Friday, August 30, 2013

Batman Vol. 2: City of Owls (2013)

Batman Vol. 2: City of Owls (2013)




Talon: “Bruce Wayne…The Court of Owls…has sentenced you to…”

Bruce Wayne: *Hitting Talon on the head with a 2x4* “Yeah, I got it the first time!”

     Batman: City of Owls is the sequel to Batman: Court of Owls. (Reviewed here: http://www.christopherbowsman.blogspot.com/2013/07/comic-review-batman-court-of-owls-vol-1.html) This time, the Talons (Owl assassins.) are hunting Bruce Wayne. Now, since it was revealed…(spoilers?) what the Owls’ true origins are last volume, Batman seeks out Mr. Freeze to figure out how they are still alive. But, of course, not before he must defend the manor as just Bruce. (Scene above.) From there, I feel the book devolves into a character study of Mr. Freeze and others…which is expertly done, but feels like it belongs in another book with Mr. Freeze as the main villain.

     It’s fun to see Penguin helping Freeze escape (“Wah, wah!”) but really I just wanna see more Owls. But, that really doesn’t happen either. After the attack on Wayne Manor, Batman interrogates and lures Freeze in, but the book gets so bogged down by its own symbolism and psychology that it becomes pretentious and dull. For example, (mild spoiler) through Batman’s interrogation, we learn that Freeze’s ice fetish was actually caused by the death of his mother, who fell in ice. That’s nice, but this is an interrogation, not psychoanalysis…that and he was with his prison therapist pages earlier!

   All Batman should’ve uncovered was evidence of the Owls using Freeze’s tech. He does find out through a bit of serendipity that the Owls have apparently committed suicide when he investigates their roost, robbing him (so it would seem.) of his revenge. But, all that changes when Batman discovers a heart pin on his mother’s lapel on a portrait back at the Manor. (Lincoln March described such a pin in the first book.) In a random twist, Lincoln, once located, now claims to be Batman’s brother, Thomas Wayne Jr.!

   Don’t get me wrong, the epic showdown is good, and Lincoln March traps Batman in a children’s hospital, blows it up, crashes him into buildings while gliding on a Batgrappling hook in an owl costume…epic stuff. But, is the psychoanalytic “lost brother” touch really necessary? Lincoln as Owlman should be enough of a threat on his own. And since Batman himself concludes (spoilers!) that it doesn’t add up…why toss that angle out anyway? To make him look crazy? I think that was accomplished by the owl suit.

   Long story short, there’s too many side-narratives and pseudo-analysis going on here. In my opinion, the book sets one up to believe that the owls are coming, and Batman is on the run. This could work. Then, it derails itself by making the Mr. Freeze connection, and the owls’ subsequent super-convenient suicide.

   I like seeing Batman as a detective (and one of my favorite Batman stories is Am I Really Batman? An interesting play on the “I’m Batman.” catchphrase, though it predates it…An amnesia story.) but there’s too much symbolism, not enough Batman here. The Dark Knight Rises had the same problem. Besides, Mr. Freeze’s origin was already covered brilliantly in Batman: The Animated Series. It was his wife, not mother!
 
I of all people (communication theorist, translator, intercultural analyst.) know that Batman is open to interpretation, but this is a bit of a stretch. I blame the symbolism. There’s been a push lately to make Batman some sort of psychoanalytic figure…anyone who dresses up as a Bat clearly has issues, as Christian Bale’s Batman said. But, let’s not force the connections! We don’t need to hear about Freeze’s mother, Alfred’s father, Batman’s maybe-brother, and Dick Grayson’s grandfather. That just distracts from the action, but I get that it’s trying to say…The Owls predate Batman.
 
Overall, Court of Owls was a good story, but it’s sequel is maddeningly rambling. It sets up action scenes, then defuses them with back history and psychoanalysis…there’s even a story about Alfred’s father Jeeves’ warning Alfred never to come to Gotham. Frankly…with all due respect to Beware The Batman’s action-oriented Alfred…who cares?

 The reason I like both Batman: The Animated Series and Beware The Batman is that they both embrace all the flavors of Batman. The detective, the dark knight, Bruce Wayne…who isn’t afraid to be a bit foolish, even when dispensing justice. You see, my sense is…City of Owls set up a good enemy for Batman, (Lincoln March and The Owls.) and then didn’t know how to end.

   Good Batman stories always agree on tone. Beware The Batman has always been a detective story for kids, while Batman: The Animated Series was essentially the dark knight angle for 90s kids. I liked Court of Owls, where The Owls’ trap Batman, and take over his city. But, then you wait for their attack in the sequel, and there is one. Exactly one. It’s a lot of build-up with little payoff, for a gang who just took over the city. Overall, I echo Bruce Wayne’s sentiments: “Yeah, I got it the first time!” 1 star
rating from me…read it…but prepare for psychoanalytic babble.




Wednesday, August 28, 2013

AE: Apocalypse Earth (2013)

AE: Apocalypse Earth (2013)




Capt. Sam Crowe: “We protect each other, or we’re all gonna die alone.”

    But wait…so you’ll still die, but not alone? And what does that have to do with “We protect each other?” The sad thing is, if AE weren’t a B-movie low-budget mashup of sci-fi blockbusters like Avatar, Predator, and Star Trek, then it might actually have been good! Okay…not really. The effects and dialogue are horribly cheesy, but in a Syfy movie kind of way. It is after all, a direct-to-DVD thing I found on Netflix.

    Since I’ve been talking about Batman so much on here I wanted to review real sci-fi. Even if it’s Syfy material. AE borrows all the clichés. Earth is destroyed and the refugees have to learn how to survive and get along with the natives while killing their cloaked pursuers, “The Chameleons”. So, it is quite literally Avatar, Predator and Star Trek. To its credit, I felt like it was at least trying to form its own narrative, using familiar settings, which is more than I can say for J.J. Abrahms.

