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Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray

Five Ghosts is one of the most derivatively original books I have ever read.  It boldly tears a page straight out of the 30s adventure story book, much like Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones.  the Story —  written by Frank Barbierre and illustrated by Chris Mooneyham — follow’s Fabian Gray, a treasure hunter who was not blessed, as indy always was, with a despicable nazi readily on hand to interact with the cursed treasure before he, thus making him aware of its detrimental effects.

After touching the mystical “Dreamstone”, Gray is possessed by five ghosts, A wizard, and archer, a samurai, a detective, and a vampire (read: Merlin, Robin Hood, Miyamoto Musashi, Sherlock Holmes, and Dracula).  With this possession, he also gains the abilities of each.  Holmes superior deductive skills, or Musashi’s powerful sword skills are a great aid for him throughout his journey.

The images this series contains are perfectly magnificent.  Done in a far from realistic style, the artwork is itself a sort of nod to the genre that spawned this work (especially the cover pages) but is far more than basic homage.  The way that darkness and minimalism are used to portray combat is mercilessly intense.  Observe the panel below, particularly the artist’s use of blood as an aesthetic.  Several panels are framed in red, so the combatants stand out starkly.  The panel that is only a shot of a blood spatter is also striking.

With “Five Ghosts” you don’t get colorful quirky characters.  You get a hazy story with a heavy intrigue factor, and minimal background knowledge.  I’ve only read vol. 1 of Five Ghosts so far, but I’ve been extremely impressed.  Despite coming from a lesser known publishing company, Five Ghosts is a work of extraordinarily high caliber, and a must read for any lover of literature, graphic literature, or simply a good story.

Wolverine: Three Months to Die

Three Months to Die finds Wolverine dealing with the loss of what may be his most defining mutant ability, his healing factor.  Without it, he is just a man… with claws, and extreme strength, and heightened senses.  He isn’t exactly vulnerable, but similar to the blockbuster Logan he must deal with the idea of his own mortality.  In a way he almost wants to die, and be freed from the cycle of death that his life is, but for other reasons, he sees the importance of continuing to live, and work with the avengers.

I picked this book up because, as the title indicates, it is a first volume.  Despite this, a lot of what was going on was new to me, and I didnt really get acquainted to the story until maybe the third of the seven issues chronicled in this volume.  It is however extremely appealing art; Ryan Stegman, and Gerardo Sandoval bring an excellent blend of cartoonesque surrealism, and gritty reality.

This is an interesting story, once one finally understands it.  Logan goes undercover in a team of new mutants, and pretends to have left his old life as an avenger behind.  Soon, however, his true intentions come to light.  Logan means to find, and kill or be killed by his nemesis, Sabertooth.  This book is a tale of intensity, and intrigue, that offers forceful action, and delves into the nature of Wolverine’s newfound perishability.

300

I’ve been feeling a little guilty lately.  While completely reflective of my opinions, I realize that my review of Watchmen kind of bashed Zack Snyder… a lot.  While I’m not a fan of what he made watchmen into, he is actually one of my favorite directors.  I really enjoyed Man of Steel, and I also believe that he did some good work on Batman Vs.Superman as well.  I have a deep respect for a director that is able to convey a distinct vision on to the screen, even if that vision doesn’t always work out (or if the studio financing your movie decides to cut an entire 30 minutes of critical footage out of a film).  Snyder’s visionary status has never been clearer than in 300.

300 is based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, which in itself is inspired by the 1962 movie 300 Spartans, which drew its material from an account of the battle of Thermopylae.  This is material that has been passed down for quite a while, but this is definitely its best iteration.

Leonidas and his motley band of 300 Spartans each with their own hard to pronounce — much less to remember — Greek names have recently denied the great Xerxes request to annex Sparta; specifically by kicking  an ambassador down a well.  Overkill?  Not in this Greek province.  Now they must face retaliation; the entire army of the Persian world coming down upon them, with the freedom of their dominion at stake.

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The Persian Army is a threat to behold

This movie is a visual masterpiece, we see the movie from a very selective lens.  Most everything, is sort of grayed out, and the important things, like the frequent splashes of blood stand out in saturated brightness.  Snyder also warps time to highlight the movie’s epic action sequences.  Speed followed by fluid slowness works exceptionally well in this case.  It would be wrong to call 300’s combat influential, as nothing is really anything like it, but it is definitely unique.  The clip below is a perfect example of this.  The free-flowing death dealing that begins around the three minute mark is perfectly prepossessing.

