August Theatrical Releases: What Looks Good

Ooh! And I didn’t wait until two weeks into August to post these this time!

Here’s what I’m looking forward to (or at least mildly curious about) next month.

7 August

Julie and Julia: I love Amy Adams. And Meryl Streep looks like a hoot as Julia Childs. But mostly, I love Amy Adams.

Shorts: I liked the Spy Kids movies, so I’m hoping that I’ll find something to enjoy in this too. The crocodile, if nothing else.

A Perfect Getaway: This could go a couple of different ways: cool, island thriller or lame, stalker horror flick. Either one’s going to have Milla Jovovich doing a little butt kicking in the tropics though, so yeah, I’m interested.

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: Come on. How bad could it be?

Okay, in all serious, I’ve got zero expectations that this will be any better than Transformers 2 or even Van Helsing, so there’s a miniscule chance that it’ll pleasantly surprise by achieving some level of not-that-badness. Really though, the only reasons I’m even curious about it are the undersea headquarters and the combat subs.

14 August

Ponyo: A combination of Hayao Miyazaki and undersea fantasy can’t be anything other than wonderful.

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard: Stupid title, but I love Jeremy Piven when he’s playing a butthole. And the trailer for this looks really funny.

It Might Get Loud: (limited release) I wish this was just about the Edge. Just saying. Update: Okay, I just watched the trailer and that first comment was a stupid thing to say. I’m initially interested in this solely because of the Edge, but it’s really really cool seeing him interact with Jimmy Page and Jack White. I expect I’ll come out of the movie with a greater appreciation for both of those guys.

21 August

Inglorious Basterds: It’s Tarantino, Brad Pitt, and WWII. Pretty much can’t go wrong.

Post Grad: What can I say? I miss Rory.

28 August

Halloween II: I only mildly enjoyed Rob Zombie’s remake of the original, but I’m enough of a Halloween fan that I’ll have to see this.

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Samurai 7 at Robot 6

This week’s Gorillas Riding Dinosaurs column is up.

Samurai 7
Original Story by Akira Kurosawa; Illustrated by Mizutaka Suhou; Translated and Adapted by Yoko Kubo
Del Rey; $10.99

Another manga review this week, but this one’s especially pleasant to write. I knew I had a pretty good chance of liking Anne Freaks because I bought it myself based on the concept. Samurai 7 was sent by the publisher though and that’s more risky. I fail to connect with the vast majority of manga (and of books in general, for that matter) that I’m sent from various sources, but that means that when something hits just right it’s a wonderful surprise. And that’s Samurai 7.

I should start with the admission that I’m not all that familiar with Japanese arts and that includes the films of Akira Kurosawa. I appreciate Japanese film; I just haven’t exposed myself to a lot of it yet. I haven’t even seen The Magnificent Seven, much less The Seven Samurai. I know the basic plot, but the closest I’ve gotten to seeing it played out onscreen is in The Three Amigos with its singing bush and plethora of piñatas. I’m so not capable of comparing Samuai 7 – a space opera adaptation of Seven Samurai – to its source material. I’ve got to judge it solely on whether or not it’s entertaining all by itself.

Even if you’re as unfamiliar with Kurosawa as I am, you know the plot. A poor village is plagued by repeated bandit attacks and hires a group of warriors to fight off the bad guys. In Samurai 7 the village is represented by a young girl named Kirara, her even younger sister, and a middle-aged farmer named Rikichi. They go to the big city to see if they can find some out of work samurai to help them. Since the end of the Solar System-wide war that nearly destroyed Earth, a lot of warriors are unemployed, but most of the samurai that Kirara and Rikichi encounter are just as bad as the bandits back home. That is until Kirara meets a runaway named Katsushiro who desperately wants to be a samurai and is willing to pretend he is in order to get to know Kirara better.

Read the rest at Robot 6.

Great Reads

Brother Calvin has kindly presented the Adventureblog with another award, this one for being a Great Read. It’s an honor for several reasons, first of which is that Calvin’s blog is so dang entertaining itself.