There’s even a Neytiri rip-off (Except she’s green! Haha!) named Lea, who teaches the crew how to survive, and a Data rip-off  named TIM (complete with the “synthetic skin” makeup) who struggles to understand human nature. Except he’s a horrible android actor who stutters occasionally, and can’t maintain flat affect. In addition, he keeps saying he’d be happy to do things, which gets annoying.
 
Oh dear, what else is there to say about this cheesefest? The group slowly encounters natives, and it turns out some humans were being kept by the Chameleons in zoos/laboratories. In one of the cheesiest “syfy” twists I have ever seen, when they reach the natives, it turns out Lea never learned to speak or write her native tongue. TIM mentions that many languages have similar structures, and perhaps he can synthesize a translation matrix. He becomes the interpreter, and the societies unite against the Chameleons!

   The events are standard procedure: First the humans learn to survive, then struggle against death, and then build some communication. Captain Sam Crowe is no doubt an amalgam of Jayne from Firefly and Captain Kirk…he spews hopeful one-liners like Kirk (“We’re not going down without a fight!”) and has the same build and anti-hero persona of Jayne. Plus, the end scene with the attack on The Chameleons with bows and arrows is equal parts Avatar and The Original Series episode Friday’s Child! If you recall, Kirk defeats the Klingon occupiers with a bow and arrow, and help from the natives.

   As bad as the effects and dialogue are, I gotta admit it’s still good to see good old syfy cheese with gunfights, and cheesy morals…even if it is recycled. Hollywood puts so much effort into spectacle these days, I think they forget sci-fi is a window into human social structure, and nature. Although this just mashed three movies together, it was good to see those themes come up again, but the movie never makes you connect with the characters. It never really could anyway, given that this is a cheesefest. And the CGI makes Lake Placid look good.

Overall, I love-hated the movie (if that makes sense!) It had bad acting, stock characters, horrible dialogue, and bad CGI! And yet…I feel there’s something comically noble in the way that it mixes sci-fi action-survival clichés with the questions of human society and nature And who doesn’t like a good syfy gunfight? It’s basically Captain Kirk and Data vs. The Predator!
 
 Admittedly, this movie is getting a bad rating from me. Probably something on the level of E. But, I’d also put it in the so-bad-it’s-good category. The Star Trek fan in me loves the philosophical bits, however badly executed, the syfy fan in me loves the gunfights, and arrows, and action bits. It’s really the bad acting and CGI in-between that hurts. But, at least you can laugh at it! Cliché yes, schlock yes, schmaltzy and low-budget? Yes and yes. And yet, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give it a watch on Netflix!
   



Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Beware The Batman Episode 6 “Toxic” Review:



Beware The Batman Episode 6  “Toxic” Review:

Batman: “There are two things in life everyone’s powerless against. Love and revenge.”

I loved this episode of Beware The Batman! It really shows a thinking man’s Batman. More compassionate and logical than the “Because he’s BATMAN!” school of thought cinema and pop culture have trapped some into in modern times. The story begins with two star-crossed lovers, and Simon Stagg doesn’t want her daughter dating his security guards. So, conducts an experiment on him to “weaponize his genetic code”, and turns him into the hideous Metamorpho, who can change his form.
 
One of the reasons I love this is that it makes for great sci-fi. There’s just enough babble to make it seem futuristic, but enough detective work to make it seem plausible. Also, I like that Simon Stagg is a greedy weapons’ contractor. You don’t see a lot of Batman going after rich evil people these days. They’re all criminally insane or terrorists usually. Nice to see Batman change up his targets.

    Speaking of how the villains are usually mentally ill, it’s strongly foreshadowed that the psychologist Dr. Ravencroft is a villainess, which I predicted…and loved! It’s nice to see Batman cares for the downtrodden and in this version, goes after even those in power with “normal” minds and bodies. Dr. Ravencroft asks Bruce on a date, and is especially creepy in this episode.
 
So, anyway, Batman helps Metamorpho find Stagg, but is still looking for a cure for him. I doubt he’ll find one, as Metamorpho is no doubt destined to team-up with Katana in The Outsiders. It was great to see Batman uncover Stagg’s operations while dodging a dinner date…they’re really pushing the spy/detective angle on Batman…and it’s nice to see him uphold things like love, equality, and logic. But, I still have no idea how you’d “weaponize” DNA. That’s what makes it good sci-fi!    

    This was a very risky episode of Beware The Batman, I feel. It challenges preconceived notions of Batman’s bravado, and shows a more sensitive side in his empathy with Metamorpho and his lover Sapphire. It also challenges body norms and traditional notions of love. Metamorpho asks several times if Sapphire still loves him the way he is, and she is conflicted. But, I suspect there’s more to their love than appearance.

   Also, the animation here is top notch. The imagery and the contrasting plots are perfectly juxtaposed. One story is about dating to keep up the appearance love (Ravencroft & Bruce Wayne), and the other is about recognizing inner beauty free of social conventions like dating. (Metamorpho and Sapphire) Stagg reacts emotionally to danger, while Batman acts logically.

  I love this interpretation of Batman. I know it’s pretty much a Romeo and Juliet story, but I needed to see that Batman is capable of such logic and compassion, as opposed to being the cold, brazen, macho man of recent public memory. Finally, I just can’t wait for The Outsiders to form! The first I’d heard of them was actually in Batman: The Brave And The Bold! But, I know it’s a Silver Age superhero team…

I really like The Silver Age Batman detective story they’re going for. I haven’t been this excited about a cartoon since Batman: The Animated Series! Great episode…great themes, great visuals! Definitely one of my first A+ rated episodes! I hope they keep it going!



Monday, August 26, 2013

Matsuricon 2013

                                                     (Aaron and I pose in front of a Dalek!)  

