The lost post.

*So, as I said yesterday, I wound up going to see War of the Worlds, the latest in the popular ‘Earth is Menaced by Aliens Who Apparently Haven’t Thought the Invasion Through Very Well’ subgenre. Indeed, this one stems from the originator of the line, the H.G. Wells classic, which I haven’t read. I suspect that it’s about as close an adaptation of the source material as League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 2, which is fine by me.

It’s an ok summer explosion movie. I actually liked it the most out of my party of three in attendance; my pair of cohorts actually spent much of the ride back trying to talk me down from liking the movie as much as I did, but to no avail. It starts out quite strong, and gradually gets worse as it moves along, though it never really gets offensively bad. A lot of the criticisms I’ve heard stem from small things, stuff you don’t really notice at the time of viewing. Well, honestly, a lot of the movie is quite thoroughly contrived once you stop to think about it. If airplanes are falling out of the sky, why do none of them ever happen to land across one of the many highways that Tom Cruise buzzes down in his miracle van? Actually, why don’t the stalled cars traveling along ever stop in clumps, thus blocking oncoming traffic? You'd think there'd be people on the highway and all when these events happened. Yet there’s always room for Cruise to drive away; even after a house has been flattened and debris is scattered everywhere, there’s always just enough room to pull out. And how the hell do these ten story tall tripods manage to sneak up on people so much; wouldn’t folks at least hear the air moving? And why did that Jurassic Park homage suspense sequence in the basement even happen, when the aliens have proven themselves to be perfectly adept and ripping houses out of the ground at every other juncture in the film? It’s the critical equivalent of death by a thousand scratches.

And don’t get me started with the ending, though I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as it’s being made out to be, even by supporters of the film. Sure, I’d have definitely cut to Morgan Freeman’s narration about thirty seconds before Spielberg did (I mean, the implausibilities really start to pile up there, and we’re talking about bloody aliens invading the goddamned Earth). Frankly, I’d have cut to the narration right after our final look at that alien’s face (I did sort of like how the aliens look cute in a way, a nice touch). But... cheesy sentiment maybe isn’t entirely out of place in a slightly silly alien invasion flick, that's all I'm saying.

Maybe it’s the first half of the film that throws everyone off guard. I do like a lot of what Spielberg did there; he’s got a really nice handle on the beat of unadorned familial conversation. And the first few destruction setpieces are very welldone, dotted with drifting clothes and collapsing buildings as they are. Maybe the visual grit gave critics amnesia; they forgot they were watching a Steven Spielberg summer blockbuster. There’s this one scene where a shaking camera swoops around a driving car, characters screaming, our view darting inside and out; I’ve seen those moves before, in Irreversible to be exact, and the prospect of Spielberg paying homage to Gasper Noe is pretty tickly. The screaming in general was good; the panic scenes were really highpitched and intense. Tom Cruise washing the people-dust off was lovely. And you’ve gotta smile at any big budget summer hit that hides one of its biggest battles offscreen, literally over a hill away from everyone's view.

Cruise is good enough, believably oafish in the opening scenes, then really twitchy and nervous through the whole rest of the film. I seriously don’t get the Dakota Fanning backlash that’s been going around; you’d all rather go back to the cloying saccharine and non-stop mugging of most of the other child ‘stars’ that we’ve been subjected to? No, I’ll take the piercing eyes and disconcerting articulation a thousand times over; at least she looks like she's thinking.

I think the whole thing really starts to fall apart when Tim Robbins shows up; the interlude with him just took way too long, and his character doesn’t have much to him beyond acting violent and dumb and making Tom Cruise look better in comparison (we all agreed that the sequence would have been much better if the character actually was Tim Robbins, playing himself). And after that it’s all handy grenades and folks surviving improbable falls, and other things that were obviously already happening, but it seems so much more blatant after being cut off from the shaking cameras and the jitters, locked in that moodily lit cellar. I started wondering what the theme park ride would feel like.

But it was ok stuff overall. I didn’t feel cheated or grossly insulted, which is basically the criterion for summer action at the moment for me.

*Trailers weren’t amazing. Remember that lengthy Elisabethtown preview I linked to a few days ago? The proper trailer is out now and it’s not very good at all, the romance suddenly dippy, the whimsy now utterly forced. The movie itself can go either way. I also enjoyed the already-classic trailer to Stealth, that indelible tale of a robot airplane that becomes evil when it’s struck by lightning. There was a peek at Michael Bay’s The Island, which one of my friends described as “like The Matrix, but with an extra dollop of stupid on top.” And as for The Fantastic Four: it’s cheesy, which might be ok for the FF, but it’s the wrong kind of cheesy. This project needs trashy superhero cheese, and we get nogginthudding Hollywood action cheese, lots of oneliners and sitcom beats. Blah. The only halfway decent preview was for John Singleton’s Four Brothers, which looks like an ok urban exploitation mystery. Oh, and The Chronicles of Narnia looks exactly like The Lord of the Rings only with 40% less quality in every discernible aspect. I mean, these people really really really want this to be the next Lord of the Rings, and their desperation positively wafts from the screen; I had to put down my popcorn and wince.

