Thursday, April 26, 2012

C2E2 Notes


Marvel spot shot. 

Stormtrooper action at the CBR BAR afterwards was predictable. 

DC display of the new Parasite for Superman to face at a panel discussion. Sweet swag  for good questions was present. Candy from strangers was taken. True Love in the Room.

Entranceway of the Dorked 

I've never met these people, nor should I. 

Marvel Panel, too much talent at one dais. Breaking into comics the Marvel Way. Always a classic for surly Q &A's.  Quesada quoted who he believed to be Mark Waid who said that there are no two ways to break into comics that are the same.  It takes you making comics of your own and linking into their social network.  How you go about that is wholly unique, because you are a creator collaborating for an alternate universe, a cathartic dimension of complex characters. 

The Dungeon Masters

All gamemasters are demiurges. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Spoiler Reviews of Comics released April 25th, 2012

Ultimate Comics Ultimates 9:  10/10

The Marvel Universe's more movie-like parallel dimension known as the Ultimate Universe (designate 1610) has recently undergone radical shifts. Since most mutants were put in special holding camps and poor Spider Man died, you'd think the world of heroes would get a breather. Instead, things just seem to get progressively more desperate and fast paced.  First, it turns out that in Earth 1610 the American government created mutants, and Wolverine was patient zero. When a Southeast Asian republic does some superhuman tinkering of their own, superhumans known as the People arise. Housed in the Eternal City of Tian, a concept arising from Warren Ellis' run on Astonishing X-Men, these peaceable beings are ruled by Zorn and Xorn, the equivalent of humanoid black hole and sun, respectively. Meanwhile, the return of a severely twisted Reed Richards hearkens the destruction of ALL ASGARDIAN GODS BUT THOR, the creation of The City and the Children of Tomorrow.  With Captain America quitting, Iron Man's brain cancer getting worse, and Thor de-powered, things for the Ultimates do not look their best, especially since the evil Reed Richards has a thousand years of evolution on his side. The President of the United States sends The Hulk into The City to destroy it, then follows that up with every nuclear weapon in the country's arsenal.  To be fair, The City HAD absorbed most of Europe.  Issue 9 of Ultimate Comics Ultimates gives us a confrontation between the Children and the People, as well as Reed Richard's counterstrike.   Jonathan Hickman's genius storytelling and Esad Ribic's beautiful artwork are complimented by some of the industry's very best color work, courtesy of Dean White.

Let's review: Reed Richards has now killed all Asgardian gods AND America.

FF 17: 9.5/10

In recent issues of Fantastic Four, and the captivating spin-off, FF, we've seen a storyline that burned slow and then white hot.  In a last stand protecting a gate from the hordes of the Negative Zone, Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, was killed.  Using um, special worms, the villain Annihilus resurrected him and set him to work as a gladiator slave.  He earned the respect of the Inhuman Light Brigade and saved the planet from a Kree invasion upon his return, thanks to his brand new cosmic control rod stolen from Annihilus. Now, the day is saved. With this issue of FF, we find that he's moved in with his replacement on the Fantastic Four, none other than Peter Parker, Spider Man.  This issue is a welcome comedic relief from the vast, extensive, and compelling storylines that have been a mainstay in FF almost since the beginning of the series, originally feeling like a tangential overflow for Hickman's ideas.  The idea of Peter Parker and Johnny Storm being roommates is the first truly good thing to come about as a direct result of retconning Peter's marriage to Mary Jane out of existence.  She makes an appearance this issue, actually.  As usual, Jonathan Hickman's script is a masterpiece with each page, and Nick Dragotta's powers with a pencil give perfect expression to this comic.  Just... be careful with the last page. It'll get you.
It's official. Peter Parker getting Inhuman tongue action is a win.

Green Lantern: New Guardians 8: 8.5/10

This issue of New Guardians seems to be a meeting point for all of DC's Lantern book plotlines.  Since Sinestro and Hal Jordan recently wiped out the Yellow Lanterns in Green Lantern, and it seems as if the Guardians of the Universe are burning emotionless evil schemes at both ends by promoting Guy Gardener in Green Lantern Corps, GL:NG seems to be the side-quest that could become a forerunner for grander things.  This issue splits between Yellow Corpsman Arkillo's discovery of Sinestro's betrayal and the other Lantern's various allegiances and drives as they prepare to fight the Orange Lantern Larfleeze for a cosmic angel that stomped them all last issue.  The series shows great promise, but occasionally, with so many balls in the air, the reader might lose their way.  Fortunately, if you're bothering to read this series in the first place, you're either a Kyle Rayner fan or a big Lantern series buff already.  In either of those cases, this series will serve you well.  Tony Bedard and Tyler Kirkham make an excellent team, as ever.

Justice League Dark 8: 8/10 &  I, Vampire 8:  9/10

Personally, I felt that the starting point with Justice League Dark seemed like it would be pretty solid, in the long run.  The mystic pastiche approach of the team was offbeat and quirky, and their missions would be all the dark side of DC that can't be approached by standard heroes like the Justice League, or even the big screen ones like Stormwatch.  With the recent crossover with the less compelling (but beautifully drawn) I, Vampire, the primordial vampire Cain arises to wrest the mantle of Grand Vampire King and lay waste to humanity, starting with Gotham.  The issue falls somewhat flat, however. The side story of Shade the Changing Man potentially hints at a peek at the Doctor's Dreamtime?  It will be interesting when Justice League Dark gets back on its own track.  Peter Milligan's script and Daniel Sampere's art are still sharp, but overall the story feels less compelling and more scattered than I would have liked.  I, Vampire, concluding the story with a resurrection, feels more comfortable under Joshua Wade Fialkov's writing, and of course Andrea Sorentino's beautiful art. 

