Sunday, March 29, 2009

Here's another way to improve "Heroes": Close the damn fridge door!

Dear Bryan Fuller:

Recently, you've come back to the now-struggling "Heroes" to whip it back into shape, I'd like to offer a constructive suggestion for you to draw in more fans.

The suggestion is actually twofold: a. ) Give the show a wider variety of interesting female characters, and, more importantly, b.) Don't kill them off right away!

I make this plea in the wake of the past week's episode, which happens to be the first one penned by you since your return. In it, not one but two female heroes (Tracy Strauss, played by Ali Larter, and Daphne Milbrook, played by Brea Grant) bought the farm. In my opinion, it was a loss the show couldn't afford.

Take a look at when the show started. How many key female characters were there? Claire (Hayden Penettiere) and Niki Saunders (Larter again). Now how many do we have left? Claire, Angela Petrelli (Cristina Rose) and Claire's mom Sandra (Ashley Crowe) . Contrast that to how many key male characters are on the show (Nathan Petrelli, Peter Petrelli, Matt Parkman, Hiro and Ando, Sylar, The Haitian, Mohinder Suresh, and Noah "HRG" Bennett, along with the newly-added Danko the Hunter). That's a 3:1 male-female ratio.

Looking back at these last 3 seasons, it's not that the writers haven't been able to create interesting new female characters. We've been introduced to illusionist Candace Wilmer and Claire's biological mom Meredith in Season 1, the electrifying Elle Bishop (Kristin Bell) and Micah's photographic-reflex-endowed cousin Monica Dawson in Season 2, and super-speedster Daphne in Season 3.

But look at what's happened since then. All of these female characters have either been killed off (Hiro's waitress Charlie, Peter and Isaac Mendes' mutual love interest Simone Deveaux, master persuader Eden McCain, Candace, Victoria Pratt, Niki/Jessica, Elle, Meredith, and now Tracy and Daphne) or shunted off to parts unknown (Monica, Hana "Wireless" Gitelman)*. Granted, some key male characters have been killed (Ted Sprague, Isaac, Adam Monroe, Elle's dad, Knox, Flint, Arthur Petrelli, and Maury Parkman)** or vanished (Claude, West Rosen). But most of those killed on the male side were villains.

(*Yes, I know I left off Maya, but that was because, while Dania Ramirez was easy on the eyes, both her character and her power sucked and served no real purpose other than to move Sylar, and later Mohinder, from point A to point B.)

(** Same goes for her brother.)

On the plus side, we've seen an expansion this season of the roles of both Sandra and Angela, both of whom are worthy assets to the show. Plus, Niki and Traci's deaths pave the way for Larter to come back as the last triplet, Barbara. And with Micah resurfacing as "Rebel" in this arc, could that mean that his cousin Monica is not far behind? I hope so.

In summary, if you want to beef up your ratings, particularly among female viewers, the key may be beefing up your female roster, and keeping it beefed up.



Saturday, March 28, 2009

Black Canary, Awesome? Not in JLA#31, she's not!

A few weeks back, I wrote an entry here called "Why Black Canary = Awesome", in which I praised how Dwayne McDuffie was handling Black Canary's evolution as League leader. If JLA#31 is any indication, I may have to eat some of my past words.

What has changed my opinion so much? Let's start with this:

I know I'm the umpteenth person to make this point, but can you picture if this had been Ollie hitting Dinah for "embarrassing" him and threatening to hit her again because she made a smartass remark? Suffice it to say, you don't have to be Grant Morrison to imagine the uproar that would follow. To be fair, there was still a sizable uproar over this scene as is, and many of the other "umpteen" I alluded to were feminists.

But that wasn't even one of the the bigger issues I had with Dinah's handling here. The first of those issues would be Dinah's handling of Hal's departure and Ollie's joining Hal. She seemed to make it too much about her. When you're talking about a team with the scope and jurisdiction of the JLA, that kind of thinking just doesn't fly. This is the top superteam on Earth, the planet's biggest defense in the event of attacks from without and within. There's a lot more at stake than Dinah's feelings of embarrassment. I'm not saying Dinah's necessarily unaware of this, but she should have addressed things in those terms with Hal and Ollie.

