Saturday, March 27, 2010

Brand New Movie Franchise: Spidey Gets a Reboot. Again.

As You may have picked-up on from previous posts, I am rather attached to Spider-man.  Because of that, I have a lot to say about this topic and this post is kind of long.  Please bare with me and feel free to get a snack at the intermission.  Thank you.

For those of you who didn't hear back in January, Spider-man, quite possibly the most popular comic-book movie franchise around, is getting a reboot.  That's right, folks, the fourth movie starring the world's favorite arachnid-themed costumed hero will ignore the previous three and will have a completely new director and cast.

The main reason for this change is apparently director Sam Raimi's lack of confidence in his ability to make Sony's deadline for a May 11, 2011 release, but there were apparently quite a few creative differences between the director and the company as well.  They wanted lots of villains, he wanted one, they wanted one script, he wanted another, etc. Apparently similar issues came up with the third one, and we all remember how well that turned out...  Any way, now Marc Webb will be directing instead of Sam Raimi.

Spider-man getting a reboot is hardly a revolutionary concept.  The poor guy seems plagued with 'em.  Let's take a look at his comic reboots from the past ten years:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ode to the Absurd or Thank You, Cable & Deadpool!

Cable & Deadpool got me into superhero comics.

I don't mean I grew up in a world devoid of the light of comics. Heaven knows that's not the case. I was a kid fortunate enough to be born into a geeky family that recognized comics as a legitimate storytelling medium. I grew up in a household blessed with collections of American syndicated comics like Calvin and Hobbes and with two thick omnibuses of the French adventure comic Asterix and Obelix. We even had Maus laying around, though it was too dark for me to get through when I was little. Often, we would get Archie comic digests at the grocery store or borrow Tintin comics from our local library. Through middle and high school, I devoured manga like the ravenous geek who grew up on Dragonball Z that I was.

I have also always been interested superheroes. Sure, I watched Japanese superheroes save the galaxy a lot on Dragonball Z and Voltron and I always loved the Jedi of Star Wars, but I was always interested in the more conventional American superheroes too. I grew up watching mutant animals protecting New York in Ninja Turtles, the Justice League battle the Legion of Doom in Super Friends, the Thing unleash clobberin' time on Dr. Doom on Fantastic Four, and I even saw mutants overthrow the disgusting other-dimensional dictator Mojo in X-Men. I watched superhero movies like Spider-man, Superman, and even the infamous Batman and Robin. I knew the origins of the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Spider-man, Superman, and Aquaman. I even knew who Doomsday was. I played the City of Heroes MMORPG and loved the few issues of the comic that we had (available in completely legal PDF form here; I recommend the Blue King run and the first twelve issues of the Image run, but the rest is fun too).

I just didn't read Marvel or DC comics.

Let's face it: Marvel and DC are intimidating. There are decades of history behind any one of their series and I didn't really have any friends who read Marvel or DC to explain it to me, just a lot of other manga fans. I had one friend in high school (another manga fan) who explained the basic plot of the Dark Phoenix Saga to me after we saw X-Men The Last Stand, but she had never read any of the comics either; she just had the X-Men Encyclopedia. For the most part, I ignored the Graphic Novel section of a book store except for the manga portion of it and, while I did go to my local comic shops, it was for manga and anime and Star Wars instead of, well, superhero comics.

And then I entered college. Cue dramatic music and, no, the Ninja Turtles theme song does not count.
Freshman year I was in the campus coffee shop talking to a friend of mine when the topic of superheroes came up. I mentioned how I had always been interested in superheroes but never found my way into the Marvel and DC universes. My friend (a real, live superhero comics fan!) asked me if I had ever heard of Marvel's very own fourth-wall breaking insane mercenary Deadpool. Last year, he finally loaned me Cable & Deadpool, along with some Runaways and Ultimate Spider-man. And now I am firmly entrenched within the worlds of Marvel and DC and I'm not planning on leaving anytime soon.

Let's just say that my friend hit the nail quite soudly on the head with his recommendation. I love series that aren't afraid to laugh at themselves, but can still have a strong plot. Cable & Deadpool is that series. Deadpool, as mentioned above, is insane. He's the comic relief of the Marvel Universe and is fully aware of his status as a character in a comic book. Cable, on the other hand is a Summers. He's Cyclops' time-traveling son with a Messiah complex from a dystopian future. He's a very ends-focused character trying to build a perfect world. He's got a ton of back-story, but I could still get into the series and know what was going on. And he and Deadpool balance each other perfectly.