Superman 8: 7.5/10

We'll conclude these reviews with a bit of a clunker.  After DC fused with Wildstorm, villains and heroes from the Wildstorm stable emerged in the new universe, many centered around the new (to DC) race of evil aliens known as the Daemonites.  Helspont, a Daemonite villain from the old WildC.A.Ts days, fell out of a prison on Stormwatch's space station after a recent explosion.  Superman is drawn to him, and he alternates, for nearly two full issues, between talking the Man of Steel to death or crushing him under a rock.  Even the alternate dream sequence felt like a less-weird Morrison venture.  I get what it's going for, but it doesn't work for me.  The new DC Universe is still gathering steam, in some places, and this Superman title has been one of those.  Dan Jurgen's artwork seems to get stiffer by the issue, and Keith Giffen's script calls for a lot of standing around and talking.  Sure, Helspont is attempting to lure Kal to the dark side, and yes, there are fun asides where Louis Lane's sister is not getting picked up at the airport like Clark promised, and Jimmy Olson's house is being fumigated, but these all feel like very well worn territory already, with only a few glimmers of something fresh in store, down the road.  Overall, a pretty disappointing issue, but perhaps it lays the groundwork for something more engaging in the future, since Giffen has often been known to play the "long game" with some plot-threads, and as both he and Jurgens are very talented, this could simply be a temporary slump or editorial quagmire. 

The Cabin in the Woods: A Final Comment on the Horror Genre

Frickin' Rubik's Cube of the Damned, this is.

Fair warning: with this assessment of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's "Cabin in the Woods", there will be a certain amount of plot point divulging, meeting somewhere between a review and a summary.  It's been interesting to note the reaction of people that have seen the film, in that they do not seem to want to give away too much to those that have not seen it.  In that spirit, it's a thin line that critics must walk in order to properly examine a film who's layered approach entertains audiences best when they have less information going in, while not fully divulging too much actual content.

While we're at it, let's look at this brief reversal of standard gender roles in slasher flicks, through a one way mirror.

The initial premise is very basic.  It is, on the surface, the most trite cliche of the horror genre.  Five fresh-faced college students go to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of fun and things go horribly wrong.  Any viewer remotely familiar with this premise can guess that they are in store for a little sex and a lot of violence.  Anyone familiar with Goddard's work on the ABC series Lost or Whedon's with Buffy the Vampire Slayer can also make a safe bet going into the film that there will be a twisting convolution of the initial premise and an honest love of the horror genre, for all of its faults.

The five characters are designed as archetypes, distinct from the usual stereotypes prevalent in every single film following this one's basic premise.  The fool, the warrior, the scholar, the virgin, and the whore. In the first five minutes of the film, however, we are introduced to two other character types that are more uncommon in horror and actually seem more suited to office comedies.  The older project head and the office joker with woman problems, Sitterson and Hadley.  These men and the project they are working on are interspersed with the plot, since it is obvious that they are the masters of ceremony for the events taking place.  They also serve as ample comic relief throughout the film, and can be interpreted as in-film proxies for the writers as well as the audience.  But more on that in a moment. Elements of The Truman Show and The Matrix bleed through almost immediately upon our exposure to the banks of computer monitors that Sitterson and Hadley are surrounded by, but these similarities are compounded when it's established that they can pump mind-altering substances in through the cabin's vents as well as the forest floor, that they run environmental controls around the cabin, that they are the ones that open the cellar door kick-starting the horror, and that every nook and cranny of the cabin and forest is lined with tiny fiber optic cameras. "Watch the master at work," indeed.

Where we, as the audience, are expected to do our part, comes in our exposure to any horror movie that has ever been written prior to this one, a partial awareness of each trope.  There are standard reactions to be expected from us, outside of chainsaw-themed dreams after the film.  We flinch, we squeal, we yell at the screen, we laugh, we curse the idiotic heroes and we cheer the villains that lay out brutal justice on horny half-wits and jerks.  We, as the audience of individuals, relate to certain characters while loathing others.  We invest ourselves in the movie's aura,  whether in the shrine of a cinema or the pale glow of a computer screen, and we react to the input with output.  Even though we suspend disbelief and dislocate reality, and in doing so buy the mythology laid out by the film-maker, we must ultimately embrace the real one.  

This movie plays with all that while maintaining a cool comic timing, but it expects more.  The question is asked, where does our fascination with horror come from?  What is the root of fear? We see certain lines blurred and expectations burned, right from the start.  Sublime terror of suburbia, Hadley at the water cooler, complaining that his wife has put child safety catches on all the drawers in their house, even though they just started fertility treatments.  Just another job, just another schlub.  The familiarity of this banter and the humorous nuance of the kids preparing to go to the cabin is set up to endear us to them, early on, in a manner that many horror movies fail to even hint at in an entire course of the film.  Laughter.  The genuine laughs throughout this film are what draw us in more than anything.  The horror genre has been bent off its axis and fused with comedy, without losing our interest. The game has officially been changed, or rather, it returns to the purpose it should serve, which is catharsis.

