Comic book review – Invincible: Family Matters

Invincible: Family MattersInvincible: Family Matters
Robert Kirkman: Co-creator, writer, letterer
Cory walker: Co-creator, artist
Bill Crabtree: Colourist

Kurt Busiek puts it well in the introduction when he says that he didn’t give Invincible another look when it first came out as it didn’t look like anything new. I agreed and didn’t try it. Good reviews, and the insistence of Clandestine Chum Logan, finally wore me down and I got the first trade, collecting issues #1–4.

And, here was the strange thing: I kept coming back to it.

I read it, enjoyed it, put it down. Then I picked it up again and read it again, and enjoyed it again.

It’s rare that I do this; I have a good memory, so find it hard to reread something as I already know the story beats, and only do it if the book is particularly information-dense or for a review. Invincible isn’t text-heavy but I couldn’t stop enjoying the damn book. What gives?

I think it’s because Invincible is a pure slice of comic book delight.

The story is lean, no fat, but not decompressed. The art is sleek and cool. The characters are strong and defined. The themes are resonant. And the whole package is a sheer pleasure.

You know you are in for a treat when you start off with a masturbation joke; our hero, Mark, is spending too long on the toilet reading a comic, which gets his Mum worried about all the time spent in the bathroom. There’s a smile on my face as we begin.

Mark Grayson is the son of Omni-man, a super-hero who is basically Superman, an alien from another planet, and his Mum, an Earth woman. They take it in their stride when Dad is out, by watching the TV news: ‘Well, now you know where he is,’ says Mark. Mum replies, ‘I hope he brings back something nice for me. I’ve never been to Taiwan.’ This demonstrates a playful sense of a comic book world without the intensity that seems prevalent in some books I could mention.

Mark discovers he is developing super-powers; his facial reaction alone is priceless, as is his response: ‘It’s about time.’ This casualness is reflected in the family dynamic; Dad casually chatting about stopping dragons and averting an enchanted flood. When Mark reveals that he is getting superpowers, Mum simply says, ‘That’s nice. Can you pass the potatoes?’

When Mark decides to fight crime, Dad watches casually while leaning on a wall as his son tackles some bank robbers before introducing him to the tailor who made his costume. When asked what sort of suit he wants, Mark asks for iconic. The costumier replies, ‘Everyone wants iconic costumes but no one knows what that means.’ Kirkman is having fun with the genre, playing with tropes, but without ridiculing or parodying, and indicating his feel for the material, as well as his love.

I’ve talked about the writing aspects, but I shouldn’t ignore what Cory Walker brings to the book. His artwork (Busiek gets it again: ‘his clean, clear storytelling, his deadpan characterisation, his sleek designs, his distinctive, stylised rendering …’) is able to handle everything – the super-heroic, the family, the talking heads, the variety of different faces and body shapes in school. He has a lovely touch and tells the story well, with precision and clarity. I even like the way he draws little curls in people’s noses and in their knuckles. Bill Crabtree’s colours are an unusual but entirely appropriate palate – somehow muted and bright at the same time, a variation on the traditional use of the primary colours to indicate a hint of reality with the undeniable fact that this is a comic book.

Mark discovers his super-hero name by having a talking-to from the principal after he sorts out a bully during school hours. For this, we should be grateful to Bulletproof Monk, which is something I thought I’d never see myself type. Originally, he was going to be called Bulletproof, which is a stupid name. Fortunately, Bulletproof Monk was just coming out at Image, so it was decided to change as it would confuse things. Hence, Invincible was born.

The second issue sees Dad telling Mark about his origin – how he came from the planet Viltrum (where all men seem to have the same large moustache as he does), a utopia that looks after the evolution of others. He volunteered to be sole protector of Earth when his planet decided not look after it, even though it meant he might never return. He reveals that it is highly likely that Mark will inherit these powers. It is only then that we are shown that it is quite a young Mark who is being told this story; his response is stunned silence, followed by, ‘Wow. I’m going to be able to fly?’ You’ve got no choice but to adore this book.

This cuts to Mark flying at night, simply revelling in the wonder of flight. He notices a crime in progress and, in dealing with it, he comes into contact with Teen Team, a group of teenage super-heroes, consisting of Robot, Atom Eve, Rex Splode and Dupli-Kate. (There is a nice visual of one of Dupli-Kate’s duplicates waving during the introductions.) Mark thinks he recognises Atom Eve, and vice versa, a feeling that is confirmed when they realise they are in the same physics class, which adds a great dynamic into the story, as well as humour; when Mark yawns after the late night, Sam (Atom Eve) replies: ‘Teen super-heroes start drinking coffee at an early age.’