There don’t seem to be any hard rules about this one and I’m not going to make up any for myself this time either. Instead, I’m just passing this along to several blogs that I love specifically for their entertaining writing, including Cal’s, regardless of whether or not I’ve recognized them before.

In alphabetical order:

Thanks so much, Cal! You made my day.

What’s So Cool About the Sub-Mariner?

As long as I’m digging into Aquaman’s past, it might (I hope!) be interesting to check out how Marvel worked with Sub-Mariner about the same time. And by “about the same time” I mean that it was only a couple of years after Aquaman reappeared in the ‘60s that Namor also made his Silver Age reappearance in the pages of The Fantastic Four.

I know even less about Namor’s Golden Age stories than I do about Aquaman’s (which is limited to a couple sentences I read on Wikipedia), but from Marvels and similar stories that talk about his WWII career I get the sense that he’s always been an anti-hero at best. The exceptions being the times he was an outright villain.

His encounters with the Fantastic Four paint him mostly as a villain, if a sympathetic one. That automatically makes him more interesting than Aquaman, who – in those days – was really nothing more than a cookie-cutter superhero with a water theme. None of this is surprising of course. It was absolutely typical for DC to create iconic, high-concept heroes and simply come up with wacky, high-concept adventures for them. Marvel, on the other hand, made its name by creating fascinating characters and then developing them over the course of their series.

Not that Aquaman had no character development (his meeting Aqualad and forming a relationship with Atlantis are two early examples) or that the Fantastic Four never had wacky, high-concept adventures (in fact, most of them were exactly that). But for the most part, Aquaman’s early stories can be read completely independently of each other and in practically any order without making you so much as blink in confusion.

The Fantastic Four’s adventures, on the other hand, built on each other. If a particular high-concept was successful (like Namor or Doctor Doom or the Skrulls were), then you could bet that not only would they return, but that their next story would so heavily reference the previous one that it would really just be a continuation of it. In short, Marvel had discovered serial fiction while – generally speaking – DC was just telling continuous stories with the same characters.

All of which is a very high-level view at the difference between the two characters. Having already dug into Aquaman a little, I want to do the same with Namor, if even more so. In looking at his early appearances in the Silver Age, I’m not going to focus much on his personality. One reason is that I’ve just covered that above, but a better reason is that that’s where everyone goes when discussing the difference between him and Aquaman. I think it’ll be far more interesting to look at Namor as a water-themed character. In other words, regardless of how grumpy he is, are his powers and his story more or less interesting than Aquaman’s?

Namor’s first Silver Age appearance is in Fantastic Four #4. In the previous issue, Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, left the group due mostly to the Thing’s constant pissing and moaning. I’m going to try to stay focused on Namor in these posts, but it’s worth mentioning that the Thing was extremely whiney in the early days. Not pleasantly grumpy like he can be around Johnny these days, but constantly complaining about everything. Everything was always about the Thing and how rough he had it.

You have to cut the guy a little slack, because physically he got the worst of the cosmic rays that gave the team their superpowers. But I quickly got tired of the Thing’s personality and I had the advantage of being able to close the book whenever I wanted. I don’t blame Johnny for taking off on his own.

Johnny knows that the others are going to look for him, so he heads to the roughest part of town he can find to lie low there for a while. Spending the night in a men’s hostel, he finds an old Sub-Mariner comic to read and coincidentally meets an amnesiac with incredible strength who bears a striking resemblance to Namor. Johnny figures out that it is Namor and takes the disoriented Atlantean to the ocean to jog his memory.

He drops Namor into the water and sure enough, Namor recollects who he is. He returns to his underwater city and finds it destroyed, the glow of nuclear radiation still pulsing from atomic tests. Namor doesn’t believe his people were destroyed, but he doesn’t know where to begin looking for them either. Ticked off, he returns to the surface and vows to take revenge on humanity.

As strong as he is, he’s not so cocky as to think he can go to war against the surface world all by himself. Fortunately, he knows the location of a sleeping, underwater behemoth named Giganto. And the Atlantean trumpet that will wake the monster up and control it.