                      (I encountered another 11th Doctor. He was nice enough to show me his screwdriver!)

Two days ago, I went to Matsuricon 2013 at The Regency Hyatt Hotel in Columbus, OH! It was fun, and I loved just going around looking at all the cool costumes. One of the things I like about Matsuricon is that everything is kind of weird, but in a good non-judgmental way. It really spoke to me artistically. This time I went with my brother and best friend. My brother was the 10th Doctor, I was the 4th Doctor, and my best friend was the 11th Doctor. All our costumes had the Doctor Who theme. All 3 of our nametags said “The Doctor” too, so that was cool.

Speaking of costumes, I met quite a few other Doctors as well, and took some pictures. We also played board and card games, and I bought a set of Doctor Who sonic screwdrivers. I saw quite a lot of people with disabilities too, and in fact got some pictures with them too. The good thing is that Cons are usually always accessible. Later on, I bought a DVD set of Gantz. Then, I bought a print from Full Metal Alchemist, which is a great anime.  

My brother wanted to check out the videogame section where they had a Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament going on. So, we did that for a while, and then played one of our board games we rented in the board game room, a game called Pandemic. It’s a pretty cool game where you have to stop disease outbreaks cooperatively with each player being given a special role and special skills. I played the medic role. Recommended game!

Also, I met a lot of people who complimented my outfit, and let me take pictures. I think meeting people is probably the most fun. Plus, the cool souvenirs. The stuff that I see at cons is unlike anywhere else. Disability doesn’t matter. People are usually friendly, and you get to share your enthusiasm, and discover all kinds of neat people, toys, art, and games that you (likely) won’t see anywhere else!

I hope I get to go again! I always love going to cons! There is so much to do and see once you are there! I actually have more pictures, but I’m still waiting on some of them. Had a blast though! Hopefully, I’ll go to more cons as they come around! And meet cool people with and without disabilities! Stay tuned!

                                         Left to right: Aaron, brother, me. Note the cheese.
                                             

                                 (Me with another 4th Doctor! Screwing around with sonic screwdrivers!)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Batman vs. Superman: How To Save The Movie

 Batman vs. Superman: How To Save The Movie



So, I just got back from a cabin in the woods with no internet, and I’m just now finding out that Ben Affleck is Zack Snyder’s Batman. Like a lot of people, I’m disappointed. Some people fear this will be as bad as Daredevil’s first Hollywood attempt, which Affleck starred in. Personally, I don’t really have high hopes for a Batman vs. Superman movie anyway. It just serves the purpose of showing once again that DC Comics is still embarrassed of Superman, who used to be their biggest hero. Now it looks like they’ll be beating him up in his own sequel.

    So, then they will try to make a Justice League movie. And that’s fine by me. It just seems like they’re rushing to catch up to The Avengers, and rushing leads to bad decisions. In the DC movie Universe so far, we’ve barely gotten to know Superman, and although his debut film was just okay, (Fans of this site remember my initial reactions.) it certainly wasn’t inspiring or heroic, but I don’t think that justifies beating him up so soon.

    The one to blame for that god-awful idea is Frank Miller, whose 80s plotline The Dark Knight Returns makes Superman a government stooge who overreaches his power and tries to arrest Batman. Fans of this site will also remember that I hate Frank Miller’s insistence on praising fascistic anti-heroes, using too much red, and droll noir narration. My point is Ben Affleck is not the worst to happen to this movie. It was messed up when it was announced.

      That said, I can think of two ways to save the movie. Either bring in a good villain or introduce secondary characters like Wonder Woman. In Greg Rucka’s graphic novel “Sacrifice“, it wasn’t Batman who stopped a rampaging Superman, but Wonder Woman. That would be a big surprise for the audience to see Batman defeated as well as provide a good entry point for a Justice League movie, with the big three finally together. It would also end this ridiculous Batman vs. Superman debate. Who would win? Throw a curveball: Go with Wonder Woman…and then do an “Infinite Crisis” storyline for a Justice League movie.

     Alternatively, I would introduce Barry Allen, AKA The Flash into the movie Universe. He has a real chance to be a guide throughout the movies’ universe, just as Iron Man was for The Avengers. They both have the same attitude, and both were geniuses who’s powers were gained by accident. Flash was struck by lightning, Iron Man was captured. The tragic aspect would make his character relatable, as would his mortality, just as it does for Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, who can laugh off Nordic gods and supersoldiers because he’s one radical dude. That attitude would work with The Flash, and give audiences a comedic character to relate to, in what has so far been a dark and gritty universe. There is also one last option in my mind, to save this movie.

      Cast a good villain. The Dark Knight is mostly remembered for Heath Ledger’s Joker. In the 80s, before anyone knew that Michael Keaton was a viable Batman, Jack Nicholson was probably the main draw for that Batman movie. A good villain can make all the difference. I hear Bryan Cranston is maybe taking the role of Lex Luthor, but that sounds too good to be true. Especially fresh off his success with Breaking Bad, I suspect he won’t take a big risk by being in a Zack Snyder comic book movie. If it happens, I’ll be thrilled…he can play a good psycho. But, I don’t have high hopes from the guy who ruined Watchmen, consulted Frank Miller for a Superman story, and made Superman a bland angst summer movie. In my mind, a good Superman movie is something that reaches for the heavens and inspires heroism, as Richard Donner did.

     Lastly, I’ve been asked who my picks would’ve been for Batman and the villain, if not Ben Affleck and someone else. That’s easy: I’d do a live action Batman: The Animated Series. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are THE voices of Batman and Joker, and have done voice work for them as recently as Arkham City. Casting them would be a wonderful way to keep Batman and Joker familiar. The Arkham game series has proven  The Animated Series can work well with a dark atmosphere. I know Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are both older (and busy!) but it would’ve gotten a better reaction than Ben Affleck, whose last superhero performance in public memory was the failed Daredevil.

