Those Who Can't, Blog

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Location: Newark, Delaware, United States

I'm just like you, only worse.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Ultimates is a great comic book. It's just damn good reading.

I've been a fan of Marvel's Ultimate line of comics since its inception. It began with a little title called Ultimate Spider-Man by the popular writer Brian Michael Bendis. It was well written, beautifully drawn, and extremely entertaining. The idea of the Ultimate line was to take old, established characters and throw away their continuity, allowing writers to start their stories over from scratch. So in Ultimate Spider-Man, we have a young high-school aged Peter Parker trying to learn how to be a hero for the first time. Since the line began, we've been introduced to Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four, and what should be called Ultimate Avengers but has been renamed The Ultimates.

In traditional Marvel continuity, the Avengers is a super-hero group consisting of some of Marvel's heavy hitters, including Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor (I'm speaking traditionally, folks, there's a NEW Avengers running around out there with a different line-up). The Ultimates takes these characters and others and spins them in an entirely new and fascinating way. First off, the Ultimates is not just you average, self-managed team of superheroes. They are part of S.H.E.I.L.D., a government intelligence agency, and are under the command of General Nick Fury. The government has been trying to develop a "super-soldiers" program with little success. Back in World War II, there was a similar program, and there was only one success... Captain America. Through an accident, Cap was frozen in a block of ice, surviving in a state of suspended animation until modern times. He was found and thawed out, becoming part of the modern super-soldier initiative. Others in the program include Iron Man, genius billionaire industrialist Tony Stark in super armor of his own design; Thor, who may be a Norse thunder god or just a nut-ball with stolen hardware; Black Widow, ex soviet super-spy; Hawkeye, military crackshot who likes bows and arrows better than anything else; Giant-Man (or Ant-Man, if he feels like being small), scientist Hank Pym who is working on the super-soldier program and, unfortunately, cracks under the pressure; and Janet Pym, Hank's wife, also a scientest and a mutant known as the Wasp. Also working on the project is one Robert Bruce Banner, who ends up testing an unperfected serum on himself, which transforms him into a nightmarish, murderous Hulk.

In volume one, which ran for thirteen issues, The Ultimates have to take down one of their own. The Hulk goes on a rampage through New York, and it takes the full power of the rest of the group to stop him. This is their first mission, and through this initial success they gain the love of the public. Of course, if the public were to find out the Hulk is actually a scientist on the Ultimate's payroll, public perception would be quite different, so S.H.E.I.L.D. covers it up.

Later in volume one, we learn that aliens have infiltrated humanity. They have been here for many years, and Nick Fury and S.H.E.I.L.D. have known about it for quite some time. Fury decides the time has come to take them down, and he sends the Ultimates. The team manages to defeat the invaders, but is only able to do so with the assistance of their first opponent, the Hulk.

The plot thickens as volume two begins. We learn there is a traitor amongst the group as someone leaks the secret of the Hulk's identity to the press. Immediate suspicion falls on Thor, who has left the group for political reasons. Dr. Banner is put on trial for the murders he commited during his initial rampage as the Hulk, and he's condemned to death. Thor denies being the traitor, but the group discovers he may not be everything he claims. A European scientist says that Thor is his brother. He claims Thor was a nurse, and later a mental patient, who has stolen equiptment (a belt and a hammer) that give him his powers. His recent actions seem to be getting reckless and dangerous, and The Ultimates are again sent to take down one of their own.

The Hulk and Thor are out of the picture, and later even Captain America is discredited and taken into custody. By issue nine, with the most powerful of the Ultimates out of the way, the true traitor is reveiled and an attack on America the like of which has never been seen is begun.

This is true dramatic, almost cinematic, entertainment from writer Mark Millar. Long gone are the days of the "funny book" when comics were considered juvinile trash. These comics aren't for kids (teens would dig 'em, sure, but the 8-12 crowd, I don't think so). The heroes are flawed, and topical moral questions are raised. For example, if we had actual superheroes employed by the government, should they be used to solve domestic problems only, or should they be sent to deal with America's enemies? Fury sends the heroes to deal with enemies in the middle-east (Iraq is even mentioned). Thor leaves due to these actions. The government, personified by Nick Fury, covers up things they don't want citizens to know, spys on everyone, and generally tries to police and control the world. Is this America's rightful role in the world as its last and greatest superpower, or have we gone too far? This book raises a lot of questions and makes you think, but it manages to be wildly entertaining as it does so.