Here’s an important difference between Namor and Aquaman. Aquaman fought his share of alien or mutated sea monsters, but they were always presented as the menace he was trying to overcome. And more importantly, they were always presented as being strange and irregular. Aquaman would use his mundane sea creatures to fight these things, ultimately sending them back to whatever world or dimension they came from. For Namor, Giganto is something that exists in his world all the time. It’s certainly not commonplace or mundane, but you get the feeling that Namor lives in a much more exciting place than Aquaman.

In fact, Namor says as much when he reveals that Giganto is just one of many sea monsters at his disposal. When the Fantastic Four defeat Giganto, Namor claims that it’s no big deal. He says that he can use the trumpet to “unleash a horde of undersea monsters such as mankind never dreamt of.” It’s only by disorienting Namor and making him lose the trumpet that the Fantastic Four are able to temporarily defeat him. The issue ends with the Thing’s worrying over Namor’s escape and Mister Fantastic’s bravely stating that the Four will be ready when Namor returns.

It’s not going to be so simple though. Namor proves a couple of times in this issue that he’s more than a match for the group in a straight-up fight. He appears to be stronger even than the Thing and at one point knocks all three of the Four’s men out at the same time. There’s really a lot of attention given to how powerful Namor is; another difference between him and Aquaman, who needs to call in some whales if he wants any heavy lifting done.

The final difference between Namor and Aquaman from this issue is that Namor falls in love. Aquaman’s too much of a bachelor-hero to have time for icky girls, but Namor’s smitten by Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl, as soon as he sees her. He calls her the loveliest human he’s ever seen and immediately offers to consider forgiving humanity if she’ll marry him. He may be in love, but he’s still a butthole.

Sue actually consents, but Namor senses that she’s only doing it because he’s forcing her and that ticks him off even more. Which is how we know that he really likes her. He’s in no position to romance her, but he’s not going to take her by force as an alternative. In his own, jerky, prideful way, refusing her reluctant agreement shows that his jerky, prideful proposal was at least genuine.

Namor does of course return, and only two issues later when Doctor Doom asks for his help in defeating the Fantastic Four. We’ll take a look at that next week and also see what kind of effect – if any – Namor’s had on Sue Storm.

Aquaman in the JLA: The Brave and the Bold Era

So, looking at Aquaman’s earliest Silver Age appearances we learned that he was always intended to be a superhero first. He had all the standard trappings: a sidekick, a secret hideout, a super-power (for all practical purposes he really only had the power to control sea life), and a weakness. The only thing he didn’t have was a secret identity, which is actually pretty remarkable for that time period. Any potential he had as an undersea fantasy hero though was largely unexplored. His adventures were mostly on the surface, helping sailors and seaside communities fight modern-day smugglers and pirates.

What I want to do next, before exploring more of Aquaman’s solo career, is to look at his membership in the Justice League of America. After all, it was his perceived ineptness in the ‘70s Super Friends cartoon that started the whole Aquaman-is-Lame meme. By sticking him with a bunch of other superheroes, Aquaman’s limitations as a superhero concept were highlighted.

In re-reading Volume 1 of the Justice League of America Archives, I didn’t actually expect to uncover anything new about Aquaman’s role in the JLA. My goal was just to document how he contributed (or didn’t) to the cases the JLA took in its early years. I’ve also got to finish the first volume of Showcase Presents the Justice League of America, so there’s more evidence to gather, but here’s what I’ve found so far. Today we’ll look at the JLA’s first three appearances in The Brave and the Bold. I’m thinking about making this a weekly thing, so next week we’ll see what happens when the JLA gets their own comic.

The Brave and the Bold #28: “Starro the Conqueror”

The Case: An extra-terrestrial echinoderm comes to Earth, makes duplicates of himself, and tries to take over.

Aquaman, Attack!: It’s actually Aquaman who discovers the Starro threat thanks to the report of a puffer fish. When Starro changes mundane starfish into giant copies of himself, the JLA splits into teams to stop them. Aquaman’s job, given to him by the Flash, is to “patrol the sea deeps in case Starro makes any more giant starfish” and to alert the rest of the team if he learns anything. Woo hoo. Big important job there.

