Friday, July 26, 2013

The Wolverine

Allow me to begin by alleviating any fanboy fears. This year's The Wolverine is ten times the film that 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine was, at least in my opinion. Not to say that I completely hated Origins, but this year's Wolvie movie had a superior story, wonderful cinematography, and it arranged things in such a way that the idea of a strong, ongoing X-Men film series is not only possible but so very likely (X-Men: Days of Future Past is shooting now, by the way!). Also, in writing about the movie I might give a bit more away than some are comfortable with. You've been warned!

The Wolverine brings the viewing audience up to speed on the state of the X-Men Universe after the events of X-Men 3: The Last Stand. In fact, I found this installment to be Fox's declaration that they have worked to develop the continuity of their X-Men Filmverse and they're sticking to it. This is a fantastic stand, because in doing so they are acknowledging the one thing that the fan community has yet to open itself to and that's the idea of a film continuity apart from the comic source material. It's a movie series based on a comic book series. By nature it's different, so comparisons are not only unnecessary, they're almost completely meaningless.

The story follows Logan from a flashback to the grim days of World War II when Nagasaki was brutalized by The Bomb. Then we're sent forward in the timeline to a wintry setting in the years after the death of Jean Grey and Logan's departure from the X-Men. He's hold up in a cave, drinking away his sorrows, dreaming of the woman he loved and killed. From there he runs into some troublesome hunters who made the mistake of unjustly killing a bear for which he had a respect and an understanding, catches the eye of a certain Japanese woman who has been sent to retrieve him, and is jetted off to meet with a dying acquaintance of sorts.

All of the events in the film, as we progress from the bestial Logan living amongst the animals in the wild to the warrior with a renewed sense of purpose and an acceptance of the tragedies of the past, we see a growth of character in Wolverine and a typical hero's journey. He begins the movie a hero during wartime. We then witness the wreck he has become, an animal living in the woods, subsisting, respecting and being respected by his fellow beasts. As he's pulled from his surrender to his animalistic nature he's given opportunities to process his feelings for the late Jean Grey. Logan is then given purpose when he becomes entangled in the chaos surrounding the Yashida family of Japan. Overall, without giving anything else away, we're able to witness the reforging of the warrior Wolverine and his sense of self. As must occur many times throughout his tragic life, Logan is forced to deal and, in so doing, grow.

There are many great nods to moments from Wolverine's comic heritage, not to compare the film to the events or continuity of any comic storylines. His quiet, predator-to-predator respect for the bear who in turn shows him the respect of distance harkens back to those moments in the X-Men and Wolverine comics when Logan would be out amongst nature, another animal in the animal kingdom. We are also given the classic Japanese storyline from Logan's past, though this time it's set in his post-X-Men years and, in the case of the movie universe, perfectly so. Then there's the quality and nature of the action which was definitely another comic-like aspect of this film. We got to see Wolvie being the best he is at what he does and doing it in a manner which is anything but nice. Add to this the comic book look of the costume of a certain villainess and the design scheme of one of the film's most imposing antagonists who, in a powerful way, redefines the look and function of Wolverine going forward, and you have a movie that was more comic book-y than most comic book-based films.

I do have some issues with the movie, though. There was a continuity error in one sequence when the villainess went to remove her left glove. Due to poor editing she ended up removing it twice. Ouch! Also, I found the end battle to feel a bit hammy. Sure, it's a comic book-like battle, and I read comic books, but the way in which Wolverine fights the main antagonist and what happens to him in the process seemed a bit off from the feel of the rest of the film. There were several moments, some featuring combat, in which the character-developing quality of the movie's story was abandoned so that claws and guns could go up against each other with many gratuitous "Snikts" and "Bangs" to appease the action audience. This kind of weakened the film at times. These were the only serious issues I had with the film. 

Regardless of a few minor complaints, I was highly entertained throughout the film, and I am thankful that I was able to find an open viewing time at 10pm last night, Thursday. This is the kind of movie I love to see as soon as it hits, if not sooner. If you're a fan of superhero comics, The X-Men, Wolverine as a character, and exciting action movies, then you owe it to yourself to see this filmic hero's journey in theaters as soon as you possibly can. Also, sit through the credits. DO NOT make the mistake of walking out as soon as the screen goes dark. Trust me on this.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My Work On My Webcomic

Comics have been a part of my life since practically the beginning. My paternal grandmother provided me with Uncle Scrooge books in my early years, and my uncle took me to my first comic book shop, which was in West Palm Beach, FL. I grew up learning the concepts behind the "Funny books," their inner workings, and the various types of stories you could tell through the medium.

For years I've wanted to create my own comics. I taught myself to draw when I was a child and have spent many years doodling in the depths of my own, technically weak style. It's been fun, regardless of the quality of what I've produced. Considering the joy and experiences I've had drawing throughout my years and ignoring the pangs of self doubt, I decided to launch into my own comic-making venture in the Winter of 2011 with a comic zine. I prepared it for a local toy and comic expo and assembled it within a week's time. The book didn't do well, but it was a terrific and humbling learning experience.