The Ultimates is vastly different from The Avengers, the comic on which it is based. Fans of the original might not like this take. Being more of a DC man myself, I wasn't very interested in Marvel characters, so this shake-up doesn't bother me (unlike the horrifying All-Star Batman and Robin comic DC is publishing right now). I started picking up this book because I was impressed with the rest of the Ultimate line, and I am tremendously glad I did. I don't think you could ask for a better written and drawn book than this. Check out the Ultimates... you can thank me later.

Until later,

Thursday, December 15, 2005

A Game of Thrones. What a great book!

Part of the purpose of this blog is to share my opinions of things. I'm sure most of the reviews will be positive because I generally don't waste time with things I don't like. That said, I'm not exactly sure I can write good reviews, so bare with me as I get used to doing this sort of thing. I can't spell very well either, although I kill at grammar, so until this thing gets a spell-checker expect some mistakes. Yes, I know I could write this in Word, spell-check it, then paste it here, but I don't feel like it. So there. Deal.

In A Game of Thrones, part one of George R.R. Martin's epic, A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin creates a tale very different from the typical sword & sorcery fantasy. Normally, you have a young hero, usually inexperienced, who is destined to become some great hero, perhaps becoming a might wizard, warrior, or leader (or all three *ahem* Rand al'Thor *ahem*). Said hero must prepare himself to face some ultimate evil entity, usually known as the Dark Lord or some such nonsence. Hero goes through many trials, and ten or twelve books later fights the Dark Lord.

In A Game of Thrones, there is no young hero or Dark Lord. There are only people, all with varying degrees of nobility, selfishness, pettiness, kindness, greed, heroism... just like you and me! No one is entirely without fault, and no one... well, almost no one... is entirely evil.

The more noble of the bunch are the folk of House Stark. Lord Eddard Stark rules at Winterfell, in the north of the Seven Kingdoms. He resides with his lady wife, Catelyn; their sons Rob, Bran, and Rikkon; and their daughters Sansa and Arya. Jon Snow, Eddard's bastard son, also lives with them, much to the dismay of Catelyn. Eddard truly tries to do the right thing, even when it means putting himself in danger. He is friends with Robert Baratheon, King of the Seven Kingdoms, and eventually becomes the King's Hand, or right-hand man.

The more villainous characters are the people of House Lannister. Cersei Lannister is wife to Robert and Queen of the realm. Her brother Jaime is a knight of the kingsguard, and her brother Tyrion is a short dwarfish man disfigured since birth. Tyrion is a sympathetic character and not too evil, but Cersei and Jaime are schemeing murders obsessed with power. They are also incestuous lovers. They plan to off the King so young Joffrey, Robert's heir, can take the throne. Since Joff is only 13, Cersei and her father Lord Tywin will essentially rule the realm.

The plot thickens as Eddard becomes the King's Hand and investigates the mysteries surrounding the Lannisters and their plans to acheive greater power. Terrible events ensue. People get hurt. Heroes die or are crippled. This is not typical fantasy: the good guys do not always survive, and sometimes the bad guys win. You are drawn in and actually root for certain characters on each side (of course, you never root for Cersei... she's the Queen Bitch). No one is pure as snow, and only a few characters are entirely evil. If you're like me, you will root most for Jon Snow, Stark's bastard; young Dany, an exiled princess of the former king; and dwarfish Tyrion, the littlest Lannister.

A Game of Thrones is just that: a political struggle with several factions trying to take the Throne. It is fantasy, but it is not. Wizards are not around throwing spells, there are no "monsters" to be fought (yet). There is a supernatural threat to the north, powerful mysterious beings called the Others, but they do not really come into play in this book. This story is about betrayal, court politics, lords and ladies, knights in shining armor (which doesn't make them heroes, necessarily), and ultimately, war. There's lots of blood, chopped-off heads, rape, and other high jinks. It's extremely tight and well written, too. Martin keeps the story moving; each chapter furthers the story with minimal boring discriptive text, unlike a certain author with the initials R.J.

This book is utterly gripping. You really don't want to put it down, and the last two chapters end with amazing turns of events that will leave you salivating for the next book in the series. Martin takes fantasy to a new level, making it captivatingly real and wonderfully fantastic at the same time. Say goodbye to the Dark Lord and hello to Cercei Lannister... Sauron, you've met your match.

Til next time,

Who wouldn't like a movie about a giant gorilla? Especially one with dinosaurs and giant bugs, too. King King is big cinema. It's the kind of big, long, exciting, and emotionally charged epic we've come to expect from Peter Jackson. I saw it last night, and let me tell you, it didn't feel like I was in the theater for three hours. Well, okay, it did, but I didn't mind a moment of it.