That sidelines him for the rest of the adventure until the very end where the entire team goes up against Starro himself. But even then, Aquaman’s role is to stand around and watch the others work.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: Poor.

The Brave and the Bold #29: “Challenge of the Weapons Master”

The Case: A criminal from the future travels to our time to test some weapons on the JLA. There’s some very stupid logic behind his outlandish plot, but the gist of it is that whichever weapon defeats the JLA will also help him beat the cops in his own time. He traps the team in their headquarters by immobilizing them with a “gravitic ray” (Hey! Why not use that against the cops?) and then sends them out in groups to fight his other weapons.

Aquaman, Attack!: Aquaman is paired with Martian Manhunter to battle a De-Evolutionizer cannon at the Panama Canal. Aquaman helps solve the Weapons Master’s riddle so that he and Manhunter know where to go, but he travels on the back of a huge sailfish to get there. Blown by Manhunter’s super-breath. Apparently Manhunter can blow a sailfish to Panama faster than Aquaman can swim. Lame.

He does better in the actual fight though. Since they’re at the canal, he can call in sea help. First he gets a team of octopi together to cover the viewscreen on the Weapons Master’s giant robot with ink, then he has them drag the robot into the ocean. While Weapons Master is trying to de-evolutionize the octopi (as Aquaman hides below the ocean’s surface), Manhunter whips up a way to defeat the weapon.

The villain escapes though and returns to fight the entire League with his Illusion-Maker. He makes the heroes fight each other, thinking they’re fighting alien monsters. Aquaman’s ineffectual, but no more so than anyone else. In the end, Superman – who’s been absent up to this point – swoops in to ex machina the deus.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: Okay.

The Brave and the Bold #30: “The Case of the Stolen Super-Powers”

The Case: Professor Ivo creates the Amazo robot to steal the Justice League’s powers, which will in turn help Amazo steal specimens of the longest-living creatures in the animal kingdom. It’s all part of a plan to unlock the secrets of immortality, naturally.

Aquaman, Attack!: In an epic example of Aquaman’s uselessness, Amazo uses Aquaman’s power to lift large fish to the ocean’s surface so that he can run across them with Flash’s speed. Only – as we’ve seen countless times – Flash is perfectly capable of running on water without having to use fish. Amazo doesn’t even need Aquaman’s power.

Aquaman does help to create a list of long-living animals though by suggesting the tortoise as the longest-living reptile. Way to go, Aquaman! He even goes along with Green Lantern to protect the oldest tortoise in the world, but he has to be pulled across the top of the ocean by power-ring-created water skis. Guess he can’t swim as fast as Green Lantern can fly. Not quite as lame as Martian Manhunter and the sailfish, but still…

And while Green Lantern’s fighting Amazo, Aquaman’s sole responsibility is to talk to the tortoise and help it hide. Which he totally sucks at because he picks a little underwater cave right underneath the very island where Amazo and GL are fighting. Once Amazo’s done with GL, he immediately spots the hiding place with Manhunter’s super-vision, steals the tortoise, and uses his own power ring to send the heroes back to Ivo. In the final battle with Ivo, it’s Green Lantern who saves the day while Aquaman and the others watch.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: Poor.

Next week: Despero and Green Arrow. But things don’t get any prettier for Aquaman.

Music Meme: 1999

Continuing my list of favorite albums from every year I’ve been alive.

1999

Dido: No Angel

Even though there were a few albums that I liked in ’99, this was an easy choice. I still love this record. Still love Dido. I’ve been in love with her stuff since the first time I heard “Hear With Me.” At the time I thought it was an interesting cross between Garbage and the Cranberries and I loved it enough to watch Roswell every week because they used it for the theme song. (I went to Roswell for Dido, but I stayed for Emilie de Ravin.)

Though I started off comparing her to other musicians, the rest of the album is totally it’s own thing. My earliest memory of “Thank You” is lying in bed sick one morning, knowing that I had to go into work later for an important meeting and dreading it. I heard the song on the radio and it made me happy enough that I got up and moving. Went out and bought the album right after that.

