Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man #700

With the holidays other than Kwanzaa now passed, comic book stores have to deal with the lack of new books coming out until the new year.

BUT... three ongoing series in the two major superhero companies did get released: Amazing Spider-Man #700 for Marvel and two entries to the Throne of Atlantis crossover with DC (Aquaman #15/Justice League #15).

I will be givig my brief thoughts on the TOA crossover issues later in the week, so let's get to Spidey!

This issue has been long anticipated for two reasons. 1) When Superior Spider-Man launches next month, the title that has been Spidey's home for more than four decades will be retired. And 2) This is supposedly the final issue of Spider-Man where Peter Parker is under the mask.

I've already reviewed the two issues in this arc leading up to this, so you can reference those reviews if needed. As for this issue, a spoiler-free review would be difficult so I'll give my overall thoughts before going into the plot.

I think shifting of wills aspect was an interesting development and there was just really good emotion the entire time. I liked the art, although the narration boxes required a couple reads in order to understand exactly what you were looking at.

I do think the change-up of Spider-Men makes for some interesting stories, but overall, I'm not sure I'm sold on this idea. It didn't help that the change wasn't more gradual. This wole thing felt too hurried.


Peter Parker is in Doc Ock's body with minutes remaining before the years of damage finally collapse Ock's decaying shell of a body for good.

To get back in his suit, Parker had to enlist Hydro-Man, the original Scorpion and Trapster to form a new Sinister Six Four while the golden octobots that rewired Ock and Parker to begin with are sent out to undo the damage.

The book is a series of clever plans by Parker in Ock's body being thwarted by the always-one-step-ahead Ock in Peter's body.

The best emotional moments by far are Peter's near-death trip to the netherworld/hallucination where he meets every family member and friend who has died in the previous issues (the most amazing being Uncle Ben, and Gwen and John Stacy). and a scene where Mayor J. Jonah Jameson reveals his affection for his brother and Aunt May (who are a couple now).

Ock's scenes with Mary-Jane felt weird, but they gave me hope that this could be a way to overrule "One More Day" and end the deal with Mephisto, so I won't bi*** too hard.

The whole thing ends with Peter dying in Ock's body, but because of their mind link, Ock is forced to experience all of Peter's life as it flashes before them both. As Peter dies, he utters the "With great power..." line and Octavius promises to carry out Parker's mission with their combined intelligence as the Superior Spider-Man.

As I said, this is not going to be permanent. I'd be shocked if it was. As a native Las Vegas resident, I've set the over/under for Ock's tenure at about 16.5 issues/8.25 months (to avoid tied bets).

Admittedly, there are enough stories to keep this up for a couple years, but I think we'll see some backlash here. I don't hate this story as much as One More Day because everyone is behaving somewhat decently, but I'm definitely not sure of this game plan going forward. Otto Octavius (in Peter Parker's body) fighting crime as Spider-Man?

I'd talk about the back-up stories, but they're clearly non-canon. They are enjoyable reads, though, so if you don't like the developments of the main story, these two will at least help you feel better. Have fun with them.

And good luck to Superior's writers. Make me want to see what happens!

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Why I... Defend 'The Grinch' as a good movie

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In my blog earlier this month about the Top 5 Fun but Forgotten Holiday Specials, I said that I felt the need to defend a film that has drawn a great deal of critique (hatred) from a great deal of people.

There are plenty who like it, but so many call it a "guilty pleasure," as if conceding the film is bad they can't justify what's good about it.

That movie is the live-action adaptation of Dr. Seuss' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," known originally as "The Grinch" but given the full title upon release.

This film received mixed critical reactions more than a decade ago, is hated by my mom and was the butt of not one, but two reviews on Channel Awesome.

To be fair, both the Critic and the Chick's videos were hilarious and they both raise valid points about the movie's flaws. But their statements really set out a point in my mind: While so many have given accounts of what detracts from the film, no one has ever really given an account as to what makes the movie good.

This is upsetting because if the general populous just comes to see it as a guilty pleasure, they'll just shut their brains off while enjoying the movie and the aspects of this film that I think are deserving of cultural consideration will be shut out.

That's unacceptable. Director Ron Howard took a basic story that by all rights should not have been able to fill more than 30 minutes and developed it into a full-length feature with a message that could hit home. It's the only Seuss adaptation that I'd consider to be a worthy successor to the story it adapts and it deserves a proper focus on what it does well (weighed against its missteps).

As such, let's dive into it!

This film takes place on a snowflake. Nice move tying this Whoville to the one in "Horton Hears a Who," though I'm not sure how the timeline works.

The most interesting aspects of the early scenes of the film are twofold. First, the Grinch does go down to Whoville at times to mess around with the citizens. This allows the chance to advance the plot and explains how he knows what goes on in Whoville at Christmas (despite the bizarre protests I've heard that he never went near Whoville and instead used an unseen super-telescope to stalk monitor the Whos).

Second, the Whos are aware of the Grinch and do fear him to some extent. I'd have to assume this is true in all other versions of the Grinch even if it's not seen. I really can't imagine Seuss writing the Grinch as an unseen peeping Tom, or the Whos as completely oblivious to the fact that their presents are being returned by a being covered in green hair.

