-Man Amazed Me

In this series of posts I tend to discuss comic book characters and my unique relationship with them since my fairly recent return to reading them again and I usually find a way to connect them back to movies somehow. However, since I decided that my posts may be a little different from hereon in, these posts may have a slightly different vibe to them.

Sure enough after that post The Amazing Spider-Man was one of the first things I saw. Now, in spite of my recent tendency to like superhero movies either a lot as the case is with say The Avengers and X-Men: First Class or somewhat as is the case with Thor or Green Lantern, the new Spider-Man hearkens me back to the original trilogy which were all released during my hiatus. Thus, this will be a heavily filmic post but it’s perhaps the most unique perspective I’ve yet had on a character.

It may be possible that I knew less about Spider-Man going into that first movie than I’ve known about almost any superhero before seeing their film. It was released at a time where I was typically attending films in a group so the selection process was fairly democratic. Going alone or with at least one other person, I could take it or leave it. To give you a sense of my lack of knowledge, after having seen it I was informed that in the books Peter created a web-shooter and it wasn’t a biological side-effect of the bite. So that frames it a bit.

However, I was a fairly blank slate. I didn’t have expectations I was just reacting to what I saw on the screen and what I saw there was something I didn’t care for much at all. In the post-film powwow I was the only dissenting opinion who chimed in “Well, I thought it really sucked.” I’ve never really had the urge to revisit it and the bad taste in my mouth kept me from seeing the other two.

I could identify easily enough with the elements of the story. Few and far between are the heroes whose archetypes that have a major variable. It was really a letdown in my eyes aesthetically, technically and viscerally. With regards to the viscera a lot of that boiled down to the casting of the leads. There is a certain alchemy in all of filmmaking but perhaps where it’s most present is in acting. Yes, there is a lot of technique and things that are good acting and bad acting just like in any aspect of filmmaking, however, an effective performer who doesn’t excite you in anyway is likely to be less engaging than a less technically skilled actor who is gripping, who has a presence. Tobey Maguire is not a bad actor and neither is Kirsten Dunst. I don’t find them interesting in any way, shape or form though. They bore me more often than not. It’s really a casting issue. Maguire is going to be seen in The Great Gatsby next. That’s great casting. He belongs in that film, here I didn’t care for it.

The casting and the actors get no help in the story department I remembered feeling it tepid and trite, nothing out of the ordinary, and getting back to the alchemy thing you have actors I felt were miscast, not particularly dynamic and then no chemistry too? Brilliant.

I was also not in the camp that ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the CG. Good effects work, truly good effects work is timeless. I doesn’t just stand up against contemporary expectations but stands the test of time too. I felt they were lacking in 2002, much less now. Whereas there are shots in Jurassic Park that are still astounding almost 20 years later.

It really seems in superhero cinema that much of it boils down to character, in the better ones performance, and spectacle. Very few are those films that will also make you legitimately, consistently, and even spontaneously, feel strong pangs of genuine emotion (Teaser: I got a lot of that in the new Batman and that’s the next in this series!).

Perhaps one of the most vivid memories I have of watching any movie ever was the first time I saw Batman. You know the 1989 one, back when Tim Burton was Tim Burton.

“Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?” And thus, the crap was scared out of me and I was in love with that movie.

With Spider-Man you do have a basis for many emotions in the construction of his origin. As superhero films proliferate there will be more and more merit to the arguments about the viability of origin stories, however, in rebooting a series I have no problem with retelling. Similarity by itself is not cause enough for ridicule. Take the Psycho remake for instance (please?), if Van Sant had merely done the story over again: same place, same time, same characters, names; that probably would’ve been fine. However, he took it a step further into cinematic photocopying, which just felt flat.

I can stand a retelling, as I think I’ve stated before: I am fine with multiple versions of stories existing (and when I like the story I seek them out). I clearly wanted to be re-told this story based on my reaction to the first film. So, what was it in this new Spider-Man that worked for me? In short, practically everything.

However, as you may have guessed, it starts with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Just by looking at Andrew Garfield you may not imagine he’s the dynamic performer, but if you watch him you soon find out. I first saw him in The Red Riding Trilogy and I was a fan. There are quite a few things that perturbed me about The Social Network, but he wasn’t one of them, at all. Robbed of an Oscar nomination, is what he was.

Then there’s Emma Stone. I think everybody loves Emma Stone at this point. If you don’t you probably aren’t watching that many movies.