Mark & Sam change around the back of a dumpster and fly to the Teen Team HQ, where Robot has set plans to find the leader of the criminal that Mark stopped last night. They tag along and apprehend him, leading to an invitation to join the team. If only all life were this simple … To counterpoint this, the book ends with a teenage boy waking in a mall, confused and discovering he has a bomb for a torso – which explodes.

The next issue is a full issue. We learn that there are three kids missing from the school Mark attends (Reginald Vel Johnson School – Reginald is perhaps best well known as Sgt. Al Powell in the Die Hard films; someone must be a fan …). We learn that Mark’s Dad is a semi-famous novelist. Mark quits Burger Mart (His only worry? ‘My Dad’s going to kill me.’) but Dad tells him he doesn’t need to work there anyway, what with being a super-hero, and goes on patrol with him: ‘I think we’re about due for a team-up.’ ‘Eh. You said “team-up.”‘ There then follows a lovely couple of pages of father and son flying side by side in essentially the same panel down the page, with the occasional ‘whoooosh’ as Dad zips off to save someone. It’s a joyous and touching scene, with real emotional resonance.

While having lunch, Dad has to fly off for an emergency, but he returns to ask for Mark’s help. The three panels express it the feeling succinctly, from the look on Mark’s face to the empty panel with a half-eaten hot-dog suspended in mid air. There is an alien invasion, an endless stream of soldiers through a portal but time here affects them differently and they start to age rapidly, causing them to withdraw. But not after Dad explodes with anger at the aliens: ‘Get off my planet!’ Is this something Mark should be worried about?

There is mention of Guardians of the Globe and Megaforce, hinting at a world of super-heroes and a world full of the fantasy of comic book universes. These nice little touches make the book seem even more real, even though this is the third book in the series.

Another living bomb in a mall is seen by Omni-man, who throws him into the sky before he explodes. Mark recognises him as one of the missing students, just before one of the aliens appears out of nowhere and disappears with Omni-man. When Mark goes home to tell Mum that Dad is missing, her reaction (‘… Well, that’s more pork chops for us’) is dark humour hiding the deep worry and love she feels, that helps to make her character feel more real.

The concept – what would it be like to be Superman’s family, basically – is not treated lightly but with thought about the relationships and interactions that might occur in a more-complex realisation of the Silver Age concept, and is one of the focal points of the book that make it different and ring emotionally true.

Another is the dialogue that exists between characters, which plays with familiar ideas in comic books but in a knowing and sly manner: ‘Curses … foiled again’ and ‘Off to the cafeteria dumpster’ are very funny used here.

The fourth issue sees the revealing of the bomber, the return of Omni-man (the tear of thanks by Mum at his return hits more emotional wallop than a big scene), and finishes with the normality of the family dinner: when Mum asks, ‘Anything interesting happen to either of you today’ and Mark and Dad give a précis of their time, she replies, ‘That’s nice. Who’s ready for dessert?’

This is a book about a super-hero and family but it has humour, a lightness of touch and a hint of reality that makes it well worth your while seeking it out. Don’t be like me and wait too long to get in on something really good.

Grade: A

(Hope that keeps you busy for a while. See you in a week – holiday, here I come…)

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I need to buy more comics to review…

So, this is what Saturday morning looks like …

Only two comics purchased this week, so let’s take a quick look at them.

Authority: Revolution #11
In which Bendix reveals how he has controlled things from the beginning, with the aid of The Evolutionaries to set up Midnighter, and warp him with nanites. It’s easy to say now that the alternate future vision didn’t seem enough to convince Midnighter, which is how I felt, and Brubaker seems to understand that, suggesting that Midnighter was easy to convince of this. But this hasn’t been the most original plotting from Brubaker, just picking up on what has gone before, with the inclusion or mentions of Rose Tattoo and Krigstein from previous incarnations. In fact, Brubaker seems to be trying to channel Ellis and Millar, with his attempts at the dialogue: ‘I’m going to skullfuck you while you’re still alive, you piece of shit …’; ‘That’s right, cock-head …’

Nguyen’s art doesn’t seem as natural as his run on Wildcats. Any artist should evolve, as is their right, but the linework seems a little harsher, the anatomy more blocky and enigmatic, and the panels not as fluid. It should be the big fight scenes at the end that it should open up and show off his obvious talent but it seems more restrained and harsher. The combination of Nguyen and Brubaker on Authority should have worked some magic but this is quite a traditional super-hero story, just with swear words. There are nice touches and it’s nice to see Jenny Quantum like her old self but the story as a whole hasn’t really spread its wings and soared.