King Kong might be good, though. Jack Black's hammy delivery had me smiling.

Solo #5

Darwyn Cooke. An interesting modern talent, maybe starting to teeter on the prepice of being known more for his views in online chats and profiles than for his work, which is never less that fully accomplished in a visual sense. Cooke takes this ongoing anthology’s title to heart, more so than any other contributor thus far, and does everything in the book himself, right down to the lettering. He’s also approaching the book as a unified work, though he doesn’t go for quite as tight a unification as Howard Chaykin did. Instead, at the front and back of the book, as well as between each story, we get the exploits of Slam Bradley, fan-favorite character from Cooke’s run on Catwoman with Ed Brubaker, and the original star of Detective Comics before that ass with the cape muscled in. Slam is visiting a watering hole outside of continuity (just to soothe the most ornery of fanboys), waiting for a special guest. Each of these interstitials, smudged with soothingly dim painted color and ashy ink smoke, signals the semirelated arrival of a short story, each one drawn in a slightly different style.

First up we have the obligatory autobiographical short (everybody but Richard Corben has delved into nonfiction up to now, and I’d have frankly enjoyed hearing a tale of the Corben youth), drenched in a sunny lemon and pine pastel, the character designs reminiscent of Seth, but more embellished and active. The plot involves young Cooke’s encounter with a nice older lady who steers him off the Devil’s path of golfing and into the world of art. Very gentle and wistful. Shortly following is less-grounded exploit, “A New Frontier Thriller” involving King Faraday, noted supporting player in Cook’s eponymous magnum opus. It’s spy games in ‘50s Cuba, as King and his undercover faux wife (and under-the-covers authentic lover) Gracie O’Rielly navigate the stormy waters of Mob casinos, CIA gun-running, and flamboyant Commie drug lording. But will a sensuous femme fatale come between our happy couple? Come for the cheesy titillation of the finale, stay for the excellent coloring job, spectrumtouring washes of solid pigment, every scene a different tone, filling in an attractive clearline style. If you take anything out of this book, know that Cooke is a formidably talent colorist, though obviously not lacking in line skill. His writing is serviceable, not without a sort of period panache, but you’ll really be paying attention to the sights. Nice capris on Ms. O’Rielly, by the way.

Go read the funnies or something,” says Slam in the next interlude, ushering us off to the ‘humor’ portion of the book. We get two pages of fanboy-centric laffs, like an Angel and the Ape gag strip, the pair catching Aquaman while out fishing, or a New Yorkertype gag panel with the Joker (revealed as a Deve Chappelle fan), plus winking ads for ghost artists and a satirical history of comics (best chortle: a hopeful youngster outside a shiny new ‘80s Direct Market shop declares, “With stores like this, maybe there’s a chance for alternative books to thrive!” - the next panel, the ‘90s, sees the shop having changed its name to ‘Big Larry’s Chromium Quadrant’). This spread is supplemented by a tasteful Catwoman glamor pinup, and a somewhat outofplace fivepage short about a man obsessed with a vacuum cleaner. It’s the only real misfire in the book, stretching its joke too far for even its modest length; the story honestly feels like it was dropped in from another project to fill out empty pages. But at least it’s over quick.

And then it’s time to move into the ‘political comment’ portion of the program; Cooke comes off as closer to the center than many of his colleagues in comics, but those expecting affirmation as to the wisdom of the Iraq War will be fairly displeased with the content herein. Slam even shuts down some mouthy dame, urging supporters of the war to pick up guns and hop on a plane over to the Middle East if they’re so convinced of the nobility of the pursuit. Kind of a dopey sentiment, but fitting with Slam’s character. The subsequent story sees The Question piercing the veil of media misinformation (depicting as a literal wall of data cutting through the center of the page) to focus on the real question: how to take care of terrorism. The answer, naturally, is to send a Steve Ditko character in to sabotage their camps. Adequate for the DCU, I guess.

Our final (and longest) tale is a remake of a classic Batman yarn from back in the day, similar to Paul Pope’s Kirby cover in his own issue of this title. As with the Kirby story, I haven’t read the original source material here, but I can assure you that Cooke’s interpretation works just fine as its own piece, relying largely on simple 8-panel grids and thick, black lines. It almost has the look of computer clip art it’s so heavily shaded and rendered, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not alive. Cooke and Pope also share an affinity for making Batman look slightly absurd, big chunky underpants on the outside and all.