   Well, it may be too early to judge, but those are my initial thoughts on Ben “Batman” Affleck and how to save a Batman vs. Superman movie! I’m no Hollywood executive, but those are the two courses that would best appeal to me. Whatever appeals to Hollywood, I have no idea, but they ruined Green Lantern and Daredevil, so let me say I don’t have that much confidence. However, I’ll be satisfied if at least one of my speculations entertains my audience!    




Saturday, August 17, 2013

Spider-Man: Torment (2009)

Spider-Man: Torment (2009)




 “Come sit, my little one. Lull yourself into a false sense of security. Let your mind relax and your soul become vulnerable.”

- Calypso

   Spider-Man: Torment is a graphic novel collecting the 5 issues of the same name from 1992 (collected in 2009.) by Todd McFarlane. Calypso is controlling The Lizard with voodoo. Spider-Man hears the voodoo spell and it begins to affect his brain: (Read: DOOMDOOMDOOM.) He becomes lured to The Lizard, but not before the Lizard murders 4 people. For the luring spell to work, the sorceress adds a spider to her concoction and poisons him.

    In the fight that ensues, the sorceress makes Spider-Man believe he killed The Lizard by impaling it. He  wakes up and believes he sees Kraven The Hunter, who is supposed to be dead, so at this point the is losing his mind. This is a good psychological thriller of a graphic novel, a theme McFarlane does well. I feel as though I have a greater connection to Spider-Man because of this type of complexity. Also, Mary Jane is away dancing at a nightclub. She too. Worries that Spider-Man won’t come back.
   
   Spider-Man in this story has a triple threat. He’s got to save Dr. Connors AKA bring the humanity out in The Lizard, restore his grip on reality affected by the spell (DOOMDOOMDOOM.) and save himself. Eventually, through sheer force of will he is able to rescue himself from the burning building, and barely make it home in one piece, but the fate of The Lizard  seems uncertain. McFarlane does well illustrating how bloody and tattered the fight left Spider-Man…The Lizard finally swims up from deep below the sewers, with one word: DOOM.

   It’s Todd McFarlane, so obviously there’s a lot of dark spaces and blood. He shows you each panel almost bit by bit, so you don’t know what’s creeping around the corner. A recurring theme is “…RISE ABOVE IT!” which ends the intros to each of stories in the collection!

   This applies to location as well as psychology. While DOOM lurks below in the sewers, Spider-Man swings above him and confronts him finally in a warehouse. Also, he has to rise above the sorceress’s (Calypso’s) mental control, and physical pain through the poison. But, for a while it looks like he might not make it…(Spoilers, I guess?)

    Spider-Man: Torment is a neat graphic novel that actually starts off kind of funny (and what would Spider-Man be without jokes?) and then delves into mind control, murder, and anxiety. It has a pretty good story, despite working with second-tier villains. As usual per McFarlane, it’s very affecting both in art and psyche, but that’s what a good comic does: It stays with you.

      Lots of buildup, a useless Mary Jane subplot, and second-tier villains kind of make it hard to get through, but as I understand it, The Lizard wasn’t McFarlane’s first choice…the other villains all had other stories going at the time. This gets a 2-star rating from me. It’s really McFarlane’s art that draws me in.  



Thursday, August 15, 2013

Superman: Red Son (2004)

Superman: Red Son (2004)



“Let our enemies beware: There is only one Superpower now!”
    
   Yesterday, I read Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar. Superman: Red Son is an attempt to look at what would happen if Superman were born in the USSR. Every panel of Superman: Red Son is like a well-crafted propaganda shot. We see it through the eyes of those times. Through black-and-white televisions, satellites as they evolve, and of course live action from the comic's view. At first, Superman has the best of intentions: He only wants to help people and use his powers for good. He even has a certain childish naiveté about being used as a Communist soldier.

    It begins innocently enough. After Luthor brings down Sputnik, Soviet Superman saves it from crashing into Metropolis. But, that is only Luthor’s first test for the Man of Steel. (PS: I think I already knew “Stalin” translates to “Steel”, but I never thought of it as “Man of Steel” until this comic pointed out there are two Stalins…mind-blowing!) He also creates Bizarro as an American Superman, and even hires Green Lantern by order of John F. Kennedy!

    Although Superman’s intentions are good, he doesn’t respect the freedom of others. He just wants to keep them safe and healthy. By 1978, the USSR, not the U.S., controls the world politically. But, Superman has taken on a frightening appearance, almost demonic,  as he begins to rule the USSR and replace dissenters with robots. Everyone has a job. No one complains. The world runs like an Orwellian nightmare.

    In this universe, Batman’s parents were shot by the head of the KGB in a purging. This of course makes him the head rebel against Superman. He’s even got a wool hat with a Bat symbol on it. Anyway, since Superman only listened to propaganda in this universe, he never finds out about his weaknesses, and Batman beats him near to death under red sunlight, courtesy of Luthor.
 
   Batman is eventually cornered by Wonder Woman, a Communist convert. I enjoy picking on DC about this. It does always seem to come down to Batman vs. Superman, no matter what universe. but I won’t spoil anymore, because it’s a great book and a treasure to look at…a truly mind-challenging comic!

    My point is, this comic could’ve easily been very one-dimensional. But, it’s not. You see Superman change from just wanting to feed the hungry to replacing dissenters with robots. It’s truly haunting and invokes Orwell for me. Through it all though, there’s one thing that never happens: Intercultural dialogue.

Throughout the real Cold War, both sides sat down and talked to avoid going to war. Here, since Superman rarely talks to anyone in the U.S., and is routinely betrayed by his own friends looking to climb the Soviet political ladder, his connection to humanity becomes very remote, and hence he always forces his will on others.