In Dinah's defense, what Hal and Ollie did was kind of a dick move. "Proactive justice"? What the hell does that even mean? It makes me think of "Minority Report" with Tom Cruise. Plus, the last times I've seen DCU teams pursue "proactive justice" it always seemed to evaporate into a big nothing. I'm probably going to end up picking up Hal's team book, at least initially, but mostly because I'm a James Robinson fan.

Still, they may have had a point about the current JLA not accomplishing anything, and McDuffie addresses this key deficiency of both Brad Meltzer's past run and his ongoing run in this issue. Look back at the Morrison run on JLA and the menaces they fought. Now look at the current volume and you may see Hal's point. As a rule, though, I hate the whole "we're so self-aware, we know how we suck, hell, we'll even make a reference to it in our book/tv show/etc." writing trick. Acknowledging you have a problem is only Step One, Dwayne. If you want to impress me, do what Keenan Thompson's character on "Weekend Update" advocates: "Fix it!"

However, the biggest problem I had with Dinah was toward the end of the issue. Granted, she was placed in a tough spot, losing 7 existing members and 3 potential ones (Ollie, J'onn, and Atom). Losing the Trinity is especially a big blow. But she gave up waaaay too easily at the first sign of adversity. Yes, going on without Flash and the Big 3 will be difficult, but how difficult will it be to replace Red Arrow? Boy, she'll really have to HUNT high and low to find a suitable match for Roy's impRESSive skill set. Also, her best friend is Oracle, who has practically every hero from DCU Earth on speed-dial. (Oracle even appears in this issue, for crying out loud!)

I'm aware that a lot of possible recruits will be unavailable to her. Guy and Kyle live on Oa. Booster has to maintain his "cover" for Rip Hunter. Nightwing's dealing with the Bat fallout. But the JLA still has a sizeable reserve. Remember the cover to JLA/AVENGERS#3 a few years back? The one where George Perez drew the entire past and present memberships of the Avengers and JLA? The one that contained so many characters that Perez hurt his hand drawing it? Granted, half of that lineup was Avengers, but the other half is still a huge cast of characters. Come on, DiDio hasn't killed off everyone on that reserve roster (not yet anyway). They've gone without the Big 3 before and survived.

But Dinah's response was essentially "Oh, noes! Hal and the Big 3 are gone! Better pack up our tent and go home!" To paraphrase Cenk Uygur, that was WEAK SAUCE. Definitely not becoming a leader of DC's premier super-team.

Hey, I could be taking this completely wrong. This could just be your typical dramatic cliffhanger moment. I've read Dinah stories and seen her at low points before (her ordeal in LONGBOW HUNTERS, dating Ra's al Ghul, the 80's headband outfit) and she's always seemed to snap back.

I just hope if and when the current team reconstitutes itself that Canary remains as team leader. What happened to Black Widow's leadership role in the wake of "Heroes Reborn/Heroes Return" left a bad taste in my mouth, and I hope Dinah doesn't suffer the same fate.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Friday Night Fights: O.P.P.! - Round 6: Fool's Gold!

In our last round of Friday Night Fights: One Panel of Pain, Guy Gardner was dishing out a beatdown. In this round, Guy's on the receiving end....

This "golden moment" comes from Justice League Europe#11, written by Keith Giffen and William Messner-Loebs and drawn by Bart Sears. (By the way, that's no ordinary giant gold sledgehammer. That's Metamorpho!)

Spacebooger knows when to bring the hammer down.

(Special thanks to Sea of Green.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bats just want to have fun...

And so the Bat-Bashing continues.

Here's one of Bats amusing himself (courtesy of Chris' Invincible Super Blog)...

That's "enjoying himself"? More like "F__king OWWWWWWW!"

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Let's Bash Batman Week" - Day 3

Well, it's Day 3 of "Let's Bash Batman Week", and in honor of that I'm showing ...

Batman getting pwned by two teenagers!