It's at this point that I should bring up Jim Carrey's performance. Carrey is definitely a love-or-hate kind of actor and I do happen to enjoy his films. I liked his personas in The Mask, Batman Forever and Yes Man, among others, and this is no different.

Yes, he puts facial expressions into everything, but when your makeup makes you look like the actual Grinch (and that makeup was epic), you have to be lighter. The Grinch can be unpleasant, but he doesn't look threatening, and both the film and cartoon acknowledge this by inserting lightness into him.

He definitely goes overboard in certain scenes, but mostly it's legitimately funny and I do actually feel for him as a character, which isn't as present in the cartoon until the end (which is by design, but I'm just making the point that Howard wanted the Grinch to have a likability to him from the start, and he succeeded).

While in Whoville, he pranks the post office... Actually, let me just ask: WHY do they need a post office? From what I can tell, Whoville is a fairly small town and I've yet to see another town on their snowflake, so why is a post office that large necessary? I'm just going to guess there's a "Whatville" and "Whyville" on the snowflake as well and this is years of advancement after HHAW.

OK, so he pranks the post office and out of guilt has to rescue a Who girl that he terrified. This is Cindy Lou Who, who is 8 and not 2. I actually prefer that to the cartoon because, well, how on Earth did a 2-year-old have that long of a sentence in the cartoon?

Cindy is played by Taylor Momsen. Yes, this Taylor Momsen:

I don't get it either, but she then finds herself fascinated by the Grinch and his hatred of Christmas at the same time that she was wondering about the hypocrisy of a commercialized Christmas.

And it is when she gets the Grinch's background that we see the message the Director Formerly Known as Richie Cunningham was going for. The Grinch is shown as a baby being "storked" into a tree during a Christmas party, where everyone's fun distracts them from the terrified baby hanging precariously on a branch.

I won't waste time explaining why the stork delivery story makes no sense in practice EVER or questioning what unholy creatures produced the Grinch baby in the first place, as it's been done to death already and there's no additional humor I could add. Besides, the point I'm making is mostly about the partying through a baby's fear thing.

As a kid, he's made fun of for being different and is shamed into a nasty shaving job, embarrassing him in front of his crush. All of this occurs, again, at Christmas, and he decides the utter hypocrisy of the town is enough to give up on his life there.

And thus we see what Ron Howard was going for. Unlike the cartoon/book Grinch, who simply hated the purity of Christmas and was overwhelmed by the spirit of Christmas that lived in the Whos' hearts, movie Grinch was disgusted by the hypocritical nature of the Whos' Christmas, and was not able to see The Light until the Whos did.

That is the message I always take from the movie and why I think this movie resonates with me. Commercialization of Christmas has been pushed to the Nth degree in my lifetime, and for me, the overall message of Christmas can only be found around family, at Mass and in the specials that emphasize that message over stuff like Santa's legend, reindeer and snowmen (which are good in their own right, just not in the same way).

It's so easy to get distracted from the true spirit of Christmas when people are running hog wild in stores mere hours after Thanksgiving dinner, and the Whoville here reflects that. The Grinch here is a lost soul who can't see the true purpose behind the commercial insanity, and Cindy Lou is experiencing the same feelings (without all the green-haired racism).

Unlike the cartoon, where the Grinch is a villain who reforms, here he is a lost individual who society failed, and it takes a cultural shift in order to bring him back into the fray. I really respect how Howard kept the core of the Grinch character intact with a twist to speak to the modern culture.

And this film goes all out with the commercialization. There's a gift exchange, fudge contest, pudding contest (by the way, the guy who tells the Grinch that what he's giving is not pudding is amazing), house lighting contest (which is better in the ABC cut because you see the resolution as well as some antagonistic character development from the mayor) and all kinds of utter madness.

Cindy Lou convinces the Grinch to give Who Christmas a chance by being the Cheer Meister, but the mayor (who was his bully) proceeds to be an asshole and propose to his crush, causing him to give a monologue about the failure of the Whos' Christmas and then... commit an act of terrorism?

Yeah, I like this movie, but I do think that stealing cars and blowing them up in order to commit arson on a pine tree is ridiculously excessive. Same goes for the fake rage he showed when Cindy got into his house. All that said, if you couldn't laugh at the blatant attempts to blindside the crowd, you're kind of a dull individual.

The Whos have backup decorations, though, and the Grinch is upset at the town's confidence through possessions. As such, he goes into the traditional Christmas-stealing story of the book and cartoon. It's executed as well as a live-action movie could, used the traditional "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" song, and even executed a nice Cindy-Grinch dialogue.

It's not without flaws, though, the most notable being the whole 'make the mayor kiss your dog's a**' thing. It's by far the least entertaining scene in the film and really should have been edited out.

Finally, we get to the Whos' revelation that they've been robbed blind, and they are understandably upset. It's not until Cindy's father defends her efforts to bring everyone together and reminds them that no one was hurt that the real point of Christmas comes through and they all triumphantly sing (to the Grinch's dismay).