Shortly after, while considering the contents of another zine, my wife suggested that I attempt to work on a webcomic. The benefits of such a venture would be that I might gain the discipline of creating a comic work on a regular basis and so that I might attract a readership. It took some time for me to appreciate and plan this move into an area of comics with which I was mostly unfamiliar, but in May of this year I jumped in full force.

Since then I've been releasing a weekly webcomic titled "Saves the Day." It's the product of my overactive imagination and a brief bit of inspiration I received after driving past a Day Labor Office one afternoon. Thus far it's attracted the attention of familiar folks from comic message boards and various friends from past jobs and school. The important thing is that it's entertaining someone and teaching me some priceless lessons.

What's the point of writing about all of this? Well, I needed a place in which to organize my thoughts and detail my future plans as they pertain to the comic medium. In the next two-to-three years I would like to move "Saves the Day" to its own website and develop it into a widely known brand. I would also like to make attempts at publishing several comic scripts I've developed over the years. I'm hoping that in time, after paying my dues and humbly learning lessons, that I'll be able to write comics professionally while maintaining some form of webcomic presence.

Sometimes one needs to spell out the details of their dreams for the sake of attaining clarity as they move forward down their chosen path. I think that's the case with this post. Wish me luck!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Racism - A Supreme Failing

I'm going to diverge from the usual comic book, film, and random nerd rant format and discuss a topic which should be explored and reflected upon by every person, especially if they're a citizen of the United States of America. Racism is that topic. It is an irrational, sub-intelligent, inhumane doctrine which separates, divides, and weakens the unity of a species which desperately needs to unite so that it might have a strong chance at a long, fruitful future. It is a cancer which thrives within members of every cultural and racial background, unfortunately, and it has marred the history and reputation of the US since its inception.

I grew up in South Florida with a Southern family. Racism was a part of life in that part of the world when I was a child, and it is still active today. We see evidence of it in the case of the late Trayvon Martin, who was recently dealt the injustice of having his murderer acquitted. He was a black boy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is unfortunate for him that he was in this country and of his race at the time because the existing racism of which I spoke was actively causing a certain man, George Zimmerman, to profile him. Sure, Mr. Martin should probably have taken a different route, but it is not his fault that he was seen as a black person - followed, harassed, and then shot because of what very much seems to be racism.

Let's face it, based on the general outline of the incident (I found such an outline on CNN) it's difficult to read the events surrounding his death as anything other than yet another case of a non-black person following and assigning judgement on a black person because of what they are. Maybe Zimmerman was just responding to someone who shouldn't have been where they were. Perhaps Martin's reaction to Zimmerman was uncalled for. Did it have to lead to a shooting? Should a neighborhood watch member, out on patrol, have been armed? Why did Zimmerman actually choose to shoot? These are questions which will always be asked, and sadly no one will ever know the exact "Whats" and "whys" which occurred, except for the deceased and the acquitted.

I don't use the words "Maybe" and "seems" and speak of what might have happened because I'm a white man. I use them because I wasn't present at the time of the incident. No one can say without a doubt that it was truly racism or it was clearly self-defense. To proclaim such with any surety is foolish and suggestive of a bias which is just as corrupting in this case as racism.

Getting back to racism and looking at it in the context of this recent event, it is an amazing thing that President Barack Obama recently spoke out on the feelings of black men in America, citing his personal experiences. It is unfair to assume the worst of someone because they are of a certain skin color. This goes for religion, philosophies, and lifestyles as well. Prejudice is myopia. You cannot clearly see someone for who they truly are when you attempt to discern them from a place which is inherently prejudiced. The President gave all of us a window into the mind of a minority which has too often felt the sting of a biased, hateful society. We should be grateful that someone as respectable took the time to open up in such a way.

I have been guilty of racism at times in my life. I could excuse those times as part of a condition of having grown up with an old Southern family. I could say that it's just a natural aspect of life. I would be terrifically missing the point and ignoring mine own ignorance. Looking back, I can admit that I have been stupendously stupid and angry in those moments and chose to process them with a base-mind. I was wrong, and I know that I was wrong. Seeing the error of my ways and reflecting upon the troubles of the bigger issue will, I hope, absolve me for my past failings in some way at some point. Also, in writing this, I hope that I will present a case for reparations in society. One small voice crying for necessary change to fix the failings of a system which belongs to all of us. One voice at a time and maybe we will eventually have that change at some wonderful future point.

I wish that all sides and all peoples would acknowledge their racist beliefs. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, everyone. We as human beings need to leave behind the thinking of our primitive forebears and assemble ourselves without prejudice to build a successful future. I imagine the question of "How?' would be a popular one to those willing to neglect their biases. I wonder if whites and other non-blacks questioned the expectations of blacks in the last week as the Martin case resolved. What can we do to change things, to make blacks feel differently about society? To ask such questions or to consider change for the good of all isn't appeasement or surrender. It's a logical step toward fixing our world.