Seven Soldiers: Klarion #3
In which Klarion discovers that Melmoth is a villain who is going to destroy Limbo. This seems a detour for the story, with Morrison having some fun with teenage dialogue and throwing in references for long-time DC fans (I don’t have huge knowledge, but even I recall that it was a Dr Erdel that brought J’onn J’onnz to Earth, making it a nice touch in the Erdel Gate, and there are easter eggs in the museum). Irvings’s art seems more comfortable drawing Klarion and Melmoth but not quite so at home drawing the teenagers, who look a tad bizarre, making for a not completely satisfactory package. However, it is a minor blip in a huge tapestry of storytelling and it will still be interesting to read the whole maxi-series in one sitting.

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Film Review: The Island

The Island © Dreamworks It might not be cool to espouse the opinion that Michael Bay can make a visually slick film but, there, I’ve said it. Yes, he has a fondness bordering on the fetish for explosions and car chases, and his films can never be regarded as complex. However, if you want a slick popcorn flick, he’s the man to go to for the explodo. Bad Boys was a loud slice of buddy-comedy-action, The Rock is one of the best popcorn films around and Armageddon, albeit very silly, is enjoyable nonsense that looks good. I won’t defend Pearl Harbor – I’m not that stupid – but the bomb POV shot was cool, even if it seems quite sick in retrospect to watch the harbinger of death in such glorifying visuals.

All of which brings us to The Island, Bay’s latest assault on the visual and aural senses. He is the appropriate choice for this type of movie; he was asked by Steven Spielberg to direct it, so it’s not like I’m the only one who agrees. And he directs this well, shooting pretty pictures and pretty people (he particularly likes having women with long legs in short skirts in there for no other reason than he obviously likes it; not that I’m going to complain about it …) and moves it all along at a quick pace, which is how these things should be done.

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Monsieur Ambassador, you are spoiling us …

A lot to get through today: Image solicitations, my comics for the week, some reviews and bits. It’s like buses …

Image solicitations for November
Award for most hilarious line of blurb goes to the Image Comics HC: ‘ALL PREVIOUS ORDERS HAVE DECOMPOSED’. This is part of the Image problem, it has to be said; going through the list, other titles that have the line ‘All previous orders cancelled’ due to rescheduling are Ascend Special Edition HC, A Distant Soil, Vol. 4: Coda TP, The Athiest #3, Deadworld #3, Expatriate #4, Gødland #5 and Hawaiian Dick: The Last Resort #3. How are good titles going to get their audience if the audience can’t get their hands on them?

That said, the trade programme is going strong. Candidates include Girls vol. 1, Walking Dead vol. 4, Kabuki vol 5, Battle Pope and The Gift vol.2. And I will be getting all future Invincible trades, as I finally succumbed to pressure from Clandestine Chum Logan and got the first book and have to admit it is good stuff indeed.

Body Bags: The Hard WayJason Pearson will be writing and drawing new Body Bags, something that makes me happy, in a new one-shot, The Hard Way, which also includes colour reprints of Dark Horse material, to account for the rather hefty $5.99 price tag. Gulp.

Image does the Vertigo sampler with Image First TP, collecting Walking Dead, Girls, Sea of Red and Strange Girl #1s. I’ve heard good things about all of these, so it might be the best way to sample them all.

NYC Mech: Beta Love mini-series comes to a conclusion with a batch of quotes that should either be used for the start of the series or the ensuing collection. Rather odd, that.

Witchblade #92 is apparently the 10th Anniversary Special. I don’t know which is scarier; that Witchblade has made 10 years, or the bad mathematics …

Down #1Warren Ellis’s Down starts this month. Ellis hasn’t been pimping this in Bad Signal, which suggests a strange ambivalency towards this work, but I can’t resist his crime noir stylings with some Tony Harris and Cully Hamner art.

Was anyone crying out for Top Cow/Marvel: The Crossover Collection? To my shame, I already own the Ellis written book (Ballistic or something) but surely this is filling the cheap bins of shops and dealers across the land?