There’s a certain quietness and introspection to this film that allows the emotion to be wrenched out of it. I spoke of spectacle above, spectacle is very external. In many of these films there is rarely introspection. This film manages to do that, build these characters but also steadily build the intrigue. The characters arc, you see what makes them tick, you see and understand their decisions and I felt for them.

Now, the dynamic was changed in this film by bringing Gwen Stacy into the mix rather than Mary Jane Watson. Now, in my return to comics I haven’t delved into Spider-Man really. I’ve only really gotten to know and like him from his teaming up with The Fantastic Four after The Human Torch’s temporary demise, so Gwen was new to me and I think involving her is a great story decision that just makes this film that much better and resonant.

On a technical level, not only do scenes tend to be intensified by occurring at night but the filmmakers figured out that the web-swinging looks better then. Another interesting aesthetic note to me was that the camera was very much controlled, not an over-abundance of motion. The shots look good and composed and it hearken back to earlier superhero films, but are made with newer toys.

All those proclivities aside here are the two true litmus tests for superhero movies as I see them: One, do I want to see the inevitable sequel? Two, does the film make me want to seek out the character in print? The answer to both those questions is a a resounding hell yes. And that is why this Spider-Man amazed me.

Hero Whipped: The Double Life of Archie Andrews

It’s about time to do one these again, as other ideas in the vain are coming to the fore, and I want this one focused and not as scatter-brained.

As you may or may not know, Archie Comics have been shaking things up over the past few years. The introduction of Kevin Keller, the first openly gay character in this comics universe, was a big step and perhaps the most significant of all such recent stories. I think many comics fans cut their teeth on the Archie tales, I know I did. What makes them a good stating place is that they’re usually humorous tales about the commonplace. That’s why Keller is significant, he’s been folded into a world that just accepts him.

Kevin Keller, however, was the second bold initiative from Archie recently. The first was the Life with Archie series that plays out two different realities: Archie marries Betty and Archie Marries Veronica. Each issues is double-sized in page count and magazine-sized in proportion at a standard comics rate, less if you subscribe like I do.

The stories, now several arcs deep, have always mirrored each other and it got me to thinking about the doppleganger phenomenon in certain realms of fiction. I haven’t had extensive experience with such phenomena with it but what it ultimately lead me to conclude is that this series could be great preparation for more involved and less direct, nonlinear storytelling modes kids may encounter as they grow older.

The first example that came to mind was the film The Double Life of Veronique. This film aside from having a signature and extremely memorable theme plays with the notion that we all have a double in rather dramatic and no frills kind of way. Here you also have slightly different interpretations of established characters, which is not only a staple of comics but occurs in other media too. One for instance would be Stephen King who, via his pseudonym Richard Bachman, treated his characters from Desperation almost like they were actors and recast and re-purposed them in The Regulators.

The story also has a soap opera like feel in the best sense of the word. I think of these as my stories; the tension is palpable and is delivered in drips and drabs. Each storyline and subplot is touched on just enough to keep you coming back for more. Each character’s plot runs about 2-3 pages per issues, thus they have about an issue (two counting both tales) per arc of their plot. Just enough to incrementally move things along.

Another thing the series does which is crucial to breeding comics readership and is applicable to certain films as well, is that it plays with the parallel dimension/multiverse concept in a stripped-down dramatic sense. The lack of grandiosity and superhero tropes introduces a fundamental of the medium in a much more conventional, comprehensible tale for the neophyte and rewards long-time readers with glimpses of old favorites and puts new spins on old tales.

It’s a series that can still relate to teens but what it’s doing is making strides to stay somewhat in step with the times, which I think many will admit it hadn’t until recently. The aesthetic benefits of laying a foundation of more complicated story structures and approaches can be easily understood is what is really exciting; and the pedagogical abilities of comics, even in fiction ought never be overlooked. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, comics essentially taught me Portuguese and organizations like Reading With Pictures know of this power too.

Not to say that Archie’s social forwardness combined with its pushing its own aesthetic boundaries while staying true to its characters and style isn’t exciting too; but it’s this added element and depth that this series has that separates it, and makes it a great gateway to comics, more involved narratives and is the best fodder for cinematic adaptation they’ve likely ever had.

It’s brilliant on so many levels.