A wise man once gave me some clarity in regard to racism. His name was Lewis Meriwether. He was a black man and a former city commissioner for Grand Rapids, MI. I had the privilege of meeting him as my Political Science professor during my first year at Grand Rapids Community College. In his class we one day discussed racism and the position of blacks in the nation's history. After class I approached him and foolishly suggested that it would be best to make everyone happy by going out of the way to respond to every issue so that no one could complain. He corrected me and said, specifically in regard to black people, that people deserved to be treated as they want to be treated. In his suggestion of the "Platinum Rule" I believe that I caught his meaning. Fair and equal treatment on an individual-by-individual basis is more effective than an attempt at offering a social panacea which completely ignores the specific needs and feelings of individuals in society.

It is my hope that one day we will put all the petty bickering, bias, prejudice, and needless hatred aside so that we might repair our species and move forward to great, long-lasting success. May we survive our mistakes and never forget the lessons of our past.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The X-Files Season 10 - Issue #2

Another Wednesday has come and along with it another issue of IDW's The X-Files Season 10. In my opinion, issue two is the chief release of all the offerings this New Comic Book Day, a weekly holiday for the special nerds in the know - the "Funny book" folk.

The subscription cover (pictured above, with art by Cerebus creator Dave Sim) offers a pretty big hint at what lies in store between the pages of this second part in the "Believers" storyline. I won't spoil anything, but there's a possibility that the conclusion of the Season 9 episode "Jump the Shark" wasn't as airtight (there's a silly joke in the use of that adjective, but you'd have to be familiar with the episode to understand it) as we were led to believe.

Events from last issue continue, though Scully's whereabouts remain mysterious. We're given a look at an occult-like, possible human hybrid related conspiracy which reaches across great distances to focus upon any existing connections to baby William, Scully's child which was given up for adoption last season. Mulder is left to figure things out along with a seemingly impotent Skinner who can only offer a few details about an oil pipeline in Wyoming and Agent John Doggett's assignment to the site to investigate a possible terrorist threat. From there Mulder goes to work assembling the pieces of this mystery as Scully encounters a member of the group which abducted her. Add to all of this the appearance of some old friends and a nemesis (no telling, read the issue) and you have yet another great X-Files comic from the folks at IDW who are one of the only publishers doing anything interesting these days, as far as I'm concerned.

I anxiously await next issue. I'm certain we'll have an interesting explanation for the last page of issue two. At least I hope so.

Go out and buy your copy as soon as you can!

Also, my thanks to the X-Files Universe message board folks for sharing my podcast review of the first issue. Check it out here: The Nerd Closet - Review of The X-Files Season 10 #1

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Pacific Rim - THE Giant Robot vs. Giant Monster Movie

Growing up I watched the occasional Godzilla film, various Anime science-fiction titles (mostly Gundam series), and had a powerful, general love for the concept of giant robots. Tonight I watched a film which expertly combined all of those things into one of the best movies I've seen in a very long time. In fact, I consider it the best of 2013 thus far. I'm of course writing of the newly released Pacific Rim, written and directed by master of cinema Guillermo del Toro.

Pacific Rim was above all things a giant robot versus giant monster flick, and it didn't try to hide that fact nor did it pretend to be something it was not. While it offers giant robots, which are beautiful to behold, and giant monsters, which are extremely detailed and each exceptionally unique, there was also a wonderful human story at the heart of it all. In addition, it had an original sci-fi setting to put most of those in film to shame.

Naturally, the setting is Earth, in about ten or so years from now. In this version of the future humanity is besieged by massive somethings from beyond, known as Kaiju (a Japanese word for "Giant monster," essentially). As in every story, we fight back. Time passes and the attacks continue in spite of our efforts. Humanity realizes that it must advance its methods of defending itself from annihilation. Enter the Jaegers.

As the story progressed I felt the depth of the history and culture of this victimized tomorrow world. The design perfectly depicted a used future, like the kind one could find in Star Wars or Alien. There were folks from all parts of the globe which came together as one people to lend their skills to the most important effort, defending the species. When the robots went to work it felt natural, and nothing felt over-the-top because you knew that you were watching a giant robot versus giant monster film. Then when the story had progressed to a certain point and the movie hit its stride every aspect just exceeded everything preceding it.

I admit that I had some doubts based on my reactions to certain trailers for Pacific Rim, but after seeing it I can say that I would confidently recommend this to fans of any of the above mentioned genres. In my opinion, Guillermo Del Toro truly outdid himself this time.

Also, I feel that I can declare without a doubt my belief that this film will open the way for more giant robot films. Perhaps we'll one day soon see a live action Gundam movie which won't be shot shot on a Sci-Fi Channel budget (G-Saviour). I can only hope.