300 also happens to one of the most quotable movies ever made.  “This is Sparta” may be one of the most popular things to shout prior to doing something epic.  I know I’ve bellowed it my share of times prior to entering a nerf battle.  When told that the arrow’s of the persians will “blot out the sun”, Leonidas simply responds that the Spartans will “fight in the shade”.  When the archers’ barrage eventually comes, the Spartans easily block them with their shields, laughing all the while.  This isn’t a trying task for them, not even a struggle, not at the beginning.  Its simply their way of life.

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Spartans deflecting an onslaught of arrows

The plot of 300 is fairly simple; It is contained, following almost exclusively the 300 men repelling the persian assault, with some minor subplot’s involving Spartan politics mixed in.  Its simplicity, while a fetter for any other movie, is one of this one’s greatest strengths.  It doesn’t have much character development — the Spartans are more elemental than most movie characters — but, because of the film’s scaled down nature, it doesn’t suffer for the lack of it.  Its straightforwardness allows it to succeed on uber inspirational dialogue, and grandly shot action sequences.

Frank Miller’s 1998 graphic novel, is certainly a wonderful read, but in this case, I must say that the movie is better.  The comic is written to evoke motion and fluidity, which Snyder deftly adapts into a distinct visual style.  The writing that narrates the book, is infused through voiceovers throughout.  300 is an extremely entertaining movie, that oozes masculinity.  The only other place you can find this much testosterone at once, is one of those sketchy mail-order supplements from the infomercials.  There isn’t much to be found here in the way of anything other than combat, and preparing for combat; but if that’s what you’re looking for, 300 is exactly what you need.

Why I Won’t Watch Watchmen

watchmen_castThe best books are the ones you remember finishing.  Not just the ending, but where you were when you finally got there.  I finished Watchmen in band class, in my freshman year of high school.  The teacher was working with another section or something, and with just a chapter or two left to go, I went for it.  Watchmen is one of those rare books that satisfied my love for superheroes, and literature, in one neat little package.  It is hard to explain why Watchmen is as great a read as it is, but its greatness is rarely questioned.  For me Watchmen succeeds in Alan Moore’s way of weaving together several different completely unrelated plot lines, for one enormously satisfying climax.  In a way that never feels forced, but quite to the contrary, seems perfectly calculated.

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Dave Gibbons inserts a blood spattered smiley face countless times throughout the book, symbolizing the flaws of the heroes (blood stain) covering their perfect image (the smiley face).

Despite how edgy Watchmen feels (especially for coming out of the 80s), the abject imperfections of these heroes serve as foils to typical heroes like superman.  The impurity of these people that we know are supposed to be spotless highlights the odd purity to be found in antihero Rorshach’s unwavering moral compass.

Watchmen is different, because ultimately, the good guys fail.  The antagonist is stronger, and his madcap plan for a twisted world peace actually succeeds.  For the heroes, not only is it easier to look away, it is arguably more practical.  Rorshach defies uncompromisingly till the end, in what may be one of the greatest moments a comics team has ever inked.

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Walter Kovacs, AKA Rorshach, is the ultimate antihero

I hold Alan Moore’s work on Watchmen in very high regard, and it is this regard for it that has led me to decide against ever watching the movie.  This is me at my most close minded for sure, but I have a space in my mind, reserved for Watchmen, which I simply cannot bear to have sullied by a film that simply doesn’t get it.

One rather famous shot from the movie is one where an enraged Rorshach drives a meat cleaver through the skull of a murderer.  “Men get arrested; dogs get put down.” he growls.  This is a brilliant depiction of Rorshach’s raw justice, with a pretty great line to boot, but it’s lazy filming.  The book only hints at this but never really shows it, while the movie drops it right on the table carelessly.  The movie attempts to shock with the sight of gore; cleaving a man’s head is pretty uncharacteristic of anyone, even a sketchy vigilante like Kovacs, but the act itself is shocking on its own, without the over the top imagery.

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In the 1935 film “A Tale of Two Cities” a peasant assassin sneaks into the room of french aristocrat the Marquis de St. Evremonde.  He rises over the man’s bed, raises a knife, and with a quick crescendo of the score thrusts downward.  We don’t see any blood, or even the stabbing itself, but we practically feel the killing stroke.  A scene doesn’t need gratuitous gore to make a death impactful.

