10 June 2010: DC Comics updates

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DC superheroes

Fellow genre entertainment fans, in the past month or two, I’ve been catching up on comic books and graphic novels. As I’ve noted to new enthusiast David I.S., most, but not all, of the titles I pick up monthly involve costumed superheroes.

On Saturday, 1 May 2010, Janice and I drove to New England Comics and Newbury Comics in Norwood, Massachusetts, for the annual Free Comic Book day. Although weekly comics are supposedly endangered (along with all print publications), I was
pleased to see many younger readers.

Since I’ve been following Batman for years in various media, it comes as no surprise that the “Batfamily” is the largest portion of my print subscriptions. Dick Grayson, formerly Robin and Nightwing, has acquitted himself well in the cape and cowl while his mentor Bruce Wayne tries to find his way back to the present after being lost in time (not unlike Steve Rogers/Captain America over at Marvel). While Grant Morrison’s metatextual take on Batman has been interesting, I’m looking forward to Wayne’s eventual return.

In the meantime, Batman & Robin and Streets of Gotham have focused on the team of Grayson as the caped crusader and Wayne’s bratty son Damien as sidekick Robin. Other former Robins include the vengeful Jason Todd as Red Hood, detective Tim Drake as Red Robin, and Stephanie Brown (formerly Spoiler) as the latest Batgirl. I’ve been enjoying all of these books lately. Some DC Comics stories, such as Kevin Smith’s Widening Gyre and the Eurocentric Batman in Barcelona, are out of continuity (fictional history/news) and explore other facets of the Dark Knight’s career.

Batman and the Brave and the Bold is tied into the current campy Cartoon Network
television series, while the latest Superman/Batman Annual delves into the dark possible future of Batman Beyond. On the other hand, First Wave goes into the past, putting Batman alongside pulp contemporaries Doc Savage
and The Spirit.

Batgirl isn’t the only female member of Gotham City’s vigilante community. I’ve been reading the bad girls trying to be good in Gotham City Sirens and am looking forward to the revived Birds of Prey. The magician Zatanna, who made a faithful cameo in this past season of Smallville, will join Wonder Woman as one of the few superheroines to have her own title in a market dominated by male metahumans — and readers.

Unfortunately, the teams that I’ve followed, such as the Justice League and Titans, have dipped in quality in the wake of last year’s Final Crisis crossover event. I haven’t kept up with the large ensembles of Justice Society or Legion of Superheroes, although Green
Hal Jordan has gotten lots of attention in Darkest Night/Brightest Day, First Flight, and an upcoming cartoon and live-action movie.

Hal Jordan’s pal Oliver Queen/Green Arrow hasn’t fared as well, with his marriage to Dinah Lance/Black Canary (see Birds of Prey) on the rocks, his granddaughter slain, and adoptive son Roy Harper/Arsenal maimed by villains. I’ve been a fan of Ollie ever since Mike Grell’s Longbow Hunters in the 1980s, so it pains me to see the “Arrow family” disbanded.

While I appreciate efforts to bring Ollie back to being an urban hunter and crimefighter, I think the character has been dragged through enough suffering and “reimaginings” lately, even without the ill-advised SuperMax flick on hold. Even Justin Hartley’s surprisingly good portrayal of Ollie in Smallville has been marred by similar attempts to strip away his daredevil sense of humor.

In related media, I look forward to the Brave and the Bold videogame, the Justice League multiplayer online game, and DC Adventures for the D20 Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Ed. tabletop role-playing game. On the small screen, there’s the direct-to-video Superman/Batman: Apocalypse and Batman: Year One (plus a Green Arrow short), and the upcoming Young Justice and Green Lantern cartoons.

I’ve fallen behind in reading and blogging again, partly because of business travel to San Francisco and Chicago, but I hope to post soon about Marvel Comics releases, summer television and movies, my trips, and various games!

10 May 2010: Iron Man 2 review

On Friday, 7 May 2010, Janice and I met Ken G. and his colleague Bill B. to screen Iron Man 2 at the IMAX theater at Jordan’s Furniture in Natick, Massachusetts. We liked the superhero sequel, which had much of the action and witty dialogue of its predecessor and continued building to an eventual Avengers movie.

Disney/Marvel's Iron Man 2
Man of Iron

Robert Downey Jr. brought the same charisma and internal conflict to Tony Stark/Iron Man that he had to the first movie and to Guy Ritchie’s recent Sherlock
. Gwyneth Paltrow returned as his “gal Friday” Pepper Potts, and Jon Favreau (who plays chauffeur Happy Hogan) juggled the development of multiple characters better than many sequel directors.