Comics being rewarded by my hoarding of them this week:

Authority: Revolution #11
Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witch Boy #3

… and that’s it. The sound you can hear is my wallet’s sigh of relief. I’ll be waiting for the trade on Defenders, the second issue of which is out this week but, otherwise, a light week which gives me the opportunity to catch up on some trades and re-reading old books for blogging purposes and deciding to keep them.

Quick Reviews
100 Bullets #63
I’m missing out on some of the nuances as I read from issue to issue but I still enjoy my burst of 100 Bullets, with the dialogue, art and plotting providing the monthly buzz. I found myself wondering if someone would have a samurai sword capable of decapitating someone; wouldn’t new reproductions not be sharp enough or are we supposed to believe that he had an old one and kept it in excellent condition? Nevertheless, it was a spectacular action finale to the Machiavellian plotting, making me want to know more.

Fables #40
In which the Adversary is revealed … or is he? Or how Gepetto came to rule the Fable world. Nice bit of storytelling, even if Buckingham hasn’t progressed as an artist past his impression/acquiring characteristics of early Chris Bachalo (when on Shade, The Changing Man). I would like to discuss the historical links but I am stupid; I don’t even understand what Greg means when he calls him realpolitik politician’ but it sums it up perfectly. That Greg sure is clever …

Seven Soldiers: Zatanna #3Too. Much. Information. Brain. Overload. Hyper-dense storytelling from Grant Morrison and delicious artwork from Ryan Sook – do comics get any better than this?

Gravity #3In which our hero gets some – wahoo! A wonderful coming-of-age story, told in the genre of super-heroes, in which Greg gets some priorities straight. A very enjoyable book all round.

Ultimate Annual #1Kevin Church calls it best:

Steve Dillon does draw the living shit out of it

which elevates this slight tale to something more. There’s something about the weight that Dillon gives a character that makes them so much more real, which adds to any story he draws. It makes me want to pick up the Bullseye story he’s just finished with Daniel Way.

My reviews are quick but, for almost identical thoughts on nearly the same books but written with more pep and pizzazz, check out Johnny B in his latest Last Call [EDIT: dead link] column: he even digs John Paul Leon from his Challenger of the Unknown work, just like I do! (And I should know, I had a letter published in that book.)

Some other quick bits’n’pieces:

Paul O’Brien’s article, well written and thought out, on boredom with comic news and why he doesn’t read manga:

It’s not that I have anything against manga. It’s simply that, psychologically, I don’t regard myself as a manga fan. I approach it as a wholly separate area that I’d be entering from scratch. And honestly, I don’t have the time or inclination to do that. I’ve got a ton of books, CDs and DVDs to plough through already. Like a lot of more mainstream comics fans, I’m here primarily because I’m a genre fan rather than because of a devout love of the theoretical possibilities of the medium.

That isn’t to say I’m not open to other types of comics, but it does mean I don’t have the sort of “this is a comic, I must explore it” attitude that leads others to try and read their way into manga. I’m sure a lot of it is absolutely fantastic, but I could say that about my local bookstore too, and I’ve got a ton of books that are higher up my list of priorities because… well, I actually want to read them already.

Which turned into a huge discussion over on the Fanboy Rampage comments section [EDIT: Haloscan comments are now dead] when he linked to it, with people wrongly accusing him of being bored with comics – it is one of the bizarrest things I’ve seen.

To lighten things up, you can see this post from Dave at his Long Box, which gave me a ‘Nostalgasm‘. And with that, I shall leave you.

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Film review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory poster It’s a strange thing, nostalgia. It affects people differently. There are people, for example, who believe that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a classic, Gene Wilder among them. They love the songs and Wilder’s performance and the ‘70s of it all. Personally, I put that down to seeing it as a child. I have the Oompa-Loompa song in my head still, and the image of Wilder getting his cane stuck in the paving and looking like he’s going to fall, only to roll out in the manner of a true showman, is imprinted in my psyche. However, it is not a great movie and is not a perfect adaptation of the book, even though the screenplay was written by Dahl himself.

All of which brings us to this version. Working from a script by John August that stays truer to the book (with a back-story element added and a different ending to avoid the glass elevator sequel), Tim Burton brings back his old pal, Johnny Depp, to play the part of disturbed man-child that is Willy Wonka. The story is mostly the same; Charlie Bucket is a poor boy who (eventually) gets one of the five Golden Tickets that will allow a child and a family member access to the amazing confectionery factory of the reclusive Willy Wonka.