His closest advisor becomes a former enemy. The lust for power replaces gradually any need he might have left for compassion…or does it? Since I promised I won’t spoil…But, it really is a life-changing 4-star comic with great lessons about communication, power, friendship, and history. 4 stars for this one! And remember…He’s watching you.



Elysium (2013)


Elysium (2013)

Max: “I need to get to Elysium.”

After taking a lethal dose of radiation while at his job, Matt Damon (Max) is given five days to live. Earth has turned into ruins, and the rich live above them in space in a place called Elysium. Of course, the robots don’t care about the humans on Earth. They only care about the humans on Elysium. So, after Max is harassed by robots the entire beginning of the movie, and then haphazardly given anti-radiation pills and five days to live, he realizes he needs to get to Elysium.

  But, the people on Elysium are all rich and healthy. They don’t want to welcome the power and the sick. Visually, Elysium is white and pristine, while Earth is like a grimy desert. Earlier in the movie, we see the rich people have no problem shooting down the poor, and I mean with missiles and an assassin named Kruger. So, to get around this Max visits his buddy Spider who outfits him with a cyborg exosuit that contains all of Elysium’s data.

      Astute William Gibson readers will notice this is the exact plot of the 1981 short story Johnny Mnemonic, only the affluent Megacorporations are in space, and the assassins aren’t with the Yakuza. A good amount of the film is in Spanish, whereas “Johnny Mnemonic” favored Japanese as the local language. Those similarities aside, Max tells his romantic partner he’s going to Elysium, and she wants her daughter to come with him, because she has leukemia, and they can cure disease on Elysium.

     One of the things Max’s cyborg body has the power to do is shut down Elysium. After a raid on Kruger’s men, Max’s buddies are wounded and looking for a way to get to Elysium, now that they have leverage. Frey’s (The romantic interest) daughter tells him a cute story about a monkey standing on a hippo’s back to get all the fruits it wants. From there, he gets the idea to threaten suicide if not taken on a ship. Again, that’s straight from Gibson…but, as Gibson is the father of cyberpunk, where there’s no middle class, it’s hard to escape his influence when making a cyberpunk movie.
 
I don’t know, I probably spoiled enough already, but then the movie becomes sort of predictable. There’s a big fight with Kruger on Elysium, and then he reboots Elysium to allow Earth citizens. One of the things I liked about it was that it shows the differences in class very well visually. Some Earth stuff is high-tech, but it doesn’t exist to serve them. Also, the people on Elysium abuse the language of disease to characterize Earth’s population. John Carlyle, the evil Secretary’s associate quips: “You think I like breathing this air?”

Everything on Earth is considered a burden, in true cyberpunk fashion. The only piece of technology that really serves the low class (as in Johnny Mnemonic!) is the protagonist’s cybernetic access to data the high class needs, and it’s part of his body. This theme always appeals to me as a disability theorist. How technology gives us strength! And along with the data, Max’s exosuit also grants him increased strength, because essentially he’s covered in a robotic chassis.

While such robotic technology appeals to me, I can’t help but think it might be used to “cure” the disability experience, which is my choice to live. Certainly, medical themes are prominent throughout Elysium. But, those are in life-threatening cases. The point is that just because someone has a disease, doesn’t mean they are a disease, and Elysium drives that home well!
   
In conclusion, it has some cyberpunk tropes that I’ve seen before…down to the computer expert named Spider who outfit’s the hero. But, it’s been a while since I’ve seen an honest-to-goodness cyberpunk action movie! So, I loved it! It’s got great action, with assassins and cyborg battles dominating most the movie. I just wish they didn’t draw so heavily from Johnny Mnemonic. (And no, I don’t mean the 1996 movie adaptation…though maybe I’ll review that later.)

Fans of cyberpunk and sci-fi should be pleased. Max could’ve been Keanu Reeves! (That’s a Johnny Mnemonic joke!) Matt Damon seems to draw from his Bourne Identity experience, and delivers a strong, socially conscious action hero that works well in the cyberpunk genre, showing the benefit of technology mixed with humanity. As far as a rating, I’ll give this movie a solid B!  
 



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

STAR TREK: SPOCK: REFLECTIONS (2009)

STAR TREK: SPOCK: REFLECTIONS (2009)



“All living beings require illumination and wisdom. And none so much as a child’s mind yearning for insight…that it is unable to find...”

- Old Spock to the Saurian passenger

    Since I reviewed Star Trek: Burden of Knowledge (2010), I figured I can now go back review Star Trek: Spock: Reflections, also by Scott Tipton with art by Fredrica Manfredi. This tells several different stories about Spock’s journey through life, from his school days to teaching on Romulus. These are told through flashbacks which cover important moments in coming to terms with his two-sided nature between logic and emotion.

    We start by a Saurian talking to him about leaving The Romulus-Federation Neutral Zone, and we get a flashback to Captain John Harriman taking over the Enterprise. John shows Spock a plaque he had committed in Kirk’s honor, and tells him that Kirk told him to take risks, if he wanted to sit in the Captain’s chair. Spock remarks that there is no need for ceremony because Kirk was only following his nature. It keeps things simple and logical, as Spock would no doubt have wanted. B- if only for the perfect Spock answer to Harriman.

    While the first story deals with Spock’s need for logic and simplicity, the next is a well-crafted excellent story about Spock’s emotional struggles. Sarek (Spock’s dad) is angry with Spock and goes after him for being out too late in the desert. Young Spock argues that he simply has a different course of logic. From there, on top of a beautiful Vulcan cliff, Spock explains that when he is outside, he feels at peace, and that he knows that him being half-human is a constant reminder to his father that he’s not a Vulcan. Sarek changes the subject and says that he will worry his mother. She is human, after all. And he leads Spock back home. A+ for this beautiful, well-drawn scene!