Properties That Could Use The Avengers Treatment

Now speaking for myself (for who else would I speak for) I was most definitely delighted with The Avengers. Now, whether you loved it, hated it or felt indifferently towards it one cannot deny the box office records it shattered. Which gets me to thinking that imitation is the sincerest form of trying to make money in Hollywood; so what entities could benefit from a ‘team up’ mentality, aesthetically at least (as the box office is always a crap shoot)?

1. Turma da Mônica

OK, yes, this is absolutely my list and some of these ideas may not be feasible financially or even of broad appeal to a US audience. However, I am merely selecting properties where there can be a convergence of factions within a fictitious universe. This is a Brazilian comics universe I’ve discussed on occasion and the fact of the matter is there are many separate “Gangs” (as they’re referred to meaning more like Kool and the Gang, rather than biker gangs) that could each have their own films or a mash-up. There’s certainly enough characters and plots it’s about 11 sections and 100+ characters. Which does not include the new adolescent versions of many of the same characters.

2. Looney Tunes

This has been touched upon to an extent both in Roger Rabbit, Space Jam and Back in Action, which I did not see. However, the Looney Tunes ensemble is still right for a feature length film that doesn’t stitch together shorts but rather creates new material and introduces a new audience to these wonderful characters.

3. Disney

This was honestly the first idea that came to mind. Between the parks and the Epic Mickey video games (a new version to come next year) this idea is just sitting there. Disney fans are nothing if not loyal. We, for I speak as one of them, would gladly go to see a new story with old familiar faces in familiar contexts. This is much more in keeping with what will please us rather than uninspired straight-to-video sequels.

4. Walter Lantz

Universal Studios owns all these characters and only recently announced the development of a Woody Woodpecker feature. It’s a great property that should be exploited and while they’re doing that they may as well bring many back to us. Come on, Chilly Willy.

This group makes it on the list over something like Dick Tracy because at least here it seems like the current rights holder is seeking to do something with it.

5. Justice League

The status of this project is in the balance and rumored, however, that’s not to say it’s not a possibility. Chris Nolan’s Batman series is a benchmark. Superman is being re-started. Despite its box office and critical struggles (I liked it) Green Lantern has happened. Getting a few more ducks in a row (Meaning films and attaching cast/director) this could work. Seriously.

6. Animaniacs

I can’t be the only one who misses these guys and would absolutely love to see all the great characters this show created converge in one huge overriding plot. The common thread: everyone is, whether they know it or not, obstructing The Brain’s plot to take over the world.

7. Tiny Toons

This one is going a few years before that but, hey, Elmira is the crossover character! The Tiny Toons I felt were more unceremoniously dumped for The Animaniacs. They are far more legitimate heir to the Looney Tunes than the new Baby version which I can hardly bear to look at in a commercial.

8. Roger Rabbit

I mentioned this in a short film Saturday post but Roger Rabbit has unjustly vanished from the world after being poised to be a huge real life star (better than Goofy?) but it never happened. If it all goes well I’d like Robert Zemeckis to get to do this. In spite of his motion capture struggles this is his project if its a hybrid, I would not object to an all toon version though.

9. Fradim

This could work better as a TV show but it is a Brazilian choice. Essentially, Henfil was one of Brazil’s great cartoonists and his strip was extra-ordinarily political. Creating a feature-length pastiche of his works would be something quite special, not that his universe is as massive as some of these others.

10. Calvin & Hobbes

I could include this in another list soon but clearly your argument against it, aside from the purist’s one, would be: “Calvin and Hobbes isn’t a heavily populated universe, is it?” No, not with people but were there to ever be a film I’d want to to be every bit as varied as Calvin’s imagination meaning Spaceman Spiff, Dinosaurs, Old Fashioned Soap Opera-Looking adults, Aliens and other imagined realities and alter egos of Calvin would be included in the story.

11. The Peanuts

Perhaps no other comic strip was ever as simply philosophical and also got down to the brass tacks of childhood and life better than The Peanuts. Specials like at Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween are great but they only truly skim the surface of the series. With the Peanuts gaining new life in a series from Boom Studios and dailies being reprinted by Fantagraphics one would think someone would be able to edit and cull major story-lines that relate, and incorporate as many characters as possible into a tremendous feature.

12. Harvey Comics

Now, there were a few adaptations of Harvey creations both Richie Rich and Casper (the latter being better and sequels not withstanding), however, Harvey comics no longer exist but the characters still exist in the collective consciousness and are getting either re-imagined or re-issued all the time. There are many characters to leverage and crossing over was frequent so it wouldn’t be hard to do if someone thought there was an audience for it.