If it makes you feel any better,

a) those teenagers are actually Kid Flash and Wonder Girl,


b) this is all a ruse. The clue is that it's a Jim Aparo panel and Batman's head doesn't look like it's exploding.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bash Batman Week - Day 2

Once again it's "Bash Batman Week" over at Sally's site, in which she is launching daily posts casting our Caped Crusader in a less-than-dignified light. And once again, I'm a day late, but I think I can make up for it with these scans from over at

Sometimes it's just too easy.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Well, since you asked, Sally....

This past Friday over in Green Lantern Butt's Forever, SallyP reminisced about the first comic that she ever bought, which was Avengers#146 back in the 70's.

She concluded her post with this:

"Anyhoo...can you all remember the very first comic book that jumped out at you, and you had to...HAD to buy it right then and there, and hold it in your trembling hands?

Because, I imagine that you always remember your first."

Well, since you asked.....

The first comic I remember actually buying with my own money was Action Comics#441, back in 1974, when I child of about 8 or 9. The lead story was titled "Weather War Over Metropolis", written by Cary Bates and drawn by Curt Swan and Bob Oksner.

Back then, Clark Kent was working as a WGBS anchorman for Morgan Edge. This story is centered on WGBS weatherman Oscar Asherman, who probably received more panel time in this story than he received an all his other appearances combined. One morning, Oscar is delivering his newscast as normal when he suddenly blurts out that a blue tornado will strike downtown Metropolis later that day.

Upon hearing this forecast, Edge goes ballistic, telling Asherman that if a blue tornado doesn't hit Metropolis today, Oscar won't have a job tomorrow. Luckily for Oscar, the blue tornado does indeed hit. And luckily for Metropolis, their hero is Superman instead of, say, the Beefeater. Big Blue handles the big blue tornado easily, inhaling it into his super-lungs and exhaling it out in space.

Back at GBS, Edge is amazed that Asherman has accurately predicted the tornado, and he and Clark ask him how he did it. Asherman is just as confused as they are, saying the forecast just mysteriously popped into his head. Just then, he has another mystery prediction, this time that basketball-sized hailstones will strike the city. Sure enough, the hailstones appear later, and sure enough, Superman stops them from causing too much harm.

Once again, Clark meets with Asherman, this time without Edge. Clark asks Oscar what else he remembers about when the predictions popped into his head, and Asherman says he remembers hearing a name: Mark Mardon. Like a good superhero, Superman has kept up-to-date on all his villain files, and he remembers that Mark Mardon is the Flash's foe Weather Wizard. This leads to a visit to Flash in Central City. Flash confirms that Weather Wizard is locked up at the Central City prison farm. They decide to visit him there together.

Which is just what Weather Wizard had wanted them to do all along. You see, Mardon had recently read a book by Lois Lane about Superman's home world of Krypton in the Central City prison library, and the factoid that caught his eye was about black lightning (no, not Jefferson Pierce). As opposed to a regular lightning strike, which usually kills the victim, black lightning turns the victim into a killer. He then attempts to demonstrate this by pulling out a homemade weather wand that he had smuggled in his hair and zapping Supes with the aforementioned black lightning (in a cool visual effect by Swan and Oksner). While Superman appears to be overcome by the lightning, Weather Wizard goads him to kill Flash.

But instead of killing "Flash", "Supes" knocks Weather Wizard out with a karate chop to the back of the head. Next, the heroes reveal their plan: A World's Finest-style costume switch. Supes was actually disguised as Flash and vice-versa. The end.

Some observations:

1. Yes, Weather Wizard's plan to lure Flash and Supes to visit him together was executed in the most inefficient, Rube Goldberg way possible. Using long-distance suggestion to compel a Metropolis weatherman to make bizarre weather predictions and then staging that very weather conditions predicted, and then projecting your name into the weatherman's mind in the hope that somehow word would get to Superman and lure him into your trap? Lord, there had to be a better way. Then again, it's Cary Bates, just go with it.