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Another Comics Round-up

More comic reviews? What is this – some sort of comics blog?

In my preferred reading order:

PVP #0
I really enjoy PVP – the artwork, the humour and the pop culture referencing all appeal to me in a variety of ways. This PVP sampler is a strange collection of different strips from the vast archives, giving a flavour of what to expect if you go to the site or pick up the comic book. The story at the end, explaining why a troll exists in the world of a computer magazine, is the reason I picked up the book – like the previous Dork Storm published PVP, it was the new material in the non-strip format that gives Scott a chance to stretch his wings and tell a complete story. Reason enough to pick what is essentially an advert for the PVP comic book.

Stupid Comics #3
I think I first dug the artistic styling of Jim Mahfood in the first Clerks comics. There’s a funky cartoonish quality to the linework that I enjoyed, so I looked out for his other work. Hence picking up Stupid Comics, a collection of his work for magazines. The first two were amusing, if not astounding. This latest collection is very uneven. His targets are admirable, if repetitive and a little obvious, which might work in monthly magazines, but appear devoid of creativity read together. Some of the strips seemed like they’ve been knocked out in a few moments, which seems a bit insulting to his audience. Maybe I just like the way he draws himself because it reminds me of the way I look, but I don’t know if it will be enough to bring me back for more.

Gotham Central #34
Now, this is the real deal. This is good comics. Batman defending himself against a cop, taking her gun, the Teen Titans showing up to confirm it’s not Robin, Robin himself telling the same to Stacy on the roof, even the humour of Starfire turning up at the precinct and the effect she has on people, including Maggie Sawyer and Renee, this is a great example of why I buy comics. Kano seems to be coming into his own, not trying to ape Lark anymore, making this a complete package. Comic of the week for me.

The Intimates #10
Joe Casey’s Wildcats was a brilliant take on the modern super-hero team, which was why I thought I would get The Intimates, as well as feeling that I was helping out a title that was probably going to get low sales (I think it’s a British empathy for the underdog or something, I’m not sure.) Now, after 10 issues, I think I can say that it is a good book (although not on top form for the ‘summer vacation’ storyline in my opinion) that is done well, although I prefer Camuncoli to Iwahashi and D’Amda, but is not for me. I’m not sure if this a great explanation but it’s something I’ve been thinking about (and will probably blog about shortly) regarding whether a piece of art is good or not and whether I enjoy or it or not, irrespective of its quality, and I think that The Intimates, while possessing good moments and ideas, does not speak to me as a reader, which is either a deficiency on my part or something else entirely.

I’m beginning to waffle (which is the point a blog, I know, but still …), which is a good sign to stop. More next time.

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Bringing the comics criticism

Without further ado, some Reviews:

Runaways v2 #6
Vaughan brings home ‘True Believers’ with resolution, secrets revealed and mysteries begun. It was obvious that Victor is going to come around, the enjoyment should be in the how. The ‘moment’ isn’t anything extraordinary, as I’ve come to expect from BKV, but is dialogue and characters more than make up for it. I got a kick out of seeing Rick Jones again, after Peter David made him such a great character (and Vaughan mentions the autobiography here, which is a nice touch.) Nico is turning into a smart leader, which is good. And could that be a dead member of the Runaways at the end…? Good stuff, ably matched by Alphona on art.

Legion of Super-Heroes (volume who knows) #8
I sorely missed Kitson’s art this month – I know some find his work a little stiff, but I’ve always enjoyed it since I first saw it in a 2000AD story called “The Fists of Stan Lee” and LSH wasn’t quite the same. Sharpe isn’t bad, just not as consistent, especially on the faces, and the torsos seemed overly muscular. The story sees the in-fighting between Brainy and Cos come to a head, with Waid bringing through the teenager aspect of the characters. It was nice to see the team use its powers, even if it was on each other. However, even with the extra pages, Waid is taking a long time to get things going, which is unusual for him.

Astro City: The Dark Age Book One #2 (Winner of Long Winded Title Award)
This issue seemed more like the Astro City of old; after setting the tone in the first issue, Busiek gets things in gear with the reaction to the Silver Agent’s trial and the rest of the super-powered inhabitants getting cameos, as well as the reaction to these events from the perspective of Royal and Charles, and their history with the Agent. Anderson tells the story well, but his art seems on the messy side of ‘loose’ for my tastes. Compare his rendition of the Blue Knight on the rooftop with the cover, for example, or the face of the newsreader on page two. Maybe it’s just me. Still, good to have Astro City back.