    Very little is often said about what Spock’s dad actually thinks of Spock’s half-breed nature. Although he tries to stay logical, his emotions interfere too. It’s a beautiful scene. Next, we see Spock with Captain Pike, on a planet too far for transporters to reach. An engineer has developed portable wormholes to make long-term transportation easier. When Spock mentions that wormholes are unstable, he falls in, and Pike saves him in an act of selflessness. It alludes to his later sacrifice without ripping it off exactly from The Wrath of Khan! B for a grade, as far as that story goes, since we’ve already seen it with another Captain.

    Then, we get a flashback to Romulus where he is teaching the ways of logic to some kids. Even though there’s the two-part TNG episode “Unification” (1991), with Spock on Romulus, you don’t actually see him do much teaching, so that was nice. It’s here he learns that James T. Kirk is dead, which is the reason he’s back on the shuttle talking to the Saurian. One thing that happens in-between the next story is that he stops in Vulcan, and meets his former wife. An unnecessary detour, since next I either want to see Kirk or Picard.

And the next story is a Kirk story! It is short and sweet, and set in The Original Series era. A warp core breach threatens the U.S.S. Collins, Jim Kirk beams down to save the elderly female Captain, who won’t leave out of pride. When Spock remarks that he risked much for her, Kirk replies, “Surely, you weren’t worried, Mr. Spock?” (Tipton writes such great Kirk lines!) Bones says don’t be silly…to be worried he’d have to have a heart! I can almost hear the ending theme from The Original Series. Essentially, though it’s a repeat of the virtue of sacrifice with Pike…we don’t have enough info on what Pike would’ve been like…so this is much better. A+!
   
  Finally, there is one last flashback. To Saavik’s Kobayashi Maru. Saavik is disappointed and expresses her annoyance working with humans, and wants to know what she can do. Spock tells her to learn to trust. Although it is illogical. A sweet story, but somewhat incomplete feeling, and I wasn’t exactly clamoring to see Saavik. C+.

     Finally, the end stories (Thankfully not flashbacks.) are Spock reading the death notice, then meeting with Picard. Picard tells Spock he’s welcome back to The Federation at any position, but Spock declines. He notes that he’s served with men of “exemplary character”, but his duties are on Romulus. They exchange Vulcan salutes, and cut to Spock on Romulus happily teaching children. A- . Picard is as dignified as ever, but put in the situation of being shot down by Spock.

Overall, it’s a good book. It just gets bogged down by its own flashback devices. Since many of the virtues that Spock learns in this volume are repeated, particularly from Pike to Kirk, it loses a bit of it’s power. And yet, Captain Kirk is as charming as I’d expect him, and Picard’s Vulcan salute at the end is touching. I remember when I first got this book, I couldn’t put it down. It’s good, if a bit long-winded! The most powerful stories come from the relationships Spock had with these exemplary characters!

   But, since I don’t know a lot about Pike…(other than being disabled later, and played by Jeffrey Hunter in the failed Original Series pilot episode!) or how Spock related to Saavik, or even T’pring, it kind of just feels like melodrama in-between. Which is not to say that it isn’t good! Just feels less powerful…then again, Spock being a Vulcan, maybe that was the point…to drift between feeling and stone cold logic. A-, just for a little excess, but a fun read if you’re trapped between alien worlds like Spock and I! Oh, and the art gallery is just stunning! (No phaser pun intended!)

    Me? Oh, yes! I exist between the able-bodied world and the disabled world. Between what I can and can’t do. The limitlessness of my mind vs. the weight of my body. Although I could never walk, and don’t want to, I walk in my dreams and my words carry my weight, along with my power chair of course! Yes, I think I know what it’s like to be in two worlds! I’m an alien too! Live long and prosper, everybody!
     
 







Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Street Fighter Alpha: The Animation (2000)


Street Fighter Alpha: The Animation (2000)

“I fight because I’m not strong. I fight myself. Against myself!”

- Ryu

Well, Street Fighter Alpha: The Animation kept popping up on my Netflix, so I thought I’d review it. It’s culturally important to gamers, and thoroughly sci-fi; both of which fit the bill for Through Alien Eyes. First off, I love fighting game movies. But, I know they’re never straightforward tournament fighters, like their videogame counterparts. Now, just remember every time you do a hadoken in Street Fighter, you’re throwing out all the manifestations of evil in Ryu’s soul. Ryu struggles against the “dark hado” in his body, which I assume is like The Force, which he learned from the evil Akuma, who killed his own master.

    After witnessing a gunfight between Chun Li and some crooks in which kids become involved, Ryu steps in to stop the fight, and everyone recognizes him as the famous tournament fighter and is impressed with his ability. One of the kids Ryu protects is a Brazilian boy who claims to be Ryu’s brother. The kid hears about a fighting tournament in Kibuki Town, and trains with Ryu and Ken for a bit. He gets squashed by Zangief, and then a big beefy steampunk cyborg hadokens them all and destroys the town to provoke Ryu. I know, it makes little sense.

    Later, the kid goes nuts on some punks who start a fight with him and chokes them with chains, and we find out the kid actually possesses the dark hado. So, Ryu tells him not to fight (with the above cheesy line…clearly a bad moral for a fighting game. You know, fight the urge to fight. In a fighting game!) So, he confronts Akuma who he believes is influencing him, and Akuma invites him to another tournament.

 Now, clearly, you’d be thinking Ryu would be there to face Akuma. But, this never happens. Instead, the other characters like Adon and Birdie trash talk each other for a bit, and then an evil scientist named Sattler collects the data on the fighters and sucks their souls out leaving the other fighters’ disembodied husks as he absorbs their power into his steampunk cyborg body…also he absorbs the Brazillian kid into his body, and becomes a gray Blanka.