Jumped the gun for the sake of a gag.
I LOVE this development. In the cartoon, the Whos just come out and start singing. They don't take inventory of the fact that anything is missing, don't make sure they're family is safe. They just walk out and assume that the family is all going to come out the door. I know the message is that they understand the true spirit of Christmas and Total Good defeats Total Evil, but this is a scene that needed to happen if you wanted to make a Grinch movie.

Grinch finally sees the true meaning of Christmas in a nice scene before having a heart attack where his heart "grows three sizes that day." This worked, but it could have been better. The heart growing when he sees Cindy visited him and is in mortal danger would have been WAY more effective.

Nonetheless, he saves the presents and Cindy, and they go back where he gives back the presents.

And once again, we see something the film did right that leaves me scratching my head in the original. In the original, Grinch comes down from Mt. Crumpit, gives all the toys back, and not only do the Whos not seem to register that he broke into their house and stole their crap, but they make him the guest of honor immediately. WTF?

This version does it right. Grinch realizes that he made a mistake and offers to take punishment. The Mayor expects the arrest to be made, but the town is moved by his contrition and forgives him. That little forgiveness scene gives the whole story a more human feel and is a nice touch that caps off the film.

Of course, since it's a rated G film, all things must round out, so Grinch gets the girl (Martha May, his crush, not Cindy Lou) and the Whos celebrate as a town in the Grinch's cave.

This is by no means a perfect special. There are weak points in the writing and gags are occasionally inserted at the cost of a chance to tell a better story. The set isn't as bad as people claim, but it could have been much more imaginative given the source material.

All that said, though, the good FAR outweighs any negatives and it's an excellent Christmas film. I look at it as a Spider-Man 2 kind of movie. Yes, it's goofy and doesn't take itself seriously, but it gets you emotionally invested all the way through and gets the point across that it wanted. That's the definition of a good movie.

I think the reason this movie gets the hatred/disdain it does is nostalgic backlash. The original special is considered such a classic that any attempts to rework the material, no matter how well-executed, will be met with extreme hatred. Similar issues happened with Amazing Spider-Man and Batman Begins, but the difference is that those movies took the series in such a different, more serious direction that they broke the original mold.

This Grinch had the additional issue of staying close to the source material, but with a backstory and modernized message. People insist on deriding it even though nothing it did was really an affront to the source material.

Overall, this film had real humor, nice emotion, great moments and Taylor Momsen's first musical performance. Can't really complain.

This is one of my favorite Christmas specials, and I can't imagine Christmas without this movie and the cartoon special.

I don't consider one outright superior to the other and won't even attempt to compare because their goals were different. Likewise, I don't expect detractors to suddenly love this movie, but hopefully I've given an argument for this movie that at least helps viewers look at this movie in a different light and helps them learn about themselves and what they like in cinema.

Merry Christmas, and I hope reading this at least makes you think about your tastes. If it does, let that be my gift to you. (If not, you now have the gifts of The Pretty Reckless' new single Channel Awesome reviews embedded in here.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Oh Hai, Gail Simone! I thought you were fired

And just like that, Batgirl will continue her journey.

A mere month after Gail Simone's DC-exclusive contract expired, and her subsequent removal from the Batgirl title, Internet-based protesters have caused DC to bring her back.

Part of me just has to laugh at this, as now Simone is entering Grant Morrison/Geoff Johns levels of untouchable. That could be either good or bad, but here's to seeing her plans in Batgirl come to fruition!

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Green Lantern #15 and general thoughts on Ultimate Spider-Man #1-10

Green Lantern has been an incredible read since Hal Jordan and Sinestro were replaced with the awesomeness that is Simon Baz. Unfortunately, things appear to be moving into crossover territory, so although it's not new reader inaccessible, some background is necessary.

Other Green Lanterns are now contacting the Hal/Sinestro ring and the Third Army's expansion throughout the DCU is becoming unwieldy. But the star of this remains Baz, who confronts the owner of the car he was stealing in #0 Month (the twist, by the way, is pretty interesting).

I will say that this was the weakest of Simon's issues. The big revelation is kind of thrown away and I feel like Simon's first encounter with a GLC member should have been with an Earth-based Lantern. Also, without a reference to other books, the book really assumes you know what the rest of the Corps knows, when in reality you know as little as Simon.

Hal and Sinestro's fate after the Black Hand fight is revealed (PLEASE let it stick!) and the First Lantern is getting very close to opening the gateway to the next crossover event.

My big concern is that the Green Lantern books are getting back to that level of complexity where you don't want to get involved with the books because you can't buy all of them. I really hope Baz's stories stay relatively separate because it is a joy to read him.

If you haven't been following the last few issues, this is a terrible one to join in on. If you have, definitely stick around.

Thoughts on Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man

While at the comic store today, I read through the first two trades (#1-10) of Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man and I can honestly say that I really liked it.

Miles Morales came across as a really likable character and his motivation was clear. He receives spider powers and wants to hide them, but then realizes upon Peter Parker's death that he owes it to put his powers to good use.