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A Tale of Two Cities doesn’t need technicolor to bring the tension the scene needs.

Even Quentin Tarantino, the king of Gratuitous violence himself, understands this; though he may not always direct accordingly.  His 1992 neo-noir picture, Reservoir Dogs, features a rather intense torture scene, where rather than zooming in on the grotesquity, the camera pans away, staring at the wall, letting the screams, and completely out-of-place Stealer’s Wheel song do the trick.

Let’s not forget the climax of “To Kill a Mockingbird”  which is shown almost entirely from an indirect point of view, focusing more on young Scout Finch.  Not only does this enhance the story, but the chaos and confusion that the scene creates adds more tension than a straghtforward filming of the fight would convey.

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This scene is one of cinema’s most suspenseful moments.

Something that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons clearly knew while working on Watchmen was that no created image, could ever be more horrifying than what the human imagination could muster up on its own.  When I think about Watchmen, I am gratified, and horrified; saddened, and inspired, all at once.  Its one of those books that just sticks with you.  Quite simply, I’m not willing to let anything take that away.

Lando by Charles Soule (Marvel Comics)

Lando, by Charles Soule, (illustrated by Alex Maleev) is a much smaller story, compared with Marvel’s previous offerings.  It simply follows Lando, his friend Lobot, and several other companions on a heist job.  In many ways, this is the “star wars meets oceans 11” that Rogue One never was.

Lando recruits Korin Pers, and a pair of twins who are essentially the Star Wars equivalent of Ninjas.  I won’t spoil too much, but their combat sequences add a layer of kineticism to Star Wars that is pretty rare.  It is fairly uncommon  to see martial arts combat in a franchise where the coolest individuals wield telekinetic powers, so when they show up, it tends to be pretty satisfying (think Chirrut Imwe’s fight scenes in Rogue One)

Lando also adds a lot of character development, to one of the saga’s most criminally underdeveloped individuals, as it explores Lando’s relationship with crime, gambling, and Lobot.  His dialogue is extremely well written.  At one point, after spending the entire story avoiding the use of blasters, he takes out several adversary’s with pinpoint accuracy.  When an inquisitive Lobot question’s him he simply explains that he bluffs… a lot… and  “[the] only ones who know different are dead”.  This book adds layers to Lando’s character, that make for a really satisfying read.

While I really didn’t enjoy The Force Awakens, I will steadfastly defend that Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, and the Star Wars property is one of the best things to happen to my favorite franchise ever.  It has expanded upon and fleshed out things that I have never asked of the universe, but deep down have always wanted.  I mean, who hasn’t wondered about Lobot, and how he became Lando’s silent aide, or what inspired Lando to become better than the scum that Han remembered him as.  The Marvel Comic Star Wars Universe plants seeds, that eventually bloom to fruition in the star wars movies.  As much as I hate Disney’s world domination agenda, Marvel’s treatment of Star Wars hasn’t disappointed me yet. I can’t wait to see what they do next.  This is a great time to be a Star Wars fan.

V For Vendetta – Book/Movie Review

V for Vendetta is originally a 1989 Graphic Novel, by Alan Moore and David Lloyd published by Vertigo comics, a branch of DC.  In 2006 the now classic was made in to a movie starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, with and awesome script penned by the Wachowskis to boot.  Both works are considerably fantastic and have been regarded well in their communities.  In this article, I will delve into what is great..and less great about each version.  It should be noted that the film version received an R rating for strong violence, and language, and that Vertigo is DC’s vehicle for stories that deal with subject matter that is too heavy for passage by the comic’s code authority.  V for Vendetta is recommended for mature 14 year-olds at youngest.

V for Vendetta, despite its origins, really isn’t a superhero movie; not in formula anyway.  We don’t see V’s origin, not until midway through the story anyway.  As a matter of fact, most of the events are seen through the point of view of Evey, a young girl who V rescues, and who I suppose is technically the story’s protagonist.  Her perception of V and the mystery surrounding him is parallel to our’s.  One thing the film has on the book is that it made it more obvious, more quickly, that V was in fact, a good guy.   In the original, the reader is unsure, and this is sort of unsettling; not in a good way.  The sooner the reader is assured that V is a hero, the sooner they can get on board with the story, and all it has to offer.