     I thought Blanka was just a monster. But, no. He’s a mutated mad scientist with a Brazilian kid stuck inside his body. Geez, how did none of this make it into the game? Birdie tells Ken and Ryu to get out of there, while he’s being choked by Sattler’s cyborg form. Then, Ken fights him, but not even a shoryuken (Dragon Punch) special move knocks him out. Ryu launches a hadoken to destroy Blanka/Sattler. Finally, he’s shown in a mid-air jump kick against Akuma, and the movie ends.

    Listen, I love Street Fighter II and Street Fighter Alpha as much as any 90s kid. Fighting games are my favorite types of videogames. But, this…is ridiculous and confusing. Why is Ryu fighting not to fight? Who is Sattler…and why does he absorb the Brazilian kid? Why does the movie end in mid-fight? I guess Ryu wins?

   On the upside, many of the game’s fighters make it into the game. Adon, Birdie, Chun-Li, Ken, Rose, Dan, etc. But, we don’t need to see a Star Wars type story to explain why Ryu can throw fireballs, or an overly-detailed Blanka origin story. And the explanations are just creepy! Why can’t Ryu just throw fireballs? Why can’t Blanka just be a monster?

   I admit, I’m biased in my rating of this animation because I like Street Fighter and because the standard kung fu movie moral it uses (Focus your mind to train your body.) works well with my own stance on disability rights. But, admittedly, this is a mess. No boss characters show up except for Vega (I’m American, so that’s Balrog to all you international readers out there.) and Akuma, who never really faces Ryu. Plots with Sakura, Ken, and Chun-Li are all immediately dropped to focus on Ryu vs. Sattler. (Who never even appears in the game. I think he’s made up just to account for Blanka!)

Even the 1994 Street Fighter II anime follows it’s own rules, and it doesn’t need to make up weird origin stories to account for the fighters. I don’t know, I am disappointed…but at least the animation is charming and somewhat surreal. For a final rating…I’ll just rate it a D. It’s the “Blanka is Sattler + a robot + a Brazilian kid” thing that really confuses me, and the rest is a bland Street Fighter version of Star Wars. Like the game says when you‘re defeated: “YOU LOSE”.      






Monday, August 12, 2013

Beware The Batman Episode 5 “Broken” Review:

Beware The Batman Episode 5 “Broken” Review:



Humpty Dumpty: “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men…couldn’t put Humphrey Dumpler together again!”

This episode was kind of goofy and creepy at the same time. It reminded me of that Christmas episode with the Joker from Batman: The Animated Series. Part of what makes Humpty Dumpty a creepy character though, aside from his appearance is his childish nature. He traps Gordon and his former boss Tobias Whale (who’s no doubt going to be an ersatz Penguin.) inside giant toy soldier-bombs, but he seems genuinely unaware that he’s hurting people. He just wants to play with toys and get revenge on his boss for dragging him into a game he doesn’t want to play.

    Great detective work here, as Batman figures out how to disarm the bombs, and tracks down Humpty Dumpty. (Funny moment: When Batman asks the Batmobile what Humpty Dumpty’s last known location is, it responds, “A wall.”) Humpty Dumpty shoots at Batman with a big laser gun as he’s trying to disarm the bombs, and Batman explains that he forgives him, but doesn’t excuse his actions. He can’t just pretend he’s not responsible. Desperate, Humpty jumps off a building to reveal…some kinda robot? It was vaguely creepy. The creepiness comes from Humpty’s childish naiveté. He’s a “broken” man.

   Another subplot involves more of the mystery of the Soul Stealer sword. It can apparently really steal souls and everyone including The League of Assassins is after it. Perhaps it will play a bigger role in another season, with a possible Ra’s Al Ghul appearance…that would be nice! Alfred mentions that even MI6 and the CIA are looking for the sword, so Katana had better keep it safe.
   
A good episode, though a bit goofy at times. The giant toy soldier-bombs were a bit much, but added to the creepiness. Strong themes of forgiveness and personal responsibility. Also, Gordon seems to be warming up to Batman. I predict Batgirl will come into the show soon, when Gordon trusts Batman!

  If Humpty was just some kind of fat egg-shaped robot…maybe he’ll return? In contrast to Professor Pyg, I feel this was a more faithful translation of Grant Morrison’s more macabre characters. He’s animated very strangely; peering out of darkness and waddling like a skiddish child. Very creepy and good episode.  B+ for a rating; just because of the toy soldier and nursery rhyme gimmicks!






Sunday, August 11, 2013

Beware The Batman Episode 4 “Safe” Review:


Beware The Batman Episode 4 “Safe” Review:

Dr. Burr: But I thought Wayne Manor was safe!

Katana: You are never safe.

Episode 4 of Beware The Batman (“Safe”) brings back The League of Assassins. Dr. Burr is attacked by ninjas after creating the ion cortex, a power source that Bruce Wayne plans to sell. After being attacked and the ninjas beaten by Katana/Batman, Dr. Burr and co. are sent to Wayne Manor for protection. But, as Katana warns Dr. Burr, just because Wayne Manor is safe doesn’t mean they are safe.

   This is a pretty good episode with an okay villain. It’s more about Katana and her connection to the League of Assassins than Batman. Although she learns to trust Batman despite his secretive nature because he fights with honor. He even saves Katana from Silver Monkey, one of the League of Assassins’ goons. The real villainess we never see. It’s her I’m most interested in.

Apparently not only is this villainess (Lady Shiva) interested in the ion cortex, but also Katana’s Soul Stealer sword. Also, they do that Inspector Gadget Dr. Claw thing where you never see Lady Shiva, so it adds to the mystery. Also there’s a silly plot point where Dr. Burr acts as comic relief and fawns over Katana. (Whose clan name “Katana” we actually hear in this episode, instead of Tatsu Yamashiro.)

   A pretty good action-oriented episode. Not too much detective work, since they spend the majority defending themselves. But, good to see Katana fight alongside Batman, and gain her trust. The episode could set up a lot of possibilities. Will we learn why The League of Assassins wants the Soul Stealer sword?