He confides in a friend and that allows for actual dialogue as he learns about his powers. And when he puts on the suit, he is immediately met with people who want him to go away.

Nick Fury, Spider-Woman, J. Jonah Jameson, etc. all seem to have issues with his existence in the suit, but he's determined to do what is right - even if he has no clue what he's doing.

This is exactly how a Spidey universe should function post-Peter Parker and I hope the moves after Amazing Spider-Man #700 lives up to this.

I'll admit that I'd never followed the Ultimate Universe to that point and really didn't see the point, but this book shows exactly what the universe can do, and I look forward to hearing more about Miles' exploits in the future.

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Death of the Family Part 9: Nightwing #15 and Red Hood & The Outlaws #15

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It's been almost a calendar year since my first comic review on this blog, and once again, Nightwing and Red Hood are leading the charge! My one-year anniversary will involve a defense of The Grinch, so keep an eye out this week. Anyway, let's get to the reviews!

Nightwing #15

I definitely got a lot of enjoyment in this issue, but for some reason I couldn't get into it all the way and I'm not really sure why.

The art in the issue looked good, and there were plenty of moments where I was really interested, but something didn't come together and I cant figure out why.

Joker's first killing in the book was definitely a surprise, and I like how it came during the cold opening. It got me off my guard from the start and I was definitely hooked. But then I wasn't really into the whole Batgirl-Nightwing dialogue that took up a two-page spread. I'm glad that was short.

I will say that there is a dialogue between Dick and Sonja that is just a great read and is the highlight of the book - well, next to the Joker unleashing utter terror on the reader by going all Return of the Joker on Raya, whom he helped escape from prison in the last issue.

Honestly, though, what I think was the disappointment was the thought bubbles during the evacuation of the circus and Dick's search for the toxin in his friend's corpse. Something about it didn't flow all that well, even though both told important parts of the story.

Overall, it's a well-told story and is a great Joker story in its own right. Unlike most of the crossovers, Joker is hitting the character with something other than just a sadistic attack and a supplementary monologue. Dick really has a supporting cast at stake in this one and that makes this book stand out.

I'd say definitely get a look at this one. It's not as good as Batgirl or even Batman & Robin but it's definitely in their class.

Red Hood and the Outlaws #15

This was not as good as I hoped that it would be. Joker supposedly set Jason up to be Robin just so he could kill him (which is still kind of an annoying development) and actually did succeed in killing him.

So why does this first showdown since Under the Hood feel so weak?

I think much of it has to do with the showdown between Joker and Jason being the exact same thing as Joker and Catwoman, only this time Jason fought back a little harder.

The scene where Joker lays out their history together was a lot of fun, but it could have been done with more subtlety - Jason finds all kinds of old mementos as he stumbles across crime scenes between leaving Isabel's and finding Joker - but it felt hurried when the book should have taken its time to develop.

Unfortunately, space was being taken up thanks to Kori and Roy having a few scenes. I may enjoy these two, but they could have had their own story after this crossover. Jason should have gotten these two issues to himself for the most part.

Instead, Scott Lobdell has decided to cross Tim Drake and Jason's Joker clashes together and throw Kori, Roy and the Teen Titans into some horrible side story that is starting to feel like a rescue mission the Recess kids would come up with.

(And no, they don't come up with a plan, but I feel like I can tell where this is heading.)

Also there's a panel where I can't tell if the body on the ground is Tim or a replica of Jason's corpse. If anyone knows what the deal was, please let me know. Yeah, with Kenneth Rocafort on a break this month, the art really suffered as well.

I really wasn't a fan of this issue. It's a shame because I'm really into the idea of this showdown and am invested in what might happen.

Definitely look at it if you want to see where Jason's next character development is going, but with Isabel's awesomeness missing in this and too much focus on the other two characters (first time I've complained about characters getting too equal of time), this is not one of Lobdell's better efforts.

I think H'el on Earth is cutting into his creative time and that's really not helping when such a pivotal story needs to be told.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Death of the Family Part 8: Batgirl #15 and Suicide Squad #15

I can't say for certain, but I'm pretty sure this is the midpoint of my Death of the Family review blogs. There was a lot to get to this week, and now that the men have had their reviews, let's get to the females affected by all this Joker madness.

Batgirl #15

Ok, I'll freely admit I'm a little saddened about reading this one. I'm sure by now that you've all heard that Gail Simone was unceremoniously removed via email from the Batgirl title.

Now, I'll fully admit that I've been on-and-off with Simone's work here. I thought her arcs were starting to follow a pattern, drag on a little too much and I REALLY didn't like when she crossed Batwoman into the book and made Batgirl look like a lesser hero in her own title.

With that said though, with the exception of that one issue, I haven't had any real complaint with the title's storylines. The arcs, while slow, have developed in a way that I really do care about the payoff, and I honestly don't think any other writer could have reinserted Barbara Gordon into the Batgirl role without botching it.

Add in that the title has been selling better in trade form than most every other book, and it really feels nonsensical to make the head writer leave when she clearly has stories in place that could last another year.