When I was a kid, I really was interested in King Kong. I saw the 1976 remake, which wasn't all that true to the original, but I didn't know anything about the original. I was six. I got a big, oversized comicbook that told the original story (I remember it cost $1.00!! I wonder if my mom bulked at paying a buck for a funny book). I think I was a little disappointed that it was different from the movie I'd seen. I don't know how a six year old could be disappointed by a comic that has dinosaurs, but there you have it. I also had a hardcover book that told the cinematic history of King Kong. I think I remember Queen Kong, Son of Kong, and several others. See, even back then, movies had bad sequels.

Over the years, I admit I had entirely forgotten my former interest in King Kong. When I heard that Peter Jackson, who had made my very favorite movies ever (and, no, I'm not talking about The Frighteners or Dead Alive) was re-making Kong, the idea left me cold. After all, I wanted him to do The Hobbit. I really had no interest in the picture until I saw a trailer. Dinosaurs! Giant bugs! A hugemungus gorilla roaring and beating his chest! The magic was back. And when I heard the running time was to be three hours, I knew Peter Jackson was back in form.

Of course, for all its action and chest-beating, Kong, both movie and beast, has a gentle heart. Like the Rings trilogy before it, it is emotionally powererful, and we become invested in the characters. We laugh and cry along with them, and ultimately, that's what makes this Kong worth watching. It is roughly and hour into the movie before we see the big guy, but the dramatic build-up is needed to get us involved in the lives of the characters. We care about actress Ann Darrow as she wonders where her next meal is coming from, and we are amused by the schemeing of movie producer Carl Denham. We root for him (at least at the outset) even though he's a tad, shall we say, shadey. When they and the rest of the crew head off to Skull Island to film their movie, the tension mounts. We know what's about to happen to them, and we care. That's what makes good cinema. Action and special effects are all well and good, but if we don't care, it ain't worth breaking that 10-spot.

Speaking of special effects, all in all they are very good, although a few shots looked fake. I'm not one to complain about CGI effects though. People who bitch and moan about how fake everything looks in movies should remember that twenty years ago there were models with strings and people in monkey suits running around on the silver screen. We had that disjointed, jerkey stop motion photography. I love the stuff, but man, talk about fake. So shut the hell up and enjoy the movie, warts and all.

My only minor complaint about Kong is that again Jackson is slightly excessive. The action scenes go on a bit too long, as do the dreamy, emotional bits. By a slight cut here and there, Jackson could have removed about 20 minutes of the film and made it a little tighter. But that's just a little thing. Kong is magic at the movies, and you deserve to see it. Unless of course, you are one of those weirdoes who doesn't enjoy dinosaurs, big-ass bugs, and huge honkin' apes.

Next up, my promised review of A Game of Thrones.

Until then, I remain,

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I've often wondered what motivates people to write a web log, or any kind of log for that matter. Is it a need to express one's opinion on lofty or trivial matters, or is it rather the impulse to communicate one's deep or shallow thoughts to the world at large? Whatever the case, writing is about the expression of ideas, and unfortunately most ideas, like most opinons, are not really worth the time it takes to record them. So what is the worth of most blogs? Unfortunately, next to nothing.

This blog is no different. Yes, I have joined the ranks of the proud egomaniacs who think their pointless ramblings should be displayed on the web and inflicted on the world at large. Why? Because I'm no different than you or your brother or your grandmother or your crazy cousin Pancho who thinks what they have to say really matters. If it really mattered, we'd be published in a respectable magazine like Time or Newsweek or Playboy or People. Unfortunately, we have so little of worth to say we need to publish in a free forum that no one cares about and fewer people actually read. We can't do what we really want to do, so we blog. I've just used blog as a verb. See, I'm as ridiculous as you.

I don't talk much, and that's because I know people in general don't give three shakes of a rat's tale about what I have to say. My brain works a little differently than most. I care very little about sports or politics or how to fix cars or build birdcages or cook turkeys. I'd rather think about music or comic books or that great fantasy novel I just read. Or sex. Sex always works. But then again, that doesn't prove my point that my brain is different, because everyone thinks about sex ALL THE TIME. Don't lie. You know you do.

Anyway, this blog will serve a few purposes. First and foremost, it will allow me to discuss anything I care about at the moment. I may review a movie, a book, or a comic. I might tell you about a concert I saw or a performance my band just played. I might give you a little sample of my fiction, or an exerpt from my published work, The Talisman of Faerie. Or I might ramble on about the miserable state of the world or why stupid people are happier.

I just finished re-reading George RR Martin's A Game of Thrones, and in my next post I'll talk further on that. What a masterpiece! I'll try not to gush as I write my review, but no promises.

Until next time,