The distinction of course being that we are dealing with professionals here, both on-screen and off.  The operation that brought these kids to the cabin in the first place is a strong part of the social system that binds, an idea pointed out by the fool character early on.  The production company that made this film is part of a similar social system that plays itself out in all media, just as binding, but less Ancient Evil God oriented.  Or is it?

At a certain point, a Marine guard, the audience's stand-in for a fresh point-of-view in the operation cut-away, asks why the nudity of the whore is necessary.  The response could very well be a representative of the movie company, speaking for shareholders. "We're not the only ones watching here. We got to keep the customer satisfied. You know what's at stake here."  Being prepped is not being prepared.

In any event, rather than giving a simple play-by-play of the entire film, we'll continue our analysis by touching on a few major points where The Cabin in the Woods intersects with other films of its genre, while sussing out the resonance of certain lines and scenes with their "meta value", then break down the overarching impact of Lovecraftian mythos, and how, with this film, they trump all other forms of horror.

When the characters arrive at a gas station and meet the Harbinger, a throwback to the angry spirit of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, we get our first clue of titles and intents, set up in plain sight.  Soon after, this tension is diffused into comic relief when the Harbinger puts a call into Sitterson and Hadley, ranting about blood sacrifice for a while before realizing that he's been put on speaker phone.  This sort of undercut is played out with almost every tension built by the horror element of the film, working for it on first viewing, but perhaps not on successive ones.

Our textured protagonists, meanwhile, are enjoying their arrival at the cabin.  A scene is inserted to play off stereotypical gender roles from slasher flicks gone past; the scholar character removes a disturbing painting from the wall of his room to discover that he's on the transparent side of a one-way mirror. Of course, the virgin character enters the room and start primping herself in the mirror. Then undressing.  The natural conclusion is curtailed for a moralistic flip flop, where after switching rooms, the virgin sees the scholar undressing, and he is ripped.  While this is not akin to any specific film from the horror genre, it is a blatant commentary on standard stereotypes in the "slasher sub-genre",  famous for idiot starlets getting naked for a brief visceral thrill before dismemberment.  The one-way mirror scene subverts and twists that, backhandedly but uniquely.

Bypassing a silly tag line repeated throughout the film ("Let's get this party started!"), the inevitable game of Truth or Dare finishes up with the cellar door banging open, immediately reminiscent of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, which from the first shot of the cabin soaks this film like brine soaks a pickle.  After daring the virgin to go down the stairs, the quintet discovers a collection of interesting items immediately familiar as the objective correlatives to monsters from horror movies: a conch shell, an amulet, a puzzle box, a ballerina music box, and of course, a diary from which an ancient Latin invocation is read aloud by the virgin.  This invocation summons a family of zombified pain-worshipping backwoods cannibals, whose dramatic arrival is undercut, as is standard, by Sitterson and Hadley's "monster betting pool".  This is them blowing off steam in the same way that we, the audience, laugh at the on-screen brutality.

At the end of the day, though, the humorless cosmic toxicity of H.P. Lovecraft's Ancient Evil makes its presence known in the film, and ends up subsuming all that came before it, literally.  Less blatant than the Necronomicon of Sam Raimi's day, the construct of this film, the bound-in sacrificial pit of the forest and the cabin, serves as a sacrifice of the archetypes to a sleeping Ancient One.  Since the operation our movie is involved in is global in scale, we can presume that there are multiple Ancient Ones throughout the world, accepting their yearly offerings in exchange for relative peace.  This is exemplified best in an invocation made by our goofy office-mates after the death of the whore. "This we offer in humility and fear, for the blessed peace of your eternal slumber. As it ever was."  The key line of course being the last, for in the Lovecraft mythos we find the invocation of the Old Ones as "The Old Ones are. The Old Ones were. The Old Ones will be."

After brutal deaths of all archetypes but the virgin and the fool, an elevator into the lower levels of the sacrificial forest is discovered.  Here, likely by design, we find elements of the movie Cube, as well as a hint of the anti-bureaucratic sentiment of that film.  There is a menagerie of monsters, too varied for a viewer to take in with only one sitting, set up and awaiting the activation of the appropriate objective correlative in the basement of the cabin.  The virgin finally establishes that they have been puppets all along, victims of fate, or rather, sacrifices to a vast creature of unimaginable evil.  Another exchange from earlier on in the film, between the Marine and a Chem Department scientist, gives us more of an idea of the puppetmaster the fool can only speculate on for most of the film.  The monstrous menagerie, or stable, is populated by remnants of the "old world" courtesy of "You-know-who" (pointing downward).

Lovecraft's Cthulu is often called the dreaming god, and the Ancient One addressed with sacrifice in this film is similar in scope if not location (Cthulu sleeps underwater, in R'yleh). Perhaps the concept of dormant but stirring cosmic evil controlling social norms behind a sticky curtain resonates with the core of humans more than we are likely comfortable with admitting.  It is not terribly far-fetched, the idea that society sits at the edge of chaos, binding, as it is, with laws and debts and pragmatic dismissals of pure autonomy, and it is rare enough that any horror film outside of a zombie apocalypse flick would approach this matter, let alone with such nuance as Cabin in the Woods manages.