Which brings me to this issue. Simone's set up to the end of the Batgirl-Joker crossover payoff, and supposedly her penultimate issue. This one is really good, but it may have been my least enjoyable read of the day.

It hit all the right points: Dealing with the Joker proposal, Batgirl cutting lose and going full bore on the Joker, and a setup that leaves me anxious for next month's issue. But there are weak points.

I still have no idea what Jim Jr. is doing, and now I'm left wondering if he's in some way a redeemable character. I also feel like Joker dragged his cutesy dialogue on a little too long. It just felt weird in the context.

You shall be missed, Gail.
But now the positives. I thought the parallel story with Joker talking to a psychiatrist was well-executed, and led me to wonder about the top half of that corpse near the end of the book. Also, I liked Barbara finally snapping and deciding that she's willing to break the Batman Rule to finish the Joker fight. It's a natural reaction and I look forward to the follow-up in other arcs and... OH WAIT...

Yeah, that was my running thought here. All the positives of this issue, and even the Jim Jr. thing were hurt further by the fact that Simone won't be carrying the follow-up out herself. I'm sad for that because as much as I criticize decision of Simone month to month, she always has a future payoff in mind that has earned her my trust that things will improve.

A new writer won't have that. So grab this issue. Grab next month's. Because in a few months the landscape changes.

Suicide Squad #15

Holy crap, was this better than last month's or what?!

To be fair, last month's issue was total garbage, but this was a night-and-day difference. Mostly, that had to do with the fact that this crossover actually tied into the Joker-Harley dynamic.

For once, I didn't hate the route they took Harley's character by putting her into the vat of chemicals. They gave it a purpose in this story and the psychological war of wills between these two was just fun to watch. In some ways, this showdown felt more emotional than Batgirl's.

I also was a fan of how Joker described how he felt more primal when the nerves of his face were no longer attached. It actually got into his psyche and the panel where his face comes off was a nice touch.

The problem is, there are still a lot of annoying problems with this book. One is that they keep saying that Joker is changed, but I really don't think he is. That is really an issue with the writer's take on the Joker, but it is in the book nonetheless.

Next is Amanda Waller. She apparently put cameras in Harley's eyes to see when she inevitably went back to Joker so she could... Observe and not report? Why does she need to see what Joker is capable of and not want to catch him. Waller is really pissing me off in this book.

Lastly is the concept of possible previous Harleys. Given the 5-year nature of this DC Universe, that doesn't make a lick of sense, so unless he's just saying patently false crap or had a random team of Harley henchwomen in one of his plans, then we've come up with yet ANOTHER time paradox in the DCU.

Ok, writing this I see that this book is nowhere near Batgirl's level. This is a good buy if you like the crossover, and it does beat the living hell out of Catwoman's entry into DOTF, but this is kind of weak.

I honestly have no clue why this title exists, and if you don't buy this issue, nothing shown in the last two months has made me any more receptive to this title's existence.

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Death of the Family Part 7: Batman #15 and Batman & Robin #15

I've got a lot of comic reviewing to do, and all of it this week has to do with Death of the Family.

Well, let's get the big guns out of the way first.

Batman #15

Scott Snyder hits the mark yet again in this issue and it really pinpoints why the Joker is such a threat.

I think it was a bit of a misnomer to call this the most insane Joker yet. Joker isn't really going any more insane than he has in other major storylines. What's happening in this Snyder arc is that Joker is laying more of his cards on the table than he usually does.

He's trying to restore Batman to the glory of their original battles, and to do so, he's calling back many of their old encounters and trying to remove the walls of defense he's put up vis-a-vis the Bat-family members. It's all of these things hitting at once that makes him look more insane, but at the core, this is the Joker we've come to respect/fear.

I only really have one complaint in this issue. Yes, I understand that Bruce is supposed to be in denial about the fact that Joker may, in fact, know everything; but given the fact that he's been proven wrong extremely recently with the Court of Owls, shouldn't he be questioning more about his own detective work? The two stories do not seem to be building off each other properly, unless the point is that Batman is a brash, pigheaded moron.

The detective work in this book is at least solid, and I have to say that I am loving the buildup to this final showdown. Most importantly, though, I love the backup story.

Now while I may love the greatness that has been the main story, seeing the my favorite Batman rogue, the Riddler, used as well as he was in this really makes me excited for when I'll FINALLY get to see a Riddler arc.

The art from both Greg Capullo in the main story and Jock in the backup are strong, and I really can't complain much. There is so much subtlety (one panel in particular has drawn the criticism of other reviewers because it was too subtle) that it really requires a slow-down in reading to appreciate the work that went into it.

This is especially true with Joker's face, which causes me to cringe every time someone punches it because of how bizarrely it moves around. Truly a grotesque scene.

Overall, I think it's safe to say everyone who's a Batman fan needs to give this a look.

Batman & Robin #15

I'll say this, as an issue as a whole, I'd actually say this book outdoes Batman #15. (I know. Shocking!) That said, the previous mini-arc rears its ugly head and really hurts my enjoyment.