13. The Fantastic Four

I’ll admit that I have not seen The Fantastic Four films that were attempted and based on what I’ve heard they’re not high on my list. Since my return to comics the First Family has become one of my great loves. Jonathan Hickman’s run, which I am fully up to date on, is truly epic and the kind of story that is conducive to an elevated sensibility that has been applied to superhero films as of late. The characters within the Marvel universe have always been sort of a crossroads so creating an Avengers-like project with them would not be difficult.

14. Asterix & Obelix

Here’s another one where the population isn’t huge but the amount of texts related to the characters is. Essentially this would be a narrative bomb, likely involving time travel or some other fantastical means to travel to a plethora of locations in the ancient world.

15. Histeria!

OK, imagine if you will a world wherein The Animaniacs and Tiny Toons were hits. Got it? OK, that’s where Histeria! will logically come into play. Now, it didn’t have nearly the run as those other Warner projects but I liked this one just as much. Similar, to Asterix in as much as this tales is mostly about history there’d be some way for the characters to go through the ages and also be a bit more dramatized than they were on the show.

16. Archie Comics

Anyone who has been reading the Life with Archie series knows that the Archie Comics are into breaking the mold now (Shameless self-promotion: I’ll discuss that further in an upcoming post). The same incarnations of the characters you grew up with still exist and can be exploited cinematically also, but the more mature mind-bending interpretation is the one with the most potential.

17. Star Comics

OK, here’s another personal pick and one that’s far more likely if Marvel were to ever do shorts. The mash-up angle is that Star was an imprint dedicated mostly to licensed material but it also did include some newly created original characters namely Planet Terry, Wally the Wizard, Top Dog and Royal Roy. Crossing over could easily happen here. To further convince the cynic here’s the Marvel “bridge,” meaning how can we possibly get to Star characters: Reboot The Fantastic Four (Make tons of money), incorporate the Power Pack in a sequel (as they’ve always been connected through Franklin Richards [See, crossroads]) and then get around to Star via Fantastic Four and Power Pack.

18. Hanna-Barbera

We all know that this is a huge universe and also that they had crossovers, many of these are animated simply because the possibility of combining a large number of characters is very exciting

19. Stephen King

Here’s one I saw suggest by John Gholson on his twitter feed. I forget who he suggested but essentially with all of King‘s canon this could work any number of ways. It could be an assemblage of his greatest heroes, or it could also be new heroes and a few villains who survived (names avoided to not spoil). The third possibility is a poor, unfortunate schmuck goes through a horrific tour through King’s Maine, without any need to justify it. Because you don’t need one sometimes as King himself stated in Storm of the Century ‘When his life was ruined, his family killed, his farm destroyed, Job knelt down on the ground and yelled up to the heavens, “Why God? Why me?” and the thundering voice of God answered, “There’s just something about you that pisses me off”.’

20. The Kids in the Hall

I preface this choice by saying I adore Brain Candy, I know I’m in a minority when I say that but I do. However, that’s not to say I wouldn’t love to see a Kids in the Hall film where they play say 995 out of 1000 characters and bring in many of their famous characters. One needs to only see the rendition of a film not unlike Kiss of the Spider Woman that Bruno Puntz Jones (David Foley) and Francesca Fiore (Scott Thompson) do to know how cinematic they can be and how easily they can pull it off.

Review- The Avengers

So here it is at last, the convergence of all the Marvel has been working for with its recent films. It’s the make-your-head-explode conception sure to delight many a film geek and comic book nerd the world over. Surely almost any film would implode under these nearly insurmountable expectations and such deafening hype, right? Wrong.

What we turn to summer movie fare for are spectacles. It’s where we want the ultimate in escapism, and have been let down over and over again. The Avengers name is in some ways a meta-textual one as it avengers many of the over-hyped bombs of the past but it really does is delivered as expected and so much more.

The tale is a simple one wherein the Tesseract, a stone that is a source of renewable energy and power, has fallen into the hands of the megalomaniac Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Enter S.H.I.E.L.D., headed by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who has had small appearances in the previous Marvel films building to this event, the assemblage of the Avengers, a superhero team to combat a super threat. The tale being rather straight-forward is a great thing here because it allows the film to do something these films don’t usually do: introduce and build the characters, create conflict and investment on behalf of the audience. In the end, you want the heroes to save the world, of course, but you also want for the heroes to succeed to avenge their enemies and vanquish their demons. A rare feat, and colossal when you consider how many characters this applies to.