The Pulse #10
This was my first taste of House of M – the glimpse I got seems like it is an okay alternate universe story and that Bendis has got the world mapped out. Based on this, I might be tempted to get the trade. Strangely, it all seems to be about Bendis’s love of Clint Barton, which is fair enough, if you like that sort of thing. This issue sees the world of news and how it is affected by the House of M, and Clint Barton explaining to Kat Farrell what the world should be like, and a glimpse of the stubborness of the character. Lark and Gaudiano make for a strange art team; glimpses of the two talents without the quality of either shining through. I think Pulse might have to put on the Wait For Trade list from now on, though.

Hellboy: The Island #2
In which we learn the origin of Hellboy’s right hand and the wheels are set in motion for the future of the Hellboy universe. Mignola’s art is a beautifully moody as ever and the strange sadness of our hero comes out with the few words he actually speaks. Your continued enjoyment will depend on how much you love Lovecraftian monsters, which may mean I pass on future stories. Also, Mignola seems to be setting up the stories but getting others to finish them off, which takes away a large part of the charm and reason for reading, namely his wonderful pencils. Whatever happened to one chap telling their own story?

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Film review: War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds
When I heard this was being made, I did wonder what the point of it was. I’m not saying you can’t remake things, but I couldn’t see the purpose behind having another go at a story that has been told many times in a variety of different media. But I decided to take a look because I thought Spielberg could do something different. And I believe he has.

This version plays on the current climate of terror. The idea of something awful and destructive happening and we don’t know what is going on is all the more despairing for the lack of information and understanding. Although it may seem to harken back to the events of September 11, 2001, the film speaks more directly to the fear of the unknown which is heightened in our age when information is immediate and vast. What would happen if you had no electricity, no television or radio for news updates, no apparent authority in charge, just a mass of people trying to survive in fear and panic? It is in this area that War of the Worlds demonstrates its capability to scare and thrill.

Taking the story and placing it in the present on the east coast of the US, we see freak storms and intense lightening strikes. When all the electrical power is lost, people wander in the direction of the incident to try and find out what is happening. Then, a tripod (more agile than previous cinematic incarnations) erupts from the ground and begins to lay waste to the people in the immediate vicinity. These are some cracking sequences; seeing a crossroads torn up and the tripod rise from the ground and the death ray evaporating the people instantly into ash (but leaving their clothing untouched, causing it to drop like laundry snowfall) are scintillating and terrifying. Spielberg hasn’t lost his ability to scare.

Tom Cruise is still Tom Cruise but without the people doing his hair or picking out his clothes. His range is limited but he allows himself to be at the whim of the story, so we’ll let him off. The interaction with his kids (who see him for the loser he is) is much more interesting, especially with his daughter played by Dakota Fanning. This is a child actress who can act without being cute or annoying. It’s a shame that she has to spend a lot of the last third screaming, as it’s quite a waste.

There is a palpable sense of dread and doom and reality to the film, as we see the reactions of normal people in horrible situations. It’s also scary because of how much isn’t told; an invasion film is usually about identifying the enemy and working out how to kill them. But this film, staying with the book, doesn’t have that, so we are kept in the dark as much as the characters, allowing us to identify and empathise with them more easily (which I always find difficult to do with Cruise.)

The scene with Tim Robbins slightly jars here, as it seems an excuse for a creepy turn in the middle of the film, with the character having the same name as an astronomer in the book. Spielberg comes out of it well with the periscopic tentacle of the tripod worming through the basement looking for signs of life, a wonderfully nerve-jangling episode.

Spielberg keeps this feeling up for most of the film, but is slightly let down by a sentimental ending. When you have a film where people have been dying constantly throughout, it seems stretching reality if the son can’t die, even though he is in the middle of a big explosion, just so there can be a touching father-son reunion at the end. There is also a feeling of allowing Cruise’s character to be more proactive near the end, where he destroys one of the tripods. The film works better when our protagonists are reacting, as we would in the situation, but perhaps they felt the need for the ‘hero’ of the piece to do something to warrant the connection. Priest hits the nail on the head here [EDIT: dead link] when he says that because we’re watching Tom Cruise, we’re expecting him to do Tom Cruise things, but if they had cast an unknown in the same role, you can see it as a family drama and it would be more satisfying.