2. I was amused how the heroes successfully pulled off the costume switch back then, something that would be impossible today. I mean, look at the Who's Who statistics on DC Heroes. Sure, Superman and Batman switching would still work because they have smilar heights and physiques, but the same couldn't be said for the 5'11" 179 lb. Barry Allen Flash's runner's body and the 6'3" 225 lb. Superman's linebacker build. Did you ever see the movie "Face Off", in which John Travolta's character was required to use Nicolas' Cage's character's actual face to impersonate Cage? The differences in the two actors' sizes were similarly ignored. Not only that, I was curious how Flash fit the latex Supes mask over those earpieces.

3. Looking back at Weather Wizard's plot objective, I can safely say this was the stupidest plan in the world.

You're the Weather Wizard. Your plan is to manipulate Superman and Flash into visiting you together and meeting alone in your prison's visiting room, where you'll turn Superman into a homicidal maniac so that he'll kill the Flash for you.

Let's review the flaws in this plan: Assuming he kills Flash first, what happens then? Suppose the black lightning doesn't wear off and Supes is still a killer? Who do you think he'll go after next? Who else is in the room alone with him?

That's right. You, Einstein.

Now suppose it does wear off immediately after he kills Flash. It'll take him one second to realize that he just killed Flash, one of his best friends, and that you just made him do it. What do you think his reaction will be?

Do you think he'll just shrug his shoulders, say "Wow, you really got me, Mark!", and then just fly off? Or is it more likely that he'll immediately kick your weather-manipulating ass? You may just be eating your prison meals through a straw for a while.

The backup story was a Green Arrow and Black Canary tale called "The Mystery of the Wandering Dog", written by Elliot S! Maggin and drawn by Mike Grell. The plot is simple: While Ollie and Dinah are contending with a new high-tech crime syndicate, they also take in a stray dog who turns out to be Krypto the Superdog with amnesia (no, I am not making this up).

Why was I drawn to this particular comic out of all the ones on the drugstore rack?

Here's why:

Because Nick Cardy, that's why.

And this particular scene never actually appeared in the story. Damn you, Cardy!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Night Fights: O.P.P.! - Round 5: St. Patrick's Day Edition!

After taking a week off, I'm back in the squared circle, this time with a special St. Patrick's Day Panel O' Pain! And what better way to celebrate this Irish holiday than with a bit o' the Green?

Lantern, that is!

Tonight's Emerald Painfest comes to us from Green Lantern#25, written by Gerard Jones and illustrated by M.D. "Doc" Bright and Romeo Tanghal. The situation: Hal Jordan wants to be the Earth's GL. Guy Gardner already is the Earth's GL. They decide to fight for it. Winner takes all. Loser leaves the GL Corps.

They start out dueling with their rings, but too much property is getting trashed, so they decide to forgo the rings and fight man-to-man. Hal gets in his first shot and knocks Guy down. The rest of the Leaguers think Guy will go down with one punch like he did with Batman. But Guy ain't havin' it. He starts whaling on Hal while revealing his favorite Kelly Clarkson song:

Funny, I would have guessed "Miss Independent". Who knew?

(Special thanks to Sally.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Watching The...Well, You Know


Last weekend I saw, er, watched "The Watchmen". Good sport that she is, my lady love, who I will refer to from now on as Future Mrs. NITF, actually agreed to go with me. She knew how I had bought the trade paperback version when I was a young lad of twenty-one and how it rocked my world back then. Needless to say, anyone daring the film version had big shoes to fill.

How did the movie stack up?

I actually enjoyed the movie overall, although it had many flaws and omissions, both in what it left out of the movie and what it left in. As anyone who has watched movies adapted from novels, graphic or otherwise, knows, there are bound to be disappointments with the finished product. Favorite scenes cut out. Changes to the story. Actors who play the role differently than the reader had originally envisioned.

Think of it like going to see your favorite arena rock band, a veteran band with several albums under their belts, like , say, U2 or Radiohead or the Foo Fighters. In the space of a 2 hour concert, you will see the band perform many of its greatest hits along with some rarities, but large chunks of their discographies will go unplayed onstage. Some of those unplayed songs may be your personal favorites. The same can be said of "Watchmen". Director Zach Snyder had the unenviable task of distilling a 12-chapter graphic novel, complete with two or three pages of written articles of exposition accompanying each chapter, into a two hour and forty-five minute movie. So you could expect some missing pieces.