The common thread that applies to all the characters and actors in this film is that even though they’ve all had their own film(s) none of them have been better in their given part than they are here. Which is slightly a contrarian thought because you’d think with less screen time each and so many characters it’d end up being insufficient and watered down, nothing could be further from the truth.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), due to the fact that Loki is his brother, has the most invested in this cause. His entrance into the tale is spectacular and one of the many memorable moments this film offers.

Captain America (Chris Evans) is great here in many ways. Not only is he perhaps the most idealistic of the characters in the context of this story but he also has similar baggage to Thor in as much as he too is a bit displaced, Thor in place and Captain America in time. His moments come both in dialogue and in a few battles.

Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is back and better than ever. I’ll discuss Whedon’s writing and directing more later, but having Tony Stark be the one who is confrontational and snarky about the team is one of the film’s best touches. It gives him a journey as first he’s arrogant, the most informed on the dossier and then has to make it work with this crew because that’s the only way it’ll happen. I cannot describe his best moment as it’d be a massive spoiler if you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it yet.

As for The Hulk, I did trudge through the previous two attempts to make his character work in a full-length motion picture. It didn’t work at all until now. This character was really the gamble, he’s a major “new addition” to characters who had recently gotten their own successful big screen ventures. They could’ve pulled someone else in but they went back to the the Hulk. This time it pays off big time. This is all thanks to both the way the character is written, again to not say too much, and also Mark Ruffalo’s tremendous performance.

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) also makes a return after first appearing in Iron Man 2, however, here is where her character really develops and quite frankly she’s amazing in this. Not only in the fighting scenes but she’s also playing subtext and conveying emotion brilliantly. As the girl in the group she’s outnumbered but by no means outmatched.

Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is an example of impeccable casting. Due to the way the film structures itself he suits the role perfectly well and does some pretty awesome jumping about and target shooting.

Every superhero film needs a villain and the best thing this film does is it has one and one only. We know who he is early and focus on him. He gets his thralls but is allowed to flex and posture and does his darndest to convince us that things won’t work out in the end. Tom Hiddleston far outdoes himself in this encore.

Joss Whedon is someone I’ll admit I didn’t know a lot about until very recently. I knew the name but I had not seen a lot of his work. However, in light of his role as co-writer and producer of The Cabin in the Woods I’ve started to see some more and I can say that his contributions to this film are massive. He clearly has immense respect for this material but also knows how to play with it. The respect is evident in that despite the fact that this film end with a massive, near-cataclysmic, jaw-dropping action sequence it takes the time to get these characters together see how they gel or create friction, sort through some of their baggage and get people moments that they earn.

The effects in the film are, of course, tremendous. I did happen to see the movie in 3D and I would say that it’s one you can enjoy just as much without it. The difference made is negligible.

So to those of us who wondered if a super-group superhero film could work, the answer is a resounding yes. Anticipation quenched and all we wonder now is where it’ll go from here.

10/10

Book Review- Asterix and Obelix: The Book of the Film

Asterix and the Vikings (M6 Films)

Whenever possible I always like to address what the grain of salt is that my reader should keep in mind when reading a piece. In this scenario the grain of salt is: I like reading but I don’t as much as I should, and it’s likely impossible for me to read as much as I want to. So my experience is a little lacking but there’s another caveat here and that is this: this is essentially a novelization with a twist.

Now, novelizations are a bit passé and if I recall correctly I’ve only ever read a few. What was interesting and irresistible here is: first, I was at Disney World when I spotted it. Second, it’s Asterix and an animated film, which I said is where the franchise should go (little did I know it had been there before).

Now, it’s a hand-drawn (in terms of style if not technique), 2D film and that’s fine with me. I’d still love to see these characters and others get the motion-capture treatment as Tintin truly was a huge step forward for the technology to me, far greater than Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Regardless, the fact that this film is animated means there are stills and illustrations in the book and it gives you a fair glimpse of what the film is like and that’s the idea: to conquer viewers for the film through another medium and this film succeeds in that task.

The images are plentiful, fairly well-selected and importantly are chasing the text, so the pictures don’t forecast the text but reflect it an allow the book to tell the tale.

As with any Asterix title, there are laughs to be had but most of it does come through the prose, which is impressive since the pictographic nature of the usual tale Uderzo and Goscinny tell is somewhat altered here.