In the final analysis, this movie is less about exploring the stereotype of Chris Hemsworth's "No matter what, we have to stay together" than it is about the less-lightly explored resonance of Sigourney Weaver's "It's our task to placate the Ancient Ones, as it is yours to be offered up to them."  In an interview regarding the film, Whedon cited John Carpenter as an influence, and likely the movie he was considering when he said that was the highly under-rated In the Mouth of Madness, perhaps the purest Lovecraftian movie to be made without being a direct translation. 

Before concluding, we'll dwell momentarily on the idea of the Ancient Ones presented by Goddard and Whedon, and  or Elder Evils, Lovecraft's take on a clearly Gnostic (and fittingly, very old) concept known as the Archons.  Imprisoned in gross matter, the souls of the world seek reunification with the Wholeness. The corrupted and complicated machinations of the Archons, rulers of this world, keep mankind from achieving spiritual fulfillment.  And as evidenced in our own world, the many must suffer for the few, and vice versa.  To this end, and along these lines, correlatives to Cabin in the Woods emerge, if you look at the content and themes touched, only slightly askance. 

We live in a world of true horror, and evil in the form of negligence and corruption and bigotry.  On grander scales, the still-mounting nuclear disaster in Fukushima, the ongoing Gulf of Mexico oil horror, the forever threat of terrorism at home and abroad, and so many other things brought about by society's trends towards mankind's detriment dwarf any mythological beast we can conjure with our most fevered imaginations, but they arise as a direct response to such things.  Our need for catharsis through control is our reaction to true dread, our desire is to undercut our feeble fragility in the face of pure and pungent terror.  So it is that we express ourselves through the opiates known as television and the movie theater.  The audience seeks control, the same as the operators of the sacrificial cabin, and they serve faceless entities with all the rights to and none of the joys of humanity.  The audience is the sacrifice to those faceless entities at the same time.  The idea of control is illusory and at best temporary.  Chaos runs rampant, regardless.  Like Cthulu, the audience dreams, unwitting, on the Plateau of Leng.  

The time will come that a tremendous hand shoots out of the ground and strikes you, ending your fantasy, your brief comfort.  Same as it ever was. 

Sweet dreams.   

I don't get it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Initial Impressions of Avengers vs. X-Men

The Phoenix got all the way to Sirius before it remembered it left its bag at our house.

This week we saw the arrival of the latest rehashing of old concepts at the House of Ideas, the much ballyhooed Avengers vs. X-Men.  The build-up for this hero vs. hero slug-fest goes back as far as House of M, which we should all remember ended with the near-eradication of the mutant species.  In the final pages of that series, Hank Pym (who was a Skrull at the time?) was discussing the most fundamental law of any universe, namely that every action has an equal or opposite reaction.  Corresponding to his closing dialogue, the final page of the series was a flashing light on the edge of Earth akin to a manifestation of the Phoenix.  Or was it just a reflection of the sun?

In The Fearless, we discover that some enchanted armors just want to watch death-ice churn. 

Fast-forward to present day, past Civil War and Secret Invasion and Dark Reign.  The first mutant to be born after M Day, a child named Hope, was given the Cable treatment, that is, raised by Cable in the distant post-apocalyptic future to become a soldier, and possibly destined to be the messiah of all mutantkind.  After the events of last summer's traumatic blockbuster Fear Itself, the Marvel Universe is reformatting quickly.  Colossus is now the Juggernaut.  Mutants in Utopia are straight kickin' it with Namor and X-Club.  Immediately after the end of Fear Itself, Red Skull's daughter Sin kicked into gear her own planet-destroying scheme in the pages of the year-long digression The Fearless, and Matt Fraction's Mighty Thor secured the thunder god's inevitable revival, with surprisingly little fanfare.  Meanwhile, the wacky remaining mutants in Utopia have had their own falling out with Schism, creating an interesting "Wolverine as Professor X/Cyclops as Magneto" dynamic.  Furthermore, the Scarlet Witch, the mentally unstable reality warper that nearly wiped out the mutant race, has returned via a Young Avengers special, with vague allusions hinting at her mental state being somehow corrupted by Dr. Doom back at the start of that mess.  Speaking of Dr. Doom, Fantastic Four saw the death of Johnny Storm, the co-opting of Spiderman into the newly designed Freedom Foundation, and eventually a collision of plotlines involving multiple Reed Richards, angry Celestial Gods, and a Franklin Richards time travel plot device that only Johnathan Hickman could pull off.  Uncanny X-Force dealt major blows to Montana with the Dark Angel Saga, and of course, rehashing a plot that tasted better the second time, Norman Osborne reinvented a team of Dark Avengers and did a little PR muck-raking against the Avengers, while at the same time making himself a Super Adaptoid.  Dumbass.

Namor is a straight up pimp. But he don't mess with no ginger strange.

Moving right along, we've seen great attempts at consolidation of continuity in Marvel within the past year, perhaps partially in response to DC's big universal shake-up.  Venom teamed up with Red Hulk, X-23 and the admittedly regrettable female Ghost Rider to undo a ravaging hellscape sprouting out of Las Vegas.  Wolverine, while on at least 3 different teams, has settled down in his morning shift as Headmaster of the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning, his mid-day shift as floating Avenger, and his night shift as de facto leader of X-Force. Recent issues of Uncanny X-Men (above and below) have had Cyclops' team of militant bent mutants playing clean up with Tabla Rasa and S.W.O.R.D. prison disintegration.
Unit (insert Beavis heh heh) doses Namor and Emma with pheromones. Atlantean Kings prefer blondes. And taken women.