The question you have to ask yourself in both cases is: Was it still worth paying your hard-earned money to see it?

With "Watchmen" the answer is "yes", although I had my share of disappointments.

Many of the book's "greatest hits" were faithfully executed, like the scenes with Dr. Manhattan ending the Viet Nam War, Comedian "policing" the rioters, Rorschach's prison time, and Nite Owl in his basement. As with the best arena rock concerts, the visual effects and scenery were quite stunning, especially Dr. Manhattan's Mars construct and Nite Owl's ship Archimedes (which whet my appetite for a possible but highly unlikely Blue Beetle movie). Snyder handled much of the editing masterfully, particularly with the opening montage detailing the backstory of this alternate Earth's development.

Still, it was far from perfect.The adjective that kept going through my mind about this movie was "truncated". While this may seem like a strange word to describe a nearly-three-hour film, I have to call it like I saw it.

There were parts of the film where Snyder upped the ante on the violence where he didn't need to. Yes, some of artist Dave Gibbons' scenes in the book were bloody, but I swear if I never see a compound fracture in a movie again it will be too soon.

The performances were mostly very strong, and may push many of the previously unknown stars into a higher tax bracket. With his work here as Comedian, former "Grey's Anatomy" and "Supernatural" star Jeffrey Dean Morgan will probably make moviegoers forget about Dead Denny, although he carries over his Papa Winchester character's tendency to look too old or too young for his character's age. (In fairness, though, so does his comics counterpart.) He has a lot of fun with his Edward Blake's contradictions, reveling in his character's amorality but still making him human.

Jackie Earl Haley as Rorschach was a revelation here, especially considering I was mostly familiar with him as Kelly Leek in "Bad News Bears" and from lighthearted coming-of-age movies as "Breaking Away" and "Losin' It". Even fully masked, he provides a strong emotional presence throughout the film, but his best scenes are the ones with his shifting mask off. Looking like a deranged (or more deranged)
Alan Kalter, his face reveals a series of emotional and physical scars, and his scenes with his prison psychiatrist are particularly riveting.

It's hard to review Billy Crudup visually, as his Dr. Manhattan was mostly a CGI creation, but his vocals accurately reflected someone who's increasingly on the outside of humanity, looking in. His performance reminded me a bit of Brent Spiner's Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, which is a high compliment in this case.

Patrick Wilson's Nite-Owl had a lower-key role than either Rorschach, Comedian, or Manhattan, but Wilson nailed the nerdy inventor/hero Dan Dreiberg, who is the most likeable main character. Which made how Snyder misused Nite Owl in the final scenes of the film almost shameful. If you had to include a "Nite-Owl loses his shit" scene in the film, wouldn't it have been better to use the one Moore originally wrote instead of cutting it out and tacking on a new one somewhere else?

But that was nothing compared to the mishandling of Silk Spectre in the film. In the book, she, along with Nite-Owl, is the human center of the story. Her scene with Dr. Manhattan on the moon is the big emotional catharsis of the book. In the movie, it's treated as almost an afterthought. I'm not even sure how to fairly grade Malin Ackerman's performance as Laurie here. She's more natural in her dialogues with Wilson's Dreiberg than in her scenes with the CGI Manhattan, and she handles the fight scenes well. Sure, maybe there were actresses who could have captured Laurie's cynicism or her expressions better, but her character had essentially been gutted before Ackerman had the chance to read her first line. The very fact that her character in the movie is called "Laurie Jupiter" instead of "Laurie Juspeczyk" is testament to this.

While I enjoyed Matthew Goode as Gary Sturgis in "The Lookout", he was a mixed bag as Ozymandias. Goode captured Adrian Veidt's world-weary demeanor and pioneer spirit very effectively, but whoever handled his hair and wardrobe did him a tremendous disservice. Whereas Veidt looked like a confident and stylish philanthropist in the comic, in the movie he looked more like the keyboard player for Duran Duran. Worse, his Ozymandias costume in the movie was so different from the book version that it diluted the impact of the whole "catching the bullet in his hand" scene. While his comic costume was essentially just a pullover shirt and a toga, his suit was so armored up in the movie that he could have probably taken one to the chest point blank. And apparently the tachyon fields at Ozy's fortress were interfering with his American accent, which was flawless in "The Lookout".