Let me get to that criticism first. In the lead-in story, Batman and Robin fought a zombie invasion that was tied (in a completely nonsensical fashion) to the Joker. In this story, the plan is explained, but it still just feels random.

Joker isn't a character who just does things to do them (even if he claims so). He's just as much a planner as Batman; he just aims for utter chaos and getting some point across to Batman. I don't feel like his scheme had any connection to the hoard of fear-driven cannibals. (Never thought I'd write anything resembling this past paragraph.)

Anyway, once you get past that point of idiocy, the book is actually quite enthralling. Robin goes out to find Joker and ends up in Mr. J's House of Horrors. He taunts Robin with an actual robin and bat in an utterly unsettling scene. This is made even more unsettling by the way Joker has contorted his face.

If the cannibals/zombies were practice for Patrick Gleason to be ready for Joker's face, then I will gladly take those last couple of stupid arcs. This was gruesome, terrifying, unsettling, disturbed, and I enjoyed every page of it.

The last panels in particular really get into the heart of a Batman-Robin relationship and lead to an interesting situation for Damian. I don't expect him to fail, but I want to know what he's up against and how he's getting out of it. (Also, side note, but Titus the dog is quickly becoming a favorite for this book.)

Had literally ANY other arc led into this, I would have said this was about a perfect book, but it does lose points. Not enough, though, that it shouldn't be purchased. Damian vs. Joker is a good match-up and one that I hope gets another play in the future.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Comic Book Reviews: Amazing Spider-Man #699 and thoughts on World's Finest #6-7

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The final arc of Amazing Spider-Man took a big risk at its beginning by (spoilers) switching out Peter's consciousness with Doc Ock's. This issue takes another by focusing more on Peter in Ock's body and not on Ock in Peter's body at all.

And it worked, actually. Peter's thoughts are the bigger concern and so I was glad that he got the focus and the story could develop.

I think the only real complaint in the storytelling Peter gives as he searches through Ock's consciousness is that we all had to bear witness to Ock banging Aunt May. Peter's reaction is hilarious, but the image in readers' heads must be horrifying.

Anyway, Peter unlocks the memory as to how the switch was made and uses Ock's resources before it is too late. There's an interesting dialogue with The Lizard, and I hope the next series dives into that more.

Also interesting is the thought of both Peter's and Ock's consciousnesses melding with each other. It could be a compelling storyline later on, should both survive.

The art here is serviceable, though it is still horrible to look at Ock's degenerated body. It's just a really excessive, gruesome image.

I doubt the changes that will be made after next issue are permanent, but I definitely want to see how this ends. I genuinely hope that after providing Peter with a montage of pain and misery for 700 issues, he can finally end in a happy place.

Some quick thoughts

Briefly, I do want to talk about Huntress' crossover with Robin in World's Finest #6-7.

In case you hadn't heard, New 52 Huntress is actually Helena Wayne, Batman's daughter and Robin on Earth-2. The main Earth's Robin is Damian Wayne, Batman's son.

As such, the fights and dialogue are really interesting, and I loved how Damian was written here. He really has come into his own as Robin and I hope this dynamic stays in place for a while.

Helena is more relaxed, most likely due to her mother's personality coming from Catwoman instead of Talia al'Ghul. Helena doesn't respect Damian's more extreme behavior and that leads to trouble between the two.

Overall, though, their mutual respect is seen by the end and the story is really fun. I wasn't big on the Power Girl stuff, though it is interesting to see how Kara's development in Supergirl will lead her to be different than Earth-2's Kara in this book.

Not really worth buying because Kara's storyline is joined in the middle and that half of the book is hard to follow, but definitely read over the Damian-Helena storyline in the store. It's the kind of fun I'd hope for from that type of crossover.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Top 5 "Fun, but Forgotten" Christmas Specials

Now that Thanksgiving has gone by and the Catholic season of Advent now in full force, I can finally be comfortable in talking about the Christmas season.

For those who don't celebrate Christmas, don't worry. This isn't about the holiday. It's about a topic that everyone regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof can talk about pretty easily: Christmas TV specials.

These suckers own network time everywhere for about a month, and anyone who claims they never run into them are... Amish. Or lack the means to own a TV/go near electronics stores/etc.

Everyone has their personal favorites that have gained some level of legendary status. My personal favorites include The Polar Express, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Year Without a Santa Claus, and the first two legs of the Santa Clause trilogy. (I watch the third out of a feeling of obligation.)

The Rankin-Bass universe rules the roost for 25 days on ABC (formerly Fox) Family, and Disney as well as Nickelodeon have a slew of TV show-based holiday specials. Those range from beautiful and near-perfect (Hey Arnold! Arnold's Christmas and Rugrats: The Santa Experience) to freakishly/awesomely disturbing (Invader Zim's Christmas Special).

But while so many all-time greats are considered must-watch, I'd argue that there are another level of specials/movies that should be must-see but are generally forgotten or missed.