Love her voice. Love her words. Love her music. Love her love her love her.

Runners Up:
Lou Bega: A Little Bit of Mambo
Macy Gray: On How Life Is
Smash Mouth: Astro Lounge

Singles:
Baz Luhrmann: “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”
Ricky Martin: “Livin’ la Vida Loca”
The Offspring: “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)”
Sixpence None the Richer: “Kiss Me”
Sugar Ray: “Every Morning”

And Now the News: The Most Diabolical House of All!

I’m playing around with my posting schedule a little – as I’m wont to do – and am considering just doing one weekly news wrap-up post instead of trying to keep up over the week. Same with the art gallery posts. Hopefully that’ll encourage me to generate more of my own content during the week. Not making any promises though. I think I’ve learned my lesson about that.

Lots of news coming out of San Diego of course and that’ll continue all weekend. Here’s what I’ve found most interesting so far:

The Collected Lorna

Marvel’s got a $60 hardcover coming out in October that collects a lot of old Lorna, the Jungle Queen/Girl stories. I don’t think I’ll buy it until they release a cheaper, paperback version, but I hope it does well enough for them to do a second volume featuring Jann of the Jungle.

Not only was Jann almost a member of the World’s Most Awesome Super Team, but her adventures were some of my favorite of the Golden Age jungle stories. Much better than Lorna and her jerky boyfriend anyway.

Squadcast

As much as I like most of Marvel’s kids’ line, I’ve always had a bug up my butt about the Marvel Superhero Squad line. It was too dumbed down; too tame. Any line that turns Hulk into a smiley, happy guy who prefers to use his words before his fists is most certainly not intended for me.

But lately the promo art for the Squad has had Hulk looking a bit more grumpy and/or mischievous, so when they announce a cartoon version with a line-up like this, I’m interested. I mean, it’s cool enough that they’ve got some of my favorite people (Taye Diggs and Greg Grunberg to name two) providing voices, but they’re also including characters like Black Widow and Valkyrie. And Kevin Sorbo playing Ka-Zar? That’s almost as inspired as George Takei’s playing Galactus. Well done, Marvel.

House of the Wolf Man

House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula aren’t the greatest Universal monster films ever made, but they’re a lot of fun on their own terms since they team up the Unholy Trinity of the Universal Monsters. I always felt that the Wolf Man got a little ripped off since he never got one with his name on it. Well, no more.

The sequel that everyone-would-have-been-waiting-for-if-only-we’d-realized-it may not be a Universal production, but it’s sure got the spirit of the others. It even stars Ron Chaney. Thanks so much to Undead Backbrain for finding this.

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s the Facebook page if you want updates.

Back Roads

IDW has announced a new fantasy comic by Bill Willingham and Gene Ha. It’s about a guy who learns that a multiverse of fantasy worlds exists and that its possible to travel between them on the Back Roads. Sounds like a great concept with unlimited potential. Just the sort of thing I’d expect the creator of Fables to do really well with.

More Bone!

Speaking of fantasy worlds, Jeff Smith is returning to his. The official press release is misleading and makes it sound like there are two new comic series coming out, but Smith is more clear on his blog.

Bone: Tall Tales will have some new material, but will also be a re-packaging of the Stupid, Stupid Rat-Tails mini-series that Smith and Tom Snigoski did about Big Johnson Bone while the regular Bone series was still coming out. It’ll also collect some material from Disney Adventures. The new material will include a framing sequence of Smiley and Bartleby telling campfire stories to some young Bone Scouts as well as some new Johnson Bone tales.

The Quest for the Spark trilogy isn’t a comic at all, but a series of novels by Snigoski with illustrations by Smith. That’s still very exciting though. According to Smith, the books “follow a new generation of Bone characters into the Valley.”

Blacksad comes to Dark Horse

At last! I can’t describe how awesome Blacksad is without doing a full review of the two volumes that have already been translated into English. It’s an amazing series though and I’ve been waiting forever for the translation of the third and final book. Thanks, Dark Horse!