You can almost hear the soundtrack here. Cap's all got the DUN DUN DUNNN going after that.

Magneto, take note: don't threaten to disassemble Vision when he's within arm's reach.

Moving even closer towards the approaching storm of Avengers vs. X-Men, we see an interestingly violent exchange occur between Magneto and the Vision, and a stern line from Captain America to Cyclops on where his priorities lay.  Abigail Brand makes the lovely move of having Unit (heh) stored with the X-Men, whereupon Unit's keeper, Danger, is ordered to bring Hope to him for a brief Power Point presentation on the Phoenix Force.

This is where S.W.O.R.D. fails and succeeds. Brand's a sneaky broad.

Oh, and Unit puts Danger in her place. Like a cold bastard.

This is where Unit (heh heh heh) totally pulls an "oh snap" on Danger. It's all "OH NO HE DI'INT!"

So it may be about that time where you're wondering if Avengers vs. X-Men, being so grandiose and all, will have a zero issue?  Sure.  And to start things off, we have Scarlet Witch's inauguration back into the ranks of the angels with a conflict against one pissed off M.O.D.O.K. Since Wanda, as we mentioned, is in part responsible for kicking this whole thing off, and is a semi-Avenger as well as Magneto's daughter, we can imagine that her role in upcoming issues of AvX will be important, or at the very least dramatic.

Scarlet Witch's comeback, starring a chatty M.O.D.O.K. 

The first issue of Avengers vs. X-Men starts with the crash-landing of Nova, former New Warrior and the current possessor of the Xandarian Worldmind, into the Chrysler Building.  After he passes out with a cryptic "It's coming..." Iron Man does a scan of the energy signature on his suit.  Sure enough, Nova's coated with Phoenix energies. Conveniently, while presenting this to the President of the United States, Hope's getting kicked in the ribs during a training session with Cyclops. She manifests a Phoenix blast. This sets off Iron Man's sensors. The rest is a matter of course.

Seems like these guys never were that close to Jean Grey, were they?

In a brief moment before Cap arrives, Cyclops mulls over the implications of the Phoenix's potential approach, of Hope's fulfillment of her forced role as mutant messiah, and of course, the power that may be used to get the world a new resurgence of mutie scum.

Big flashing neon signs over Cyclops saying "HE'S THE NEW MAGNETO" couldn't be more obvious.

That's really the $64,000 question,  isn't it? Probably milk and cookies. Lots of 'em, for everyone.

Of course, Captain America is chilling on the shoreline of Utopia with a cloaked Avengers Battlecruiser at the ready.  He wants to take Hope into protective custody pending the arrival of the Phoenix (since his heavy hitter team in space is likely not going to stop the approaching cosmic force).   He has a few tense words with Cyclops, who reacts predictably.

The first shot has been fired.  The tagline has been said. It can only get more brutal from here on out.

The initial face-off roster seems a tad lopsided. Note that Wolverine and Beast are on the thin red line.

So, what's next?  Only Joe Quesada knows.  There are certain decisions that have been made by Marvel to build this event up, potentially out of proportion with what is feasible or in good taste.  Professor Charles Xavier has been quiet and almost entirely out of the loop of mutant books, outside of a brief appearance in the first issue of Wolverine and the X-Men.  If he does not emerge in the course of AvX all fanboys should call shenanigans, unless Onslaught, throwback fusion entity from the Heroes Reborn days, has something to do with it.  The compulsive militant extremism of Cyclops has reached a peak. The priggish self-righteous do-goodery of Captain America has become creepy.  Who's right? Who's wrong?  Is there any such thing in the Marvel Universe any longer?  Will mutant and human relations become even more strained? Will S.W.O.R.D. be able to do its job for once, when the Phoenix inevitably arrives on Earth?  Will the intriguing Unit play any further role in the shaping of events? And when the Phoenix Force finally arrives, what will it do? Cease the endless flow of Resurrection within Marvel continuity? Bring back the mutant genome? Bring back a pissed off and confused Jean Grey? Kill Cyclops? Kill anyone?

Whatever the case may be, expect multiple variant covers, e-readable issues, and tons of spoilers on blogs such as this one in the months to come.  The teetering tight-rope act that Marvel sometimes plays with its legitimately interesting cast of characters has reached a crucial point.  Whether it's a needlessly convoluted let-down as with Secret Invasion, or a trope-shattering flat-tire ending as with Civil War, we can be certain of only one thing, and one thing alone.

Uncle Ben is still dead.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Renegade's Guide to C2E2 2012.

Seemed like Lance Fensterman started loading my inbox with notices early this year, and to be honest, that made me all sorts of happy.  

The Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo has been knocking around the convention halls of McCormick Place for just a few years now, but it seems as if it has finally become the Pop Culture Event of the City.  Actual advertisements for it are visible in train stations. Non-nerds are talking about it.  Renegade geeks are blogging about it. They have their iPads nestled between their energy drinks and stacks of comics from Wednesday. 

I remember its first year, where the panels were sparsely populated, the Brightest Day Presentation was disappointing, and Cup o Joe was a little too audience aggressive for my tastes.  But once everyone got their feet wet, it felt like the following year was more confident and abundant in nerdery. Also some very smart panels given by people of a wide variety of intellectual pursuits and cultural interests. 