And there are reasons for that. Some were made-for-TV films that no one cared to watch and couldn't gain a true following. Some were based on material that isn't as mainstream as Rudolph or Frosty. And some were just insane to the point that people refuse to watch them despite their entertainment value and still-present charm.

As such I am listing my Top 5 Fun, but Forgotten Christmas Specials/Movies.

To be clear, being on this list doesn't make a special good or bad. (Read my explanations to know if they are or not.) These are just specials that deserve viewership and yet for some reason don't gain traction.

Also, these aren't "hipster answers" either. All these specials usually air. I just usually never hear of people knowing of them (or in some cases liking them).

So let's begin!

Honorable Mention: Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

I felt this was obligatory because it was requested by a fellow viewer of this thing. This is a special that airs no fewer than 10 times on Cartoon Network (among other channels) and yet it somehow still isn't in the public eye.

The special is based on the terrifyingly disturbing song of the same name. The premise is exactly what it says.

However, the difference between the evil song and this is that this special KNOWS it's going to look stupid and not only has fun with itself, but adds some nice dimensions to make it worthwhile.

What I really like is how the corporate transformation of Christmas is seen as a negative, but it's not outright demonized. The main CEO isn't the one who hates Christmas (the main character's sister and her lawyer are for that); in fact, he loves Santa and legitimately thinks he's giving back to his community. Nice change of pace.

The spin-off songs are as stupid as the main ones, and the thoughts of Santa having universal North Pole health care and/or Santa being sued for homicide are bouts of insanity that actually come across as kind of funny.

Everyone in this special is fun to watch and it's beautifully drawn. It's not truly being forgotten since it's EVERYWHERE, but deserves more credit than it gets for making a dumb premise entertaining.

Frosty Returns (1992)

Again, hard to make a point on a special that is on network TV twice a year (including tonight!), but no one really sticks around for this one it seems like.

And I'd be lying if I didn't know why: This thing is a BLATANT push for environmentalism. The whole story centers around a kid meeting Frosty and then the two have to team up with their nerdy friend to stop a villain from selling what basically amounts to "Global Warming in a Can."

Yeah, it's not subtle in any way. Heck, Ferngully had a more subtle environmental message than this. Seriously, "Don't pollute or you'll kill Frosty!" Wow.

So why is it getting mentioned? Well, to be honest, it's still a lot of fun. There are some actually funny moments and John Goodman does a nice job as Frosty. And the musical song breaks are much better (in my view) than the classic Frosty songs.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm not a big fan of the original Frosty special. It has one decent emotional moment and the rest of it is kind of lackluster. And maybe I'm more of a fan because Frosty Returns uses animators from the old "Peanuts" specials and the musicians who did the score for "Rugrats," but in any case, I look forward to this environmental thumping each year.

Regardless of if you believe in Global Warming, this is worth checking out. It has really no connection to Christmas, so it's the closest thing to a secular Christmas special you'll ever see, so I say everyone should see it.

5: Hey Arnold! Arnold's Christmas

This will only be touched on briefly, but this may be one of the five or 10 best holiday specials ever and it only airs once in a random Nicktoons Network timeslot AT BEST.

It's going to keep moving up over the years. The only reason it hasn't yet is because there's still a large base of people who watched Hey Arnold! and know of this special.

If you want a special that has humor and yet is mostly just beautiful emotion, this is the special.

Yes, the scene where Helga finds out about Arnold's dilemma is a little forced, but it's a Christmas special! Of course that's going to happen.

Ultimately, it's a story about a man who made a massive sacrifice for his daughter and the love of his American pseudo-family helping to bring them together. It's one of the few specials where I can't get through it without getting emotional. Heck, typing about it is bringing back emotion.

I need to get through this blog, though, so let's move on. (And on a final note, FIND THIS AND WATCH IT!)

4: The Story of Santa Claus

CBS shows this 1996... thing... like once every two years, and as weird as it is, it's a nice special that I make a point of seeing if and when it's on.

Santa going bankrupt: weird idea; elves being able to grant wishes: weird idea; Cosmic energy locking in a wish and forcing elves to work at the cost of their magic (and, I think, existence): bizarre idea. And yet all of it comes together in a way that doesn't make me hate it.

It's a strange special that introduces the idea that not all the elves were initially on board with Santa's somewhat nutso-crusade, but that they eventually come around to it.

I'm still not sure how a group of elves with the power to grant wishes and immortality (seriously, they make Santa and his wife immortal) couldn't just conjure toys out of nowhere, but again, that's what makes this fun to watch.

It's so weird to see the ideas that came into play here, and yet the sincerity of it and the excellent voice acting actually sucks you into the story.

It's a good experience watching it, and an even better "Wait, did that just actually happen?" reaction about 10 minutes after viewing. If you can find it, check it out.

3: Three Days

This movie came out in 2001 for then-Fox Family and as most TV movies are, it was quickly thrown down the card of importance. Which is a shame because of the few reviews I could find, people agree with me that it's really well-done.

Many people compare its plot to an altered version of "It's a Wonderful Life,'' and I see the comparisons, but there are stark differences. Basically, an out-of-touch husband is really focused on business, and upon upsetting his wife, she leaves the apartment and is hit by a car.