They were joined by newcomers including Scarlett Johansson as Natalia Romanov and Don Cheadle (replacing Terence Howard) as Lt.Col. James Rhodes/War Machine, plus Samuel L. Jackson returning as Nick Fury, director of SHIELD. As usual, Stan “the Man” Lee had a brief cameo. I had worried that an enlarged cast and multiple villains would bog down the plot, but Favreau managed to keep the story moving, and the script had a lot of humor to balance the pyrotechnics.

Mickey Rourke played Ivan Vanko, a composite of the comic book villains Whiplash and Crimson Dynamo, Viggo Mortensen’s tough guy in Eastern Promises, and his own comebacks in The Wrestler and Sin City. While Vanko is a mix of brains and brawn, Sam Rockwell’s military industrialist Justin Hammer (channeling Gary Oldman’s Zorg in The Fifth Element) tries to match Stark’s ego. I also just watched Rockwell in the more quiet science fiction film Moon, which harkened back to 2001: A Space
and Outland.

Without giving away any “spoilers,” the plot of Iron Man 2 follows closely after the origin story. Billionaire industrialist Tony Stark has revealed his identity as the armored vigilante, increasing his fame and ego but also endangering everything he has built by drawing out new rivals.

I liked how the movie portrayed next-generation human-computer interfaces, the role (or lack thereof) of security technology and its social implications, and the use of the World’s Fair grounds in Flushing, Queens, near where I once lived.

Iron Man 2‘s cinematography was pretty good, with the excellent costumes again inspired by Adi Granov’s designs. The chase and fight scenes could have been a bit clearer, though. I understand that setting them at night, in water, or at high speeds
makes the transitions between actors and computer-generated images smoother, but on the large IMAX screen, my eyes didn’t always know where to track. Several
critics have also complained about the movie’s pacing, militarism, and snarky

On the other hand, as a longtime fan of comic book superheroes, I was pleased to see several “Easter eggs,” or clues to the larger Marvel universe. Favreau stayed true to the history and spirit of the source material. Kenneth Branagh’s Thor will be next, in early 2011. Overall, I’d give Iron Man 2, which was rated PG-13 for language and violence, an 8 out of 10, a B+, or three stars.

The strong box office for Iron Man 2 marked the beginning of the summer movie season. Let’s hope that it’s a good one! I’ll probably see Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood or the video game adaptation Prince of Persia: Sands of Time next.

Coming soon: Travel, genre television, games, and comics!

>>2010 movies

-“Daybreakers” (vampires) ***/B

-“The Secret of Kells” (animated) ***/A-

-“How to Train Your Dragon” (fantasy comedy)

-“Clash of the Titans” (fantasy remake) ***/B

-“Iron Man 2” (superheroes) ***/B+

27 April 2010: Crusaders visit

<!–[CDATA[Salem, Mass., April 2010

After hosting Byron V.O. from St. Louis and running Pathfinder: “Holy Steel” fantasy role-playing sessions the previous weekend, Janice and I hosted Damon F.P. and Steve M. on 24 and 25 April 2010. I’ve been friends with the guys since studying at Archbishop Stepinac High School in New York’s Westchester County back in the early 1980s. While onetime college roommate Frank P.D. was also in New England with his family, we weren’t able to meet him this time.

That Saturday, Janice cooked a tasty barbecue (Sloppy Joe) lunch, then drove Damon, Steve, and me up to Salem, Massachusetts. We had considered going into downtown Boston, but I’m glad we went somewhere different for sightseeing. Janice and I have gone to Salem for the festivities around Halloween, but this was Damon and Steve’s first time. We visited the Salem Witch Museum and the Witch Trial Memorial, strolled through the historic seaport, and explored various shops.

We stopped in at an Army/Navy surplus store, Harrison’s Comics, and a newsstand with more comics and gaming supplies. We reminisced about school, talked about work and family, compared classic rock notes, and had a good dinner at O’Neill’s, an Irish pub. (A few days earlier, I had gone with co-workers to New Mother India on Waltham’s Moody Street.) That evening, Janice and I introduced Steve to Wii Sports Resort while Damon dozed. Janice and Steve did better at the golf and bowling than I did.

On Sunday, we had a pancake and sausage brunch after Janice served her weekly volunteering stint in Dedham, Mass. Steve and Damon then returned to Connecticut and New York, and Janice and I ran some errands at Legacy Place and continued booking our upcoming travel. Our busy weekends will soon continue with Free Comic Book Day and Janice heading to Dallas for a conference!