Cable & Deadpool probably isn't the perfect gateway series for everyone. Both of the title characters have long, convoluted back-stories and major plots from the rest of the MU occasionally spill into the story (like Civil War and various X-Men plots). But for me, the series was perfect. It starred relatively obscure characters. It juggled serious moments and comedy. It had character development and a wide variety of character interaction. It had great art and wonderfully parallel first and last scenes. It occasionally breaks the fourth wall. It was over the top but still got me to think. And it allowed me to finally enter a printed world of superheroes.

Maybe I would have started reading Marvel and DC even if I hadn't heard of this wacky, lovable series. Maybe I would have browsed through the "Graphic Novel" section of my campus library and found Astro City and Doctor Strange and Sandman without having borrowed anything from my friend. Maybe I would have found Ultimate Spider-man and Runaways even without asking after my friend's earlier recommendation. But maybe not.

So I would like to thank Fabian Niciezan for creating such a ridiculous, wonderful series. You've given me the key to more wonderful stories and characters than I know what to do with.  Keep up the good work.

Is there a book or series you would like to thank for introducing you to something new?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New, From Japan: Ordinary People!

It's about time I talk about being in Japan, huh? Well, If there's one thing being in Japan has helped solidify in my brain (other than the wonder, wonder flavor that is melon) it's this:

People are the same the world over.

This is something I'm reminded of more and more everyday I'm in Japan. I'm currently staying with a family with two small children: a six-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl who remind me way to much of my childhood and my younger siblings. The little boy loves Dragonball Z, a show my older brother and I grew up watching. It was my favorite show for most of my childhood. He also loves Samurai Sentai Shikenger,"the current incarnation of the super-hero franchise that spawned Power Rangers, one of my little brother's favorite shows. Today, he was wearing a T-shirt that looked like the uniform of the leader of said super-hero team and reminding me for all the world of the Ninja Turtle uniform T-shirt my older brother had when he was six and the Ninja Turtles were our favorite super-hero team; it also reminded me of the Spider-man (or Spider-girl!) uniform shirt sitting in my drawer right up the stairs.

I noticed him wearing that shirt and playing with toy cars with his friends(just like I and my brother did when we were little) while I was drinking coffee and visiting with some friends of my host-mom. It came up that I like science fiction and one of the women instantly asked about Star Trek and started explaining the sequence of the series in the franchise to her friend next to her and talking about how she liked the "Picard Era" best (as in Next Generation, but with the word as in "Warring States Era" or "Showa Era." It was pretty cool.) Then we talked a bit about Stargate (another show we both appreciate) and then the movie Men in Black came up and all five of us forgot Will Smith's name at the same moment ("Isn't he that comedian guy? The one with the fat suit in that one movie?" "No, wait, that was Eddie Murphy..." "Wait, wasn't he in a movie with Jackie Cha- no, that's Eddie Murphy again..."). Five minutes later, after the conversation had switched topics a few times, I finally remembered his name and everyone exclaimed an equivalent of "Oh, yeah! Will Smith! Of course!" It was pretty much the definition of a normal conversation (in my book, anyway, which may or may not count).

The little six-year-old boy in my host family will sometimes make a bunch of random noises and ask what that meant in English, just like six-year-old boys in America will make a bunch of random noises and ask what it meant in Japanese or Chinese. The four-year-old girl here acts like any four-year-old in the U.S. would and watches cartoons that my little sister would probably enjoy. Heck, both kids here like "Sponge Bob," a cartoon that I know for a fact my little brother and sister like. I can't help but think that my little brother and sister and the tykes of this house would get along famously.

I mention these things because it's so easy to forget how similar people are when superficial differences are so plentiful. As a student of the Japanese language and as a geek interested in Japanese culture, I've been hearing about how clean and safe Japan is compared to America and how everthing's so much more expensive (this is not technically true; manga and Gundam models are significantly cheaper here, though most everything else is pretty spendy) for a long time. People always seem to want to emphasize the different, whether it be in household customs, forms of transportaion, or comic book publishing (I would like to point out that despite a very different process of comic-creation and publishing here in Japan, and stylistic differences, Japanese and Western comics have a lot in common, but I'll go into this another time).

It's very easy to get a mental image of Japan as a magical wonderland, separated from the rest of the world. It's not. Japan's part of the real world, too. I've seen people run red lights here. I've seen a guy toss garbage out his car window. I've sat on the train in the morning and heard a high school girl's shock and dismay when her friend mentioned that there was a kanji test that day (I mean, who hasn't forgotten about a kanji quiz or seven?). I've seen kids get excited while talking about their favorite super-heroes, and siblings fight over who gets the caramel-filled chocolate instead of the one with nuts, and highschoolers wait until the last minute to get on the train platform so that they can read one more chapter from the comic magazine sitting at the news stand at the train station.  Yes, customs and demographics and crime-rates are different here than America, but the people are fundamentally the same.