This leads to an angel named Lionel coming in and giving him the last three days back to him, and if he can prove his devotion and love, then she won't die.

The ticking clock element definitely adds suspense, but it's downplayed. Pretty much anyone with a sense of story can probably guess how he has to prove his love, but the question as to whether there will be a death or not really does feel ambiguous until the final moments.

Kristin Davis absolutely kills in the role of the wife, and I really loved the interaction between everyone as more layers come into play. And I don't think knowing the story is that bad here. Everyone can pretty much guess how Miracle on 34th Street is going to end, but that doesn't mean the characters don't take you for a ride.

I will say that the movie probably would have lived up to its full potential with a tragic ending, as the comedic ending is where a lot of cliched dialogue comes into play. That said, it's a Christmas film and you really have to do it this way if you don't want to suck. (Looking at you, Christmas Shoes, and your evil, evil messages.)

This will probably be on once this year at best, so when ABC Family puts it in a slot, find a way to watch it.

2. Olive, the Other Reindeer

I originally had this at No. 1, but moved it down for reasons you'll see. This special, though, is beautiful.

Yes, the premise is stupid, but at least in the TV special it makes more sense than the book it's based off of. Basically, Olive wants to be a good dog for her owner, and thinks that she should try to become Blitzen's replacement when he's injured in order to prove her merit.

What I love about this is that in this special, Santa is pretty much a given. People go to the North Pole and report on the warm-up runs for the reindeer. This actually takes a lot of confusion out of the special, such as "If the adults don't believe in Santa, then how do they explain the toys they DIDN'T buy under the tree?" That always irked me.

Anyway, the characters are all really compelling and the mailman being the villain is actually kind of a funny development (especially when you hear his motivations).

Overall, this is a must-see special and I really hope this goes down as an all-time classic one day.

1. Year Without a Santa Claus

I didn't even consider this for the list until I heard that no one in my brother's school had heard of it.

How is that possible? This is one of Rankin-Bass' legendary ones. I thought everyone knew this special, and the fact that a new generation is missing out on it upsets me.

The iconic Heat and Snow Miser Brothers and the elves, Jingle and Jangle, must never be forgotten. Plus, the South Town, U.S.A. characters are the most likable southerners I've ever seen in Christmas specials.

There are so many great emotional moments in this special that you probably come close to crying multiple times when you're younger. Heck, even as an adult it triggers the feelings to a degree.

And the Miser Brother songs. OH, the Miser Brother songs. These are so iconic that "Batman and Robin" used them in what was one of the most confusing (and yet somehow entertaining) 30-second bits of the movie. (Seriously, it's the only time I really enjoyed its stupidity.)

And Heat Miser's:

This special is amazing and needs to live forever. I firmly expect you to find this show's airdate on ABC Family and view it.

Well, that's it for "Fun, but Forgotten," but I still have one more Christmas special to talk about. It's one that many reviewers I watch (specifically those on TGWTG) either hate or call a "guilty pleasure," implying it should be acknowledged as weak.

I intend to prove that it is, in fact, a good film and deserving of its love. This month, I defend the live-action "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Death of the Family Part 6: Detective Comics #15

Well, look at Detective Comics! It gets a blog all to itself!

Ok, so I was going to review Amazing Spider-Man #699 today as well, but it's not available in the store closest to me, so I have to wait until tomorrow when I can go to another store.

It's ok, though, because we have DC's flagship brand in the middle of an exciting arc, all while simultaneously serving as a Death of the Family tie-in. So let's talk about it!

Most who have been reading this blog know that before John Layman started writing this book, it was pretty inconsistent. Under Tony S. Daniel, the arcs went from solid, to promising but unsatisfying, to lackluster and incredibly incoherent.

Layman has changed all that, and although the Penguin has been getting A LOT of play lately, this is actually a really compelling piece. Penguin has just ordered his right-hand man, Ogilvy, to bury Poison Ivy alive; however, that comes at the same time that Joker needs Penguin for something he's planning.

This leads to Penguin leaving the empire to Ogilvy temporarily, and it would seem that Ogilvy, now calling himself Emperor Penguin, is looking to use this chance to seize control.

Meanwhile, Batman and Clayface are fighting, as Clayface explains that he's now married to Ivy. This raises a red flag in Batman's head, and he immediately gets away and goes to work trying to figure out whether this marriage is real and how he should handle the situation.

This book has actual logic, detective work and the Joker angle is subtle. It's a tie-in, but it's showing more of a ripple effect that Joker is having - and not just forcing the Joker into any and all situations.

I was very impressed with what I saw, and the back-up story does a nice job of showing how Clayface and Ivy came into their situation, as well as teasing the next appearance of either character in order to get a follow-up.

The art is really strong and the panels were easy to follow. My only issue is that the die-cast cover is exactly the same as the one Batman #13 had. It felt kind of redundant and I kind of wish it had been Cobblepot's face (or the teased cover above). Oh well.

All in all, it was a really good issue and if you haven't been following Layman's work on Detective, now is definitely a good time.

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