So, in conclusion, I thought the film was a mostly taut piece of cinema, with the exception of some flappy parts towards the end. I wouldn’t buy it on DVD, but I’d definitely say you should watch it when it comes out on DVD.

Rating: DAVE

I hope that long-winded rambling keeps you going, as I’ll be away from the internet for a few days, when I’ll hopefully have some comic reviews to share.

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Film review: Fantastic Four

Confession: I haven’t read any of the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Fantastic Four comics. Sorry. They were made before I was born and the only way to see them is expensively in colour or cheaply in black & white, and I don’t ‘get’ Kirby’s art. This is probably heresy and I apologise, and can only hope that I am still allowed to write about comics on this blog when I haven’t even seen a single issue of what I’ve heard tell is one of the best runs of super-hero comics around.

Nevertheless, I have read some FF comics. I’ve got John Byrne’s rather good run from before he turned into a bit of a nutter. I really enjoyed Walt Simonson’s run, which had the sense of the fantastic about it. One of my favourite stories involving the FF is the Fantastic Four/X-Men mini-series by Chris Claremont and Jon Bogdanove, which might make me even less suited to review the film, but it gave me a sense of what they are about as characters and wanted to see them on the silver screen.

And, for the most part, they do look okay in real life/CGI; the little kid inside me had a big smile on his face seeing the Fantastic Four in the flesh. The Thing still looks a little like a man in a suit, instead of the massive monster he should be – the CGI for the Hulk is more towards my personal idea of what Ben Grimm should look like, a giant creature, taller and wider than a normal man – but it comes off quite well when it could’ve looked completely awful. And I did like the little rocky noises they put in when you hear him turn his head in close-up. The invisible aspects have already been done, and fire has been created by CGI before, but Sue and Johnny looked okay as well. Although I love the character of Reed Richards, mainly for the fact of him being a scientist, his powers have never done anything for me, and I always felt a bit sorry for him with his superelasticity (obvious porno jokes aside).

The story was a little flimsy, however, which took away some of the enjoyment. It was as if they couldn’t quite make up their mind on how much of the comic to have and which bits to leave out. Let’s have Doom as an old associate of Reed, but let’s ignore every other thing about his history, thus removing most of the complexity and danger from the character, and have him as a corporate shark. Jessica Alba as the Director of Genetic Research was laughable; I have worked in science and I have never seen anyone like that in any place I’ve been, ever. Well, except for my gorgeous girlfriend, but she never wore a power suit.

Why increase the pathos of Ben Grimm even more, as if it needed it, by having the girlfriend who goes out in the middle of the street in the middle of the night in small and sexy night attire? I wouldn’t mind but, by the end of the film, he’s seemingly happy with being the Thing and getting cosy with Alicia – talk about a condensed history of Thing stories: ‘I hate being the Thing, I am sad and ugly and break bar stools. Hooray, I’m not the Thing anymore. Oh no, I must become the Thing again using untested technology that I don’t understand that doesn’t come with instructions. And I somehow end up wearing the stretchy uniform that I said I wouldn’t wear and am now happy with being an ugly Thing, even though I’m not sure I’ll be able to have sex with the hot blind girl I’ve just met.’

I don’t know if the more-simple narrative could appeal to a viewer like myself with more knowledge of the comics than the average punter, but it does seem they didn’t want anything too challenging to get in the way of the advertising and merchandising. From panning down at the entrance to the biking event, just to take in all the banners for Pepsi and Burger King, to flying through Times Square specifically stopping at big ads when Johnny flies through, or the completely gratuitous seeing-the-crowds-outside-the-Baxter-Building-via-a reflection in Johnny’s sunglasses, with special attention to the brand name on the front of the lens (especially as it’s stealing from Scorcese’s Casino). This is a very light, easy going adventure, where super-powers are controlled within a few minutes of getting them and the crowds love them because they are so nice. Perfect for kids and for people who never read the stories before.

However, with the diminishing of the Doom character to nothing more than a shadow of his real self, they’ve weakened the story by having a weak villain; as Kirby himself said, the heroes are only as good as the villains they are fighting. What’s more, Doom is the main FF villain; if he’s turned into a bland baddie, what about the rest? And who are they going to choose for the next villain? This fluffy version of the FF, and the more-realistic approach to heroes in general, mean that the whole ‘Fantastic’ part is missing, and the stories that worked the best were when the truly imaginative, wild and crazy ideas were thrown at them.