The buzz generated from its presence in Chicago is palpable.  Open your window. Lean out. Hear that? Thousands of tiny boom boxes playing the intro to Torchwood.  John Barrowman and John Cusack in the same building?That's cray, yo.  There will be an organized conflict between a zombie horde and garishly costumed crime fighters? Be still my beating heart.

Like a zombie apocalypse, but smellier.

But in all seriousness, comic book conventions in Chicago deserve the grandiosity that McCormick Place provides.  It's got a palpable presence, a vastness akin to the hotel in The Shining, minus ghost bartenders and psychotic caretakers. As the popularity of C2E2 has been growing exponentially larger with each passing year, this year should be exceptional in scope.  People from all over the country will make their presence known.  Profiteers from the obscure nooks and crannies of the entertainment industry will emerge.  Synergy will run rampant.  Autographs will be sold and irrelevant dork questions will be presented at panels.  Secret geek handshakes will be offered, some taken, and the rather exceptional industries that provide us with such a wide variety of entertaining distractions will swell, briefly, like a toad in a bog.

This is not a badly taken photo. It was taken as super-speed.

But where does the renegade, that exceptional convention-goer who needs to get everywhere, do everything, find himself something of interest to browse through? Here are a few pointers for the nerd on the go.

1: Bring a Buddy.  I know this one almost goes without saying, but comic book conventions are best taken in groups of two or more.  You can cover more ground, geek out with someone over the treasured discoveries made, and more sets of eyes can pick out the best the convention has to offer.  Of course, if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself alone and attempting awkward chit chat with comics professionals. Usually it ends badly. 

2: Double check the schedule of events.  It's best to plan out your course of entry.  If you're just there to buy fifty cent back issues of Stormwatch Team Achilles from a retailer that came in from Houston, you could probably get a better deal online.  Half the heft of conventions such as these, for fans and professionals, are the panels and screenings

Remember, post convention dumpster diving can be an excellent source of swag.

3: The C2E2 FAQs are common sense, but if you're the sort that makes a habit of missing the point, definitely double check them.  There are also guides online concerning personal hygiene and the treatment of rashes that could prove useful.  

4: If you didn't already, besiege Lance Fensterman's Twitter account @LFensterman with questions about the bathroom sanitation standards of the convention and harangue the official show account @C2E2 over the poor quality of the local White Castle and McDonald's, then download the Official C2E2 Mobile App, which is so exclusive I won't even provide a hotlink to it.

The key is not to stop and ask for people to pose for photos, but to wait until other people do.

5: If you want to go that extra mile and pre-plan to the minute, just to squeeze all the spontaneity out of the event but infuse all the good texture of quasi-intellectualism, try checking out the handy show planner that the organizers have designed for technologically enabled individuals.  Remember that panels are all located on Level 4. 

6: Like so many odd locations along the lakefront in Chicago, McCormick Place is not the easiest place for some people to get to. Sure, you can get off at Chinatown and do the character-building trek that is walking the rest of the way, or cram cash into a cab driver's hands and hope for the best, but there is a free shuttle service for Nerds in the Know. You can find the schedules and locations here

7: Remember, this place will drain the money right out of you.  Take advantage of free energy drink samples.  Bring your own everything, within reason. Don't bring guns, weapons, or things that look like guns and weapons. Unless they are made of flimsy cardboard. In which case, totally bring them.

And if you are posing for photographs at C2E2, make certain you're using the buddy system.

8: Remember, you're here to have fun. If I hear about another fight between cosplay freaks, I'll find you.  That said, if you're coming in costume, you better be ready to represent, because the competition at C2E2 will be deadly. Contests will be held daily.

9: For those of you 21 or older, there is a bar at C2E2, specifically, the Hyatt attached to McCormick Place, run by the fine people at Comic Book Resources.  Sure, overpriced drinks with names like "Unstoppable Force" sound cool, but in reality this is a spot where you hope to find some celebrity level comic book creator knocking back one too many and telling you what he really thinks of Stan "the Man" Lee.

10: You want autographs, right? Of course you do. Well the place to be is the IGN Theater, located in room S100 on Level 1 of McCormick right after you come in the front doors.

Other items of note: the effervescent Jhonen Vasquez will be present at C2E2, and rumor has it that he LOVES PIE.  What you should do is bake a pie, any variety whatsoever will do.  Bring them to the Jhonen Vasquez Q & A (Sample question: "So what's it like living off Invader Zim residuals?") and, when presenting them to him, just run at him full speed. Try not to trip.

Also: A strange rumor has started, completely unfounded, right here, that superhero Ryan Gosling, who will be playing Dr. Hank Pym in the Avengers 2 (total lie) may be visiting the convention on Friday, on his way to meet with Oprah Winfrey to consult over the next phase of his hair and feminist-saving agenda.  Be on the look out. And remember. Before you go convention hopping. Wash.

Yes, that is a banana in his holster. Yes, he is glad to see you. Yes, you. With the beard.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Convoluted Digression concerning the Braddocks

Marvel Maniacs be warned: Spoilers ahead.  

We will in the course of this entry be examining the Braddock family and commenting on the most recent developments in their lives.  This will not be an intensive examination, so certain details may not be mentioned, while others will be closely scrutinized.   