Snyder effectively stayed true to artist Gibbons' vision, but at times I wished he'd shown a better understanding of Alan Moore's. There were many frustrating moments about watching this film. For example, Snyder cast veteran sci-fi actor Stephen McHattie delightfully against type as Hollis Mason (the older Nite Owl I), but cut out Mason's big final fight scene (and everything except the opening beer scene for that matter).

Worse, some of the scenes Snyder kept in the movie were edited or changed in a way that seemed to indicate he had missed the whole point of those scenes in the first place.

Most obvious was the scene where Nite Owl is yelling at Rorschach for living off people while insulting them. Snyder omitted the line ("Do you realize how hard it is to be your friend?") which was the whole point of that scene. And considering that Moore's original purpose for including "All Along The Watchtower" was to highlight the line "two riders were approaching", shouldn't the scene in question have included, well, two riders approaching instead of two walkers?

And the scene near the end where Sally was watching "Outer Limits" was left in, but the inside joke behind the scene was left out. (In the comic, Sally's watching the OL episode "The Architects of Fear". Ozymandias' plot had the same idea, tricking warring human governments into thinking they're being attacked by an alien common enemy and forcing them to get along, as the plot of "Architects", which Moore had not seen until after almost completing his script. Thus he added the OL scene with Sally as a "dedication".)

Despite all the flaws, the film was a successful and well-done adaptation of the graphic novel. But without the flaws I mentioned, it could have been a classic.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Friday Night Fights: O.P.P.! - Round 3: Atom-Smashing!!

Time for another round of ....One Panel of Pain!

Tonight's painfest comes to us from The Atom#36, "Duel Between Two Atoms" by Gardner Fox, Gil Kane, and Sid Greene. As advertised, it's a Silver-Age battle royale between the Atom of Earth-1, Ray Palmer, and his Earth-2 counterpart, Al Pratt. Unlike Ray, Al lacks the ability to alter his size.

But, as you can see here, Al doesn't really need it.

Especially not when he can hit Ray so hard that he flies out of the panel.

(I don't even want to know what his "Atomic Vibrator" does.)

Monday, March 02, 2009

I Hope "I Hope You Die In A Fire!" Dies In A Fire

In the few days since Scans_Daily got shut down, one thing about the subsequent reaction really stuck in my craw.

It wasn't anything Peter David or the Scans_Daily moderators said, nor was it the responses from bloggers like Lisa"Ragnell" Fortuner or Johanna Carlson or even Kevin Church.

No, what upset me was a comment one poster made to Mr. David. His exact words were "I hope you die in a fire."

Not cool, in more ways than one.

Yes, I understand that this was not likely an actual death threat for many reasons, not the least of which is that the poster surely lacks the means to carry it out. And I also understand that this phrase is sadly commonplace on the internet. I get that it usually means nothing except a catharsis for the one using the phrase. Still, something about it just rubs me the wrong way.

It could be that people use it way too casually in online arguments. Valerie D'Orazio was on the receiving end of that little comment a few weeks back, in response to some disparaging remarks she made about the current Teen Titans comic. Teen Titans, for Christ's sake! Say what you will about Valerie, but nothing, and I mean nothing, that she could have possibly said would warrant that type of response.

But the real sticking point in my mind could go back to a memory from when I was about 20 years old.

One of my neighbors died in a fire.

An explosion, to be exact, caused by a leaking gas main in her house. One night the gas started leaking and by the next morning, there was little left of her or the house. She was an older lady who lived down my block. To be honest, I didn't know her all that well, since my family was relatively new to the block. But many of my then-neighbors did, and they missed her terribly.

I also remember hearing about what happened to Karen Ellis (of Planet Karen fame) a few weeks back. She lost virtually everything she owned when the apartment above hers caught fire. Fortunately, Karen herself survived physically unharmed. The occupant above her was not so lucky and died in the blaze.

Not so cathartic now, is it?