In fact, I don’t know if the FF don’t work best in comic books, full stop, where there is the room for the spectacular and amazing, and makes me nervous by the inevitable sequel. The FF need something to define their goals for the purpose of a traditional Hollywood narrative; whereas the X-Men are any minority fighting against oppression, Spider-man has the maxim ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, Batman has the mission to stop what happened to him happening to anyone else, the Fantastic Four don’t have that easily grasped hook, mainly because they were vehicles for stories where anything can happen, and that is not something we will see in a sequel from Tim Story, a pedestrian, bland and visually uninteresting director.

There was some fun to be had in the movie; Johnny had all the good lines, and the interplay with him and Ben was very nice, and there was the sense of them being a family. The actors were okay, especially Evans and Chiklis, but Gruffudd and Alba never really made me believe in their relationship, and McMahon was rather limp as Doom. Basically, this is a fun super-hero romp but it could have been something more. Maybe the sequel will fulfil on the promise.

Rating: VID

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Something old, something new, something borrowed, something… bizarre

I didn’t go to San Diego, but I always get a laugh out of the photos that come out of there every year (especially the ones sent to Warren Ellis) but this picture is THE greatest image ever, and is my Something Borrowed.

For Something New, my selection of comics coming out this week, as provided by NCRL:

Authority: Revolution #10
Ex Machina #13
Daredevil #75
Ultimates 2 #7

Brubaker’s Authority started slowly, but has moved up a gear nicely, to be expected from the man who wrote the double-dealing in Sleepers so well. Ex Machina is good comics; ’nuff said. Daredevil has taken an unusual detour with the Decalogue arc, but the last page of the last issue, with Murdock appearing, showed promise of a decent ending. And, yes, I’m still buying Ultimates, but more for the Hitch artwork than Millar and his writing.

There are two more books about which I am unsure but are eager to be read, waving their metaphorical hands in the air like school children eager to attract teacher’s attention with an urgency to use the toilet:

Defenders #1 – the super-hero comedy dream team of Giffen, DeMatteis & Maguire lovingly mock the silliest excuse for a collection of super-heroes. Should I singles it or wait for the trade?

Silencers v2 #1 – I’ve never read any of the previous comics, but the concept of super-powered mob enforcers is an idea too intriguing not to attract my attention. I’ll see what fellow bloggers think about it and have a read through it in the shop (What? They get a ton of my money, they can’t deny me the occasional skim …)

For Something Old, a quick look at last week’s comic purchases:

100 Bullets #62
Reading 100 Bullets in the floppy format is both rewarding and frustrating. I have to know what is happening in the (almost) monthly installments, but you lose some of the strands as you try to keep up with the almost impossible task of understanding everything that’s going on. Still, Azzarello and Risso create such perfect packages of story for you to enjoy that you don’t mind that you’re missing something, which is high praise indeed.

Desolation Jones #2
I can’t add anything better than this post from Mark (who gets extra points for his blog title riffing on Elizabeth Braddock’s catchphrase), other to say that this could be some almost pure Ellis, beautifully delivered by Williams’ haunting artwork, and the emotional core of this issue looks like it will be a touchstone for the series. Excellent stuff.

Fables #39
Normally, a ‘Meanwhile …’ issue might be a slow tale to allow you to take a breath in the middle of a storyline. Not so for Fables, which packs in a lot of plot development, with the addition of Mowgli to the Fables world and revealing a traitor. Medina’s art is top-notch and Willingham maintains the quality of this title, another book I have to read in the singles format.

Seven Soldiers: Guardian #3
Although I liked the idea of the world in miniature as the basis for this issue, allowing us to look at the private life of Guardian, it seemed quite pedestrian for Morrison, which is only because he himself has set the bar so high. Hopefully, this will have a strong finish, with the final page and the hint of its link to the overall story of the Seven Soldiers.

Gravity #2
The cover of this comic comes close to the infamous ‘Hulk Sodomise Puny Spider-Man’ cover of Ultimate Marvel Team-Up #2, which I don’t know if it is deliberate, as the story has the feel of a Spider-Man tale and references them with a throwaway line. This book is quite charming, from the spot-on writing to the perfectly matched artwork, and I would love to see it do well, even if it probably doesn’t have a chance. Enjoy while you can.

Finally, here’s Something Bizarre. I’d never seen it before my girlfriend pointed it out to me; Mad Merchandise You Wouldn’t Believe – Sushi and Dim Sum USB Sticks!

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