Or the ion cortex? I’m probably most excited for a possible return of Ra’s Al Ghul, who may still be the head of the League of Assassins in this version. Or it may be Lady Shiva! Still, in the midst of all these obscure “re-skinned” villains from Grant Morrison’s rogue gallery, it’s nice to see a familiar cornerstone of the Batman Universe like The League of Assassins! Solid episode…I give it an A! Can’t wait for more.




Saturday, August 10, 2013

Beware The Batman Episode 3 Review "Tests"





Daedalus: “Down with creative oppression! This is justice!”

Batman: “No. I am justice!”

Episode 3 of Beware The Bat is a strong episode for Batman. Not really for the villian, Anarky. He’s basically re-hashing The Joker. And not doing so well. He calls his cronies artists instead of jokers. Heck, his moniker isn’t even mysterious. He is anarchy, Batman is order. He prides himself on being a force of chaos, but Batman proves that he isn’t just a force of order, but justice. He’s a lot more complex than he looks.

Katana Batman’s bodyguard also proved her worth in this episode, hence the name “Tests”. She passes Batman’s obstacles as well as Batman would, and tracks him down to Anarky’s location in the end. Anarky talks a big game as if he’s a big creative and illogical force, but Batman taunts him and tells him he’s being way too predictable which was exactly what I thought.

With the 3D animation, I thought Anarky looked sort of like he was clayamation. I get that he’s supposed to be in contrast to The Dark Knight, but this type of bright white does not look good in 3D. It was as if he was made of milk. Joker’s white face paint was at least subtle and a creepy subversion of a happy clown smile. Here we have a nearly featureless ghost character who shouts his own scheme.

Come to think of it, the plot even rips off The Dark Knight. Anarky’s artists Daedalus and Junkyard Dog rob a musuem to lure Batman out then plant bombs on some boats, and he must “choose” which boats to save. Not much to say here, except that where the episode shines is showing that Batman is a lot more logical and complex than he has been shown to be in the past. He isn’t just about revenge and order. He can improvise. So too, can Katana, who will no doubt uncover Bruce Wayne’s secret soon.

In conclusion, while it was a great episode for the heroes’ development, the villain was visually drab, an obvious copycat, and way too predictable for his namesake! Joker at least had some style! I kind of suspected that Anarky was a weak Joker substitute to begin with. But, here’s hoping the newer episodes will allow the villains to grow out of their cookie-cutter Batman motifs! I’ll catch up soon, I swear.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Star Trek: Burden of Knowledge (2010) Review

 




From the people who wrote and drew Spock: Reflections comes Star Trek: Burden of Knowledge. It’s in the vein of episodes like The Cloud Minders and Friday’s Child, where they beam down to visit a planet and judge it’s willingness to join The Federation. The presence of Arex at the helm tells us that this is in the animated series, presumably during years 4-5 in the five year mission.

   The people of Mygdalus 3 are a highly medically advanced society, and yet they won’t let the crew see their medical techniques, claiming doctor-patient confidentiality. Eventually they are kidnapped and one of the crew (The essential expendable Lieutenant Thompson.) is injured during an attack when the Virtili people (read: Birdmen.) are angry about late medical supplies.

    The writer, Scott Tipton, does a good job mirroring Captain Kirk’s quirky cadence with thoughtful pauses, authoritative exclamations, and metered boldface lettering. But, there are some scene which don’t feel right. For example, after luring the Virtili guards into their cell, and finding a Vulcan neck-pinch ineffective, Kirk responds with a knock-out punch. Anyone with passing knowledge of Kirk Fu knows a neck-chop delivers the knock-out blow.

    Anyway, the two races work out their differences rather swiftly, and return a perfectly-healed Lieutenant Thompson. Kirk praises their peaceful resolution as a cornerstone of Federation values, but Spock is rightly suspicious. There is a subplot which reminds me of The Return of The Archons. This time though, it’s on a planet where people who act and communicate as one body via a “thoughtwork” seek Federation admission.

 When Kirk finds out they act as one body, he says “That’s why you speak so slowly. You’re…UNUSED to verbal communication.” It seems the writer slipped in a Kirk joke. Anyway, whether or not this necessitated a subplot is unclear; but the basic idea is that since their thoughts all work as one, they are unused to individuality, which is key for Federation admission.

     While these days, a “thoughtwork” makes me think of Facebook and the communalization effect of social media, Kirk has always been a champion of individuality even back in the 60s/70s retro-future as seen in battles with Nomad, Landru, and of course, Khan…though I think more Landru here. Anyway, Kirk rejects their proposal for admission and tells them to return when they are ready. There are no exploding computers. Another thing Tipton gets wrong. If there are evil computers, Kirk must make them explode.

    I suppose the point is that time has passed, and to demonstrate that Kirk will turn Federation applicants down if he suspects anything…but we know this. Kirk returns to Mygdalus 3 and uncovers a horrible secret. The healthy Lieutenant Thompson is a clone! All the healthy Mygdalians are clones! After a smashing battle scene where Kirk crashes a medical lab with 200 Thompsons, Kirk rejects Mygdalus 3 from the Federation and quips that Starfleet could use another 200 Lieutenant Thompsons.
 
I mean, I’m divided on how I feel about this graphic novel. Tipton works well with The Animated Series background, and the artwork is often so good the actors’ faces and voices jumped out at me. The way Fredrica Manfredi draws a subtle Captain’s smirk or opens Kirk’s mouth in a moment of revelation is spot-on. It reminds me, at best, of an Animated Series movie, if one was ever made. Still, little moments feel out of place, and while the Animated Series is the perfect setting for weirder aliens, and silly humor…did we really need an entire subplot? And what happened to that planet? That’s the one wormhole in the entire book, but overall, I’ll give it a B!