This I find incredibly comforting; yes, even the litter.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Once More into the Breech: Giving New Jedi Order Another Chance

I'm going to do it.

I'm going to give the "New Jedi Order" books another chance.

This is a big deal for me. I love Star Wars, Star Wars characters, and the Star Wars Expanded Universe, but I haven't been able to read any of the books set after "Young Jedi Knights" since I read "Star by Star" waaay back in middle school. Because I love the Star Wars characters and the Star Wars EU, I couldn't even finish "Star by Star." I was too upset, too enraged by what happened to one of my favorite characters, who had just gone through some amazing character development the book before. For years I couldn't talk about New Jedi Order, much less read it, without becoming extremely upset because of what happened to that one character in that one book.

I've gotten past that, now.

I've come to this decision thanks to this challenge put forth by the Fantastic Fangirls last year. It's not quite what they challenged their readers to do, as I had given the books a chance before, but it helped me realize that it's time to give up my grudge and stop making excuses.

"Star by Star" wasn't the only reason I stopped reading those books. Before I ever picked up "Vector Prime," I knew the series would make the Galaxy Far, Far Away a darker place, and since elementary school the thought of creatures like the Yuuzahn Vong (the antagonists of the NJO books) has freaked me out. But, knowing ahead of time the grim events taking place in my GFFA, I started reading the series anyway. And what made me stop was the fear of change.

New Jedi Order makes a point of drastic change in the beloved GFFA, something I was not prepared to face, despite my fore-knowledge of events. The reality of the fictional events caused me to retreat, and point to "inconsistent characterization" and "pointless death" and "a lack of hope" as the reasons for my withdrawal from the EU. "Inconsistent characterization," though, has been a problem in Star Wars books since long before NJO, and one of the defining characteristics of the Star Wars franchise has always been finding hope in the face of none. NJO is filled with changes, many for the worse for the characters I grew up loving, and these problems aren't solved in a book or three. They can no longer return to the status quo. There isn't the comforting knowledge of how things will be a few years in the future like there was when authors were filling the gap between the movies and Zahn's "Thrawn Trilogy." Things change, both for us and for the fictional characters we know and love. I need to face this.

Now, like back in middle school, I know what will happen. Despite limiting myself to the Star Wars books written before 1999 (excepting of the "Jedi Apprentice" series and books written by Timothy Zahn), I've been keeping up-to-date on the Star Wars galaxy via the internet, and I believe it's finally time to dive back in. My recent entrance into the Marvel Universe, in some ways so eerily similar to the EU, has helped to arm me for this battle. I want to read more stories about the worlds and characters I love. I want to watch the children I've read about for so long develop and mature into members of the new Jedi Order. I want to learn about the Chiss and the other races of the Unchartered Territories. Dang it, I want to be able to check out the intriguing-looking "Star Wars: Legacy" comics and know the backstory! I will allow the changes brought by the "New Jedi Order" and the "Legacy of the Force" isolate me from a galaxy I love no longer!

When I return to the U.S., I will confront my personal Sith of Geekdom and step into, what are for me, the Uncharted Territories of the Galaxy Far, Far Away.

Wish me luck and ask yourself, what have you been hiding from?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Warehouse 13 (and Ryorin) Strikes Back

I blame finals. It's not that I didn't have things to ramble about these past few months (that'll happen about twelve and a half years after the end of the universe), it's that I did have finals. And packing. So now I type this to you, my loyal readers (both of you), from Japan. Let's just pretend there was a time-warp and I'm posting in a timely fashion, okay?

Ahem. Moving on...

Last summer saw the premier of a new age of the Sci-Fi Channel... which is to say they changed their name to Syfy. But this summer also brought the premier of Warehouse 13 to the newly re-dubbed "Syfy," a series that gained the highest rating in the channel's history. This wonderful, wonderful show (that I just might've enjoyed a bit) has been renewed for a second, twelve-episode season starting on Tuesday, July 13, 2010. Oh, and Jewel Staite (Kaylee from Firefly and Dr. Keller Stargate Atlantis) and Sean Maher (Simon from Firefly) will both guest-star.

This fills me with joy. Especially since they'll be playing opposite each other. Joy.

So, without further ado, allow me to ramble a bit about one of my favorite shows from last year, Warehouse 13. This is going to be from memory, so work with me here...

The Warehouse 13 agents collect unusual artifacts that are dangerous in some way or another and are often connected with famous historical figures and events (Edger Allen Poe, Harry Houdini, Lewis Carroll, etc.) and bring the artifacts back to the steampunk-esque Warehouse in the middle of South Dakota. It's set in the present, with contemporary clothing and buildings and such but with tons of steampunk aesthetic in the technology used in the Warehouse and by the Warehouse agents, such as the "Farnesworth" communicator to the right.