Unlike the Pope and Chaykin issues, there isn’t much in the way of a strong uniting theme here, save for Cooke’s overriding interests in Eisenhower Era graphic art and pop culture, mixed with miscellaneous lounge noir seasoning. But that’s probably for the best, as an evocation of the artist’s essence. Cooke may have mostly macho men and classy dames and superheroes of various flavor on his mind, but he knows how to make them sing and move, and there’s more than your share of that in these pages.

Seven Soldiers - Shining Knight #3 (of 4)

Now I’m really curious to see how these miniseries work as stand-alone projects. Basically, this issue is a huge infodump, a really verbose distribution of lore and backstory and flashback, told often and told thoroughly. I must confess I was hoodwinked by a little plot twist that just about everyone else on the internet saw coming by page five or so; take my assurances that the lion’s share of the informative dialogue comes from a logically viable source with a grain of salt, if you want. On the other hand, there’s a lot of fodder for speculation here, including a seeming confirmation of something I’d suspected about the ending of Seven Soldiers #0 for a while now, as well as yet another grouping of seven, this one tied directly into the Sheeda’s motives throughout this project.

But I’ve gotta say, it slows the issue down immensly. I can see how Morrison can make all of this information work for both the miniseries and the project as a whole, but it’s going to be a tough balancing act for the final issue, weighing the interests of the project against the impact of the miniseries. Of course, as evidence by Seaguy and JLA Classified, if anyone can pull off a last-minute save it’s Morrison.

Judging from the ‘Coming Soon’ page, it seems like the third issues of these miniseries will largely involve the Sheeda (or maybe any major villainous player in the project) making their move. I expect that we won’t get another issue-long lecture on ancient fantasy artifacts; whether or not Morrison is looking toward the long-view, he only has to get this information out once; I expect smoother progress toward the TootsieRoll center in future third issues.

Some strange layouts from Simone Bianchi this time, floating heads and disjointed limbs grouped into collage as word balloon after word balloon floats around. Nice muddy action later on, though. Doesn’t quite live up to the hard-rocking cover; I expected more gore-spattered struggle against impossible odds. Oh well, next issue will tell up quite a lot about where this is going.

Albion #1 (of 6)

Another decent start for writers Leah Moore and John Reppion; let’s hope they can hold on to quality for a bit longer this time; the scripting duo’s prior series, the sixissue Wild Girl, had descended into formula wheelspinning by issue #3, and as much as it stamped on the gas, it never quite did escape the morass. Luckily, this title seems less inclined to settle down, so thick is its web of characters.

A revival of a whole bunch of classic Fleetway/IPC characters from the shores of fair England, Albion also sports overall plotting by Alan Moore, acting here as another guarantee against indelicate structure. Bits of Moore’s usual aesthetic concerns seep through; at this point an Alan Moore book presenting scenes of classic comics intruding into and commenting upon the ‘contemporary’ action, a technique dating straight back to Marvelman, is almost as friendly and familiar as one of those aged pop stars launching into another old guitar solo on stage at yesterday’s Power Chords for Starving Children ‘05: A July Concern. Fortunately, Moore is better at his thing than many of they are at theirs. And this really isn’t strictly an Alan Moore book anyway, he’s just Senior Judge presiding.

The plot jumps back and forth between fronts, many of them featuring (to me) entirely unfamiliar characters, though the younger Moore and Reppion keep it clear and understandable. There’s a neat scene around the middle of this issue where a young superhero researcher attends an accused killer’s arrest, and shouts out the villain’s colorful codename. Ignoring all other catcalls, the dastard glances up and grins - an enthusiast! That’s the tone of the book at large, one of uncovering secret superhero histories and bringing them to light, perhaps not unlike the work of exploring forgotten superheroes and bringing them before the public again.

The split between villain and fan also embodies the story division of the book. On one side of the divide we have young Danny, a devout comics fan who’s getting the feeling that many of his favorite characters have some sort of connection to real people; he falls in with the mysterious Penny, who has an odd connection to the heroes of the past. And on the other side we have the inmates and staff of a local prison, all colorful rogues and all expecting a mysterious Yank to arrive soon for inspection. Obviously, secrets will be revealed.

The pencils are by Shane Oakley, with inks by George Freeman. It’s tight, sharp material, with lots of pointy curves and thick shadows, giving everything a nicely contemporary look, while retaining a whisper of the past. It’s overall a good start, and I’ll look into more of it.