Betsy Braddock, also known as Psylocke, entered the X-Men during the fabled Chris Claremont era. She was a telepathic precognitive with a moral code informed by aristocratic British sensibilities, her powers manifesting as pink butterfly effects and psychic knives.  Her conservatism was evidenced for some time by her dress sense (below) and general avoidance of outright mind control.  Of course, she did kill use her psionic powers to convince the X-Men to kill themselves once, to avoid being butchered by cyborgs... 


... which led in to a rather patchy plot device of the sort that Claremont was so fond of in his soap opera-like run with those wacky mutants.  The Siege Perilous. When one passes through this mystic gem/gateway, one is transformed according to the judgments of mysterious cosmic forces and teleported back to Earth, often naked and suffering from amnesia.  This may sound akin to an unfortunate night at a Fraternity, but is it convoluted enough? No.  A Japanese crime lord's lover, Kwannon, fell off a cliff, suffering brain damage she'd never recover from.  This same crime lord discovered the returned Psylocke washed up on shore, and with the help of a six armed magician named Spiral (who worked for an interdimensional television network that had been using Betsy's bionic eyes as cameras for a show about the X-Men) brought his lover back, only mind-swapped with Betsy.  So we've officially transitioned into the realm of the almost inexplicable and utterly ridiculous.  But we do get a very different Betsy Braddock out of all this convolution.  She's got a ninja assassin edge to her now, and what's more, she lost her sense of modesty at some point during that whole Siege (Rohipnol) Perilous experience.  So g-strings and skin-tight outfits are go.

She puts the "ass" in "Ninja Assassin".

We're not even going to get into the part where she discovers the woman she swapped bodies with contracted the Legacy virus, or the part where gets disemboweled by Sabertooth and is cured by a magic potion and can suddenly teleport through shadows, but it should be noted that at a certain point she falls into a romantic relationship with founding X-Man Angel, which is well developed in the series Uncanny X-Force, but is for the moment besides the point.  Let's get into the details of Betsy's twin brother, Brian.  That's right. Twins. Even though he's a blond and she had purple hair her whole life.  Whatever.

Brian Braddock is one of the most insufferable pricks in the Marvel Universe.  His whole life was handed to him on a silver platter.  Needless to say, we have his father James to thank for this.  Turns out there's this little thing called the Multiverse, of which the Marvel Universe we known and love is only the 616th iteration, and which is accessible most efficiently through a transitive plane known as Otherworld, or Avalon, a mystical realm of super-significance that doesn't actually matter whatsoever.  Turns out that James was sent to Earth-616 on a mission to breed by Merlyn, or Merlin, yes, that Merlin, who it turns out is Sorcerer Supreme of Otherworld, or Avalon, depending on which writer remembers Otherworld exists in the first place.  James Braddock, being your standard supergenius comic book father, designs an organic supercomputer in his basement to monitor his progress and sets about the difficult task of breeding superhumans.  Years later, Brian was out on a date (for once) when his father's organic supercomputer killed his parents and made it look like a lab accident.  Then Brian got in a car wreck and was presented with a choice between a giant sword and an amulet. Like the chump he is, he picked the amulet and got loaded down with a suit that gave him superpowers.  He became Captain Britain, which fit the outfit's flag motif, and wandered around trying desperately to seem useful and special, even rooming with Peter Parker as an exchange student at one point, and fighting contrived British villains with stupid names and powers.  When it seemed silly to writers that he was just some guy with a suit (thus being a lame knock-off of Iron Man and Captain America simultaneously, "cosmic significance" notwithstanding and minus military training or super-genius) the cosmic benefactors that manipulated him into existence granted him powers that derived from the "friction between universes", which sounds much cooler than it actually is. All he's ever used it for is to punch things and generate force-fields.  Or similar stupid crap.  His powers have changed fifty times in desperate editorial efforts to make him seem significant.    

I mean really. Look at this prick.

Whenever Captain Britain seemed to have a stable sense of existence, things would be shaken up, because nobody likes him, not even the people that write or draw him.  He can't do anything right.  Ever.  Example: early on in his career, he got into a fight with his future wife, the shape-shifting Meggan, and ended up accidentally killing one of her friends.  He ended up just being the whiniest punk about the whole thing.  Later, he tried to lead Excalibur, the lamest superhero team of any reality, ever, and ironically the one somehow tasked to deal with alternate reality nonsense and cosmic incursions, which should be cool and important.  It turns out, in fact, that Roma, the female counterpart to Merlyn, inflicted a "blunder jinx" on Brian to negate his effectiveness when acting alone.  Which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, except to explain why Captain Britain was, is, and will always be the lamest character in the entire Marvel Universe.  Did I mention the Captain Britain Corps?  They guard all variations of Britain in the various universes.  The convolutions of Captain Britain's back-story acted for years as a sort of editorial kiss of death for any writer unfortunate enough to receive him as a character, or any artist with the onerous task of redesigning his costume.  Fashion sense in the Braddock household is quite a disturbing and often perverse thing.  Which brings us to the eldest Braddock, Jamie. 

Clearly not a fan of clothing.