I know; cool isn't it?

The mix of steampunk technology and modern technological capabilities make the Warehouse pretty dang cool and gives the show an interesting mix of atmosphere and adds a sci-fi/ fantasy feel to a "modern" installation... and it gives the main characters some pretty dang cool toys to play with.

On to the characters! The series starts out with a rather small main cast, focusing on getting to know and developing the characters of Secret Service agents Myka Bering (Joanna Kelly) and Pete Lattimer (Eddie McClintock) who were recently recruited into the top-secret Warehouse of Wonder and Steampunkery. In the first few episodes, the only other character who shows up much is Artie Nielson (Saul Rubinek), who mainly stays at home base and tries to coordinate the agents activities.

This bugged me. It's not that I don't like stiff, calculating Myka and goofy, improvising Pete's banter; I just like having more main characters and inter-character dynamics. Sure, Artie's in every episode and Leena (why does she know about the Warehouse?!?) appears occasionally, but they don't really interact with other characters all that often. The diverse cast of primary and secondary characters is one of the main reasons that Stargate SG-1 is my favorite TV series. Is it too much to ask that this already fascinating steampunk/ X-files-ish/ adventure (?) series just add a few characters?

Enter Claudia, episode four.

Claudia Donovon (played by Allison Scagliott and seen on the far left of the promotional image to the left) is a young "genius wiz-kid" (mad scientist hacker) connected to Artie's past. She's an entertaining character that shakes things up and throws Artie off-balance with her rule-bending, superior knowledge of the cyber-realms, and razor wit. Oh, and there's also that whole "connection to his past" thing I mentioned; the point is, Claudia allows the viewer to learn more about Artie as a person instead of just a kind of distracted mission control.

Episode five, Claudia strikes back and joins the main cast, helping Artie at the Warehouse and befriending the other characters. And Ryorin rejoices. And then Leena (the aura-reading owner of a Bed & Breakfast, played by Genelle Williams) starts showing up more and even Mrs. Fredric (the ageless, shadowy director of the Warehouse, played by C.C.H. Pounder) starts checking in occasionally. Sometimes dreams do come true.

Warehouse 13 being the sort of series that it is and me being the sort of viewer that I am, there are several questions I think could be expanded on in this coming season (I'll leave out the ones that would spoil the phenomenal season finale):
  • What is up with Mrs. Fredric? There is clearly more to her than meets the eye; how did she become involved with the Warehouse? What are her goals? How old id she, anyway, and how is it that that can be a serious question?
  • MacPherson: Introduced in episode seven, James MacPherson (played by Roger Rees) is the Big Bad of the season, but what are his goals? We do learn about his past, but where do his loyalties lie? What is does he hope to accomplish, exactly? This question I really hope is answered next season, especially considering the first season finale.
  • Leena: What's her connection to the Warehouse, anyway? This is the thing that really bugged me about the past season. I mean, sure she runs the Bed & Breakfast the agents live at, but is the ability to make killer waffles license to wander around the world's most top-secret installation? Does she have a last name? Is it important? And why can she read auras? There are other questions about her raised by the finale, but these are the questions I've had about her since before that.
  • The Warehouse: everything. This is the most obvious mystery of Warehouse 13. What is the history of it? Who runs it? Why concentrate all of the artifacts in one place? And what is that purple goo? I could go on about this, but I'm pretty sure most of this (except the goo question) will be addressed next season.
  • Claudia's brother: what's he been up to, lately? Have there been any side-effects from his earlier experiment? Has he become addicted to online games, or did he get a job? The world wants to know!
  • Pete the Ferret: Does he lead a double life? Does Pete the Human ever learn why Myka's ferret is named after him? How do the events of the season finale affect him? Does he like blue jello?
  • Mirror, Mirror: Can Lewis Carroll's mirror please be used again? Please?
Well, that about covers it. Oh, except for my need to mention how awesome it was that Joe Flanigan (Jack Shepard in Stargate Atlantis) guest-starred in episode five and Myka's actress played Bianca in The Dresden Files TV series (which was... weird...). Oh, science-fiction actors! I love how I can actually recognize them!

Needless to say, the second season is something I'm very much looking forward to this summer. After the shocking finale of the first season, I await July 13 with high hopes and many questions for season two.

[edit: I stand corrected. Myka and Pete are current Secret Service agents, not former. As I said, I was just working from memory. The error has been fixed. Thank you, Anonymous Tipper!]