In both incarnations, V uses culture of the past as a form of protest to the oppressive futuristic regime.  When he rescues Evey from the corrupt police force: the fingermen, he quotes Shakespeare’s Macbeth with a passage that Alan Moore supposedly decided upon by opening to a random page of an anthology.  Random or not, it works.  It is my opinion that Moore and Lloyd did this best.  In the movie, it is certainly a great scene, but the book’s version is much more unique.  There are no sound effects in the comic book version, and this being the first bout of action yet, it sets the tone for the story, especially in the book, with V’s rapid incapacitation of the two policemen.

V is an anarchist, and has a penchant for blowing things up — easily his most american quality — especially structures with symbolic meaning.  His first demolition is that of the Old Bailey.  This is such a momentous scene, both in novel, and in movie, and each is moving in its own way.  Alan Moore’s version shows V delivering a monologue to the famous Justice Statue, like an old lover, and explaining that what he is about to do is a retaliation for her betrayal of his trust.  In the Wachowski’s version however, V play’s conductor, as Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture blares citywide through loudspeakers; just as he destroys something, making a statement against the established regime, he also imparts a musical gift to the people of London.  A day later, the song is banned by Chancellor Adam Sutler.

The Wachowski’s introduction to the principal character is extremely effective; this is one of the few areas of the story, where Moore’s writing is so well outshone.  V delivers a monologue explaining who he is and what he means to do using a total of 48 words that start with V.  It is this written genius that elevates the movie above the graphic novel.  Here’s the full monologue:

Voilà!  In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villian by the vicissitudes of Fate.  This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished.  However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.  The only verdict is vengence; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous.  Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.

Awesome right?

Moore’s character is not without his impressive and unique little quirks either.  Interestingly, he wears a few different masks throughout the book.  there is the famous Guy Fawkes mask, and even a Vaudeville style mask, for “putting on a show”.  At the beginning of the second act he sings a song, at a piano, with music printed underneath each panel, you know, in case you want to sing along.

“So which is better?” you ask?  My answer, is that I have none.  In my opinion each version of the story tells it in its own unique way.  I’d love to say that I love the original best.  That the book is better, and nothing can ever compare.  I’ve adopted this view regarding many other adaptations, and I just cannot seem to take up the same way of thinking in this case.  It is undeniable truth that James McTiegue’s movie adds lots to the story, and to the character of V.  I cannot however say that the movie is the superior of the two either; not only did the Graphic Novel spawn the character, and countless works inspired by it, but it also has a lot of superb storytelling elements that the Wachowskis — great writers though they are — would have done well to include in their screenplay.  And so dear reader, my suggestion to you: experience both.  Both are exceptional works of their respective art forms, and you will only gain from consuming them.  The decision is yours.

 

Darth Vader: End of Games

It goes without saying by now that Marvel’s latest Star Wars Run is phenomenal, and will likely continue that way.  Darth Vader Vol. 4 shows Vader’s quest to discover the mysterious young pilot who destroyed the death star reaching a climax.  He searches the galaxy, kills a few unfortunate “lesser beings” and actually boards a ship that is somehow both transport and biological organism; “ain’t Star Wars logic great?”.

Besides the excellent art and action, “End of Games” succeeds because of its major character development.  Vol.4 of Vader’s story marks the point at which he becomes fully devoted to pursuing Luke Skywalker with a passion, the results of which, we see in episode V.  It shows Vader struggling with the part of himself that is still Anakin Skywalker, and taking steps to remove what he sees as weakness from his psyche.  At one point, a man with control of his armor, uses a fail safe remote that immobilizes Vader, bringing him, quite literally to his knees.  Vader is now alone with himself.  We see his dreams; Vader is on Mustafar, and his younger self, still human, attacks him.  In a reenactment of the famous scene from Revenge of the Sith, Vader easily dispatches him, and leaves him for dead.  Back in the real world, Vader stands up, breaks his chains, and brandishes his lightsaber.  Cylo, Vader’s would be captor asks “How?You’re still deactivated.”

Vader smugly replies, “Anakin is dead, I killed him”.  This book is a bit of a bittersweet experience for those of us who are star wars fans.  Bitter because it is a point where Anakin Skywalker,  the chosen one, is fully in the dark sides embrace, completely committed to evil.  The story seems bleak from here.  It is sweet however…because we know how the story ends.