James "Jamie" Braddock Jr. is the other mutant in the family, though ten years older than his siblings.  He's of the "schizophrenic and possessing reality warping powers" ilk of villain, always a popular trope to explore, but unfortunately always a failure in terms of actual execution.  For whatever reason, just like the Beyonder before him, cosmic reality altering menaces such as Jamie, limited as they are only by their imagination's scope and intrinsic frailties are, well, always disappointingly limited.  In poor Jamie's case, he was a race car driver (yes, of course) who got mixed up with the Maggia (the Marvel Universe's attempt to thinly veil the word "Mafia") and then, while being purged of his intrinsic evil (because these things happen when you insist on wearing only a white Speedo and ankle bracelets) unlocked his inner schizo-reality-warper.  Of course, despite all this, it took roughly five minutes and one well-placed psychic knife to take him out.  He popped into a coma at some point, then a very vague sequence of time wherein he helped Captain Britain out, in a pinch, since Brian's so freaking useless. Jamie was shuffled under the paperwork of reality, and at some point reformed, off-panel.  Which brings us to his most recent appearance in the pages of Uncanny X-Force.

My question is: who designs their outfits?

Uncanny X-Force is one of the best titles to hit Marvel in recent time.  Imagine if the dream Xavier had of a world where peaceful coexistence between man and mutant was undercut by the covert actions of a crack squad of the Marvel Universe's deadliest mutants pulling jobs that all the brightly colored hero types couldn't stomach.  Their first mission is to assassinate a resurrected Apocalypse, who it turns out is just a little boy.  Psylocke doesn't want them to do the kid in for something he has not become yet.  Faux-French Weapon Thirteen Fantomex puts a sentient bullet in the kid's forehead and that's that.  Except everyone involved reacts to it on an emotional level.  Psylocke actually provides herself with a little confessional booth psychotherapy session in the Danger Room, where she confesses her sins to Brian.

That face he makes is worth the death of an evil child, any day of the week.

Of course, once the Captain Britain Corps catch wind of Fantomex killing Kid Apocalypse, they nab him, drag him to Otherworld, put him through a quick trial, and order his execution.  Fun side-note: Fantomex is wholly unique in the Marvel Universe, in that he has no parallel version on any reality.  Of course that's dangerous to the Captain Britain Corps, since they're so lame they need countless alternate selves to pick up the slack for each other.

Villains reforming in the Marvel Universe is an old concept, especially among the mutant population. 

It's fitting, in a way, that Jamie Braddock is the prosecutor in Fantomex's trial.  His reform as reality-bending schizoid into the fold of Otherworld's bureaucratic hodge-podge perfectly fits the convoluted roller-coaster of the Braddock family.  Clearly their father James had high hopes for the boy, who you know damn well is still wearing that super-tight Speedo under his billowing white robes. 

Don't you just wanna slap him?

There is a brief moment between Betsy and Brian where we establish that the Braddocks actually have psychic links to one another, through her.  Also, at some point it seems that Jean Grey, who's been dead for close to a decade in real time, amplified Betsy's powers.  Of course Brian knows everything, and of course he, along with all the other Captain Britains of Otherworld, hold the wholly unique Fantomex in contempt for it.  Flawed justice systems such as this are all that hold the Multiverse together, right?

Gotta love that British sense of tradition, ey wot?

And in one page, we have a most masterful example of comic book storytelling.  We have character development, foreshadowing, and realistically paced natural dialogue.  Brian's admiration and love for his brother, Jamie's influence on Betsy, and Betsy's natural predilection for killing are all here, in one page. It establishes, on page one, what is to follow. And every contrivance that came before it, every convoluted plothole and misdirected characterization, is somehow worth it.  When Betsy frees Fantomex, it's in the midst of an invasion by an evil Goat Wizard Monk thing that has been assaulting the Tower Omniverse and hacking the Captain Britain Corps to pieces, then reanimating them.  At a certain point it's established that the Goat possesses three Orbs of Power that are already present and accounted for in the Tower.  So who is this goat and how can he have three artifacts that cannot be physically replicated?When Betsy touches the Goat's mind, she finds the answer.

Of course.

Now as we mentioned before, X-Force has come a long way from the Liefeld days where the team name was coined.  This is the team that gets their hands dirty in ways that nobody else will or even can. The Goat Demon is consuming millions of souls every minute.  Jamie is the Goat, and a proxy in many ways of the child Apocalypse, such that he's guiltless, but predestined for atrocity. Psylocke enters into Captain Britain's mind and tells him what he has to do.  When he refuses, she mentally dominates him, then forces him to break his own brother's neck like a chicken for suppertime.

She told them both that she loved them as she did it, too.

Sure enough, the Goat Demons invading the Tower Omniverse vanish, screaming "Our line, erased!"  Holding his dead brother in his arms, weeping like a big Union Jack coated baby, Brian insists that they could have found another way.  Betsy feels completely justified in her actions.  Millions were dying by the second.  Countless realities were saved.  There was no other choice.

The parallels between the action that Fantomex was on trial for and the actions that Psylocke took are obvious.  Looking even deeper, the pragmatic cruelty of using her twin brother as a murder weapon against her elder one shows that Betsy Braddock has evolved greatly from her days of simply forming knives and butterflies, a frail character for the background or, at best, ass-cheek eye candy.  We've not even explored that prior to these events she wiped out her lover's mind after he turned evil.  From fluff to skank to emotionally rich and somewhat tortured individual, Betsy Braddock has come a long way in terms of characterization.  Brian, who's now a Secret Avenger, will be forced to deal with his own role and failings in this event, and chilly encounters between these two will be interesting for competent writers to explore in the future.  As for Jamie, the villain who reformed, the reality-bender who got his neck snapped, we can rest assured of one thing and one thing alone.  He will return.  Nobody stays dead in the Marvel Universe except Uncle Ben.