The story also runs about as long as a typical Asterix tale 45 pages or so, but the bonus is that there are character, sketches and other making of illustrations and text that give you insight into the making of this film.

It may not be available on region 1 DVD but where there’s a computer there’s a way and this book has certainly made me want to seek this film out. Mission accomplished.

Asterix & Obelix (Clement)

Short Film Saturday- Ralph Phillips

Ralph Phillips in Boyhood Daze (Warner Bros.)

Continuing the theme of under-utilized characters I now turn my attention to the Looney Tunes. In the short film game the Looney Tunes are without question my favorite cadre of characters. I love some of the smaller personages especially, however, they are fewer and further between than other groups. The Looney Tunes while they do have depth in talent are buoyed mostly by their titanic personalities. Having said that the two Ralph Phillips shorts that Chuck Jones directed have always been favorites of mine. They are lyrical and whimsical celebrations of childhood imagination. Of all the characters in the Warner canon he is who I’d most want to see more of owing mostly to the fact that he has only these appearances. Establishing him as a dreamer makes him suited for shorts or a TV series and he could be easily incorporated into the Looney Tunes comic published by DC Comics, I’m uncertain if he ever has been.

So here are the two shorts, the first of which was nominated for an Academy Award.


Hero Whipped 4: A Question of Form

The Walking Dead (Image Comics/Robert Kirkman)

It’s been a while since I posted one of these and much of the reason is because I usually touch upon a number of properties and I am left to ponder a while as I amass enough new-formed opinion to justify a new entry. However, three very specific things have occurred to me since I last discussed comics and the movies.

First, being a question of form in which the adaptation is made. In my return to reading comics, now more avidly than ever, there is nothing I have read more of than The Walking Dead. It really does play out like a post-apocalyptic soap opera with murder and zombies in the mix. So much so that reading Compendium One or the trades is preferable to monthly for that particular series. Having said that I admit having only seen the pilot of the show but two things I do know are it was meant to be a television show and I applaud Robert Kirkman for giving the show a different direction than the comic based on what I know. It’d be next to impossible to make a motion picture of The Walking Dead as satisfying as the book. The task would be rather herculean especially considering that the comic is still ongoing. Similarly, I have not read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice books, which is an itch I may soon need to scratch, however, one only needs to watch the first season of Game of Thrones to see it was meant for television, more specifically a drama on a cable network where the story will not be censored or interrupted by commercials. In certain ways, the serial treatment makes it more immersible once you get into the extras on the Blu-Ray it has you.

Maisie Williams and Sean Bean in Game of Thrones (HBO)

The moral of the examples above is that again the supremacy of the motion picture as the most desirable vehicle for adaptation is quickly being shown to be a fallacy. Some stories are more conducive to other storytelling modes and fans should take note and think about how, if at all, they want to see their favorite works reinterpreted.

And this kind of leads directly to my next point: one of the most anticipated films of the year is The Avengers. Part of the reason why is that Marvel has had a string of hit films which have featured a member of the superteam and thus though The Avengers may be in theory a new property there is a built-in fanbase. Conversely, not that this is an original notion, but DC is also planning a Justice League film. The main difference being there may be casting incongruities and all the major members of the League haven’t had their own film, or a hit, etc. So how can the Justice League film possibly come close to the The Avengers?

Marvel 1985 (Marvel)

Well, they can’t turn back time and make a Flash movie starring [Insert guaranteed box-office draw] here that makes infinitely more money than The Green Lantern but what they can do is akin to industrial espionage. Allow me to explain, when I was in Orlando recently as I was in Universal Studio’s Comictown I stopped in the Marvel store and found a trade paperback of Marvel 1985, a mini-series that came out just before I returned to comics. I really enjoyed it as a whole but what I really liked about it, and what I noted, was it could serve as a great introduction to the Marvel Universe to someone who knows zero about it based on the story it tells. Now clearly, the story of 1985 makes it such that it can be an introduction but it made me realize that if there is a character, or other device in The Justice League film that acts as a liaison between the film and the neophyte audience member it might just work better than expected.

The Justice League (DC Comics)

In conclusion, the method of adaptation usually can be said to tap in to the spirit of the work being adapted, or it should ideally. For example, after seeing Tintin I felt that motion capture would be a great treatment for other animated properties, especially those given lackluster live action treatments like Asterix, which I was glad to discover has been most recently adapted in a hand-drawn feature called Asterix and the Vikings.

Asterix and the Vikings (M6 Films)

Hero Whipped: Comics and the Studio System (Part 3)

The previous two entries in this series offered one connected stream of consciousness. You can read them here and here. In this installment I break from that narrative and take a look at how comics could benefit from emulating the better parts of the imperfect and once standard studio system that films employed for many decades.

The Studio/Indie Parallel

Disney and Marvel logos. They merged in 2009.

One way in which you can definitely draw a parallel between comics and movies is that there is a definite distinction between the studio system/The Big Two and indies.

Seeing as how that industrial dynamic is similar between the two of them there are ideas that can be borrowed from the studio era and altered to accommodate comics. Not that in a perfect world I wouldn’t like to see movie studios re-adopt things but comics might be more apt to experiment with ideas such as these to get new readers.

Serials

Buster Crabbe in Flash Gordon (Universal)

I’ve written here on a few occasions about my love of serials. Now part of the cliffhangers design was to get kids into movie theatres on a weekly basis, even if they had no interest in the feature they’d show up to see the continuation of their favorite chapter play. How this could apply to comics is in the form of the five-page story (perhaps perfected by Harvey as their staple). The five-page tale would serve as a means to display another character in a given book and should be advertised. It could be an intermediate step before giving a character a book. All-Star Western, part of DC’s new 52, featured a B-story (maybe it still does I dropped it out of my pull list) and if it’s known about it could be a draw. Every reader of comics has a favorite character who is currently not headlining an ongoing series I think most would agree something is better than nothing and it could provide a boost.

Stars

Avengers Academy #23 (Marvel)

Speaking of headliners the star system is the next thing that can be exploited just a bit more than it is now. It is nice to be surprised by an unexpected appearance, however, if it is not crucial to the plot that the secret be kept guest appearances should be promoted. You may have people try a new title but it could also serve as an introductory issue for new readers.

Loans

Image Comics

In the studio system actors pertained to one studio or another but they would and could be loaned to a rival studio for a given project in exchange for a favor.

This does not mean I think it likely that the aisle would be crossed and Marvel and DC characters would co-exist in a story. However, each does still have imprints of its own and can send its big boys to those tales and vice versa, if necessary and applicable to boost readership and cross-pollinate fanbases. Preferably in standalone narratives that do not adversely affect continuity.

Trailers

Batman: Noël (DC Comics)

Now previews do exist and they can serve their function. However, just as trailers will inundate us there are months when you can’t get away from the same five pages.

A bit more variety might expand fan-bases for more books.

Self-Containment

Batman & Robin (DC Comics)

All above suggestions would imply and perhaps even demand a greater amount self-containment in each series.

One thing I’ve noticed in the New 52 is that, at least in some cases, there is less co-dependence. I started reading Batman and Batman & Robin in their new incarnations and there is little to no leaning on the other series thus far one needn’t read both if they choose not to.

That lack of co-dependence is a lot of what the above is about also. If you have a guest character in a new arc it can easily be its own entity and not need to play into a hierarchy.

Marvel Short Film Rumors

Nathaniel Moreau, Margot Finley, Bradley Machry and Jacelyn Holmes in Power Pack (Marvel/New World)

Pictured above is the cast from a pilot for a Power Pack series that was never picked up but along with Dr. Strange would be an ideal candidate for a short film treatment. There were rumors a while back that Marvel would produce shorts to play prior to its tentpole films. That seems to have died down but it shouldn’t a short film would be a great boon to a lesser character and not the investment or risk that a major summer release for a borderline top tier character would be (top tier in film terms).

Both Marvel and DC have established cinematic properties such that they can try and get lesser properties some limelight too. They are both studios and they should act like it with greater frequency.

Movie Tie-Ins

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Little, Brown)

In keeping with that any all comic-based feature films need their tie-ins and branded to get their product out there. I purchased The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn recently with the all too rare “Soon to be a Major Motion Picture” sticker on it but a week or so removed from having seen the film.

However, novelist and comics writer Joe Hill had a great idea on Twitter this summer just before one of the huge superhero movies came out: Why not have comics at the movies when those projects come around? When else would an impulse buy be as strong? “I just saw this movie and liked it, yes I’ll buy a comic; it’s half the price of a soda.”

Conclusion

The studio system was imperfect but so is the current one. The idea of changing a system isn’t replacing everything about it but just what didn’t work. Some of these ideas form a parallel industry can help comics.