Sunday, 23 June 2013

Aquaman: The Movie, starring Gerard Butler


As you might have guessed from this Photoshop job, I'm getting pretty excited about the prospect of a Justice League film. I think 300 proved that Gerard Butler has what it takes to play a Warrior King. Who do you think should play the King of the Seven Seas?

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Doctor Who: The Academy Years


A lost adventure chronicling the teenage years of The First Doctor! On the Planet Gallifrey a young man nicknamed Theta Sigma yearns for a more exciting life beyond the strict rules and conformity of Time Lord society. Along with his best friend, Koschei he begins to plan his escape! But might Koschei have more sinister reasons for wanting to leave Gallifrey?

(It’s really a photo of a 25 year-old William Hartnell Photoshopped into a fake DVD cover by me!)

I've had this on my Tumblr page for a while, but I find Tumblr scary so I thought I'd share it here as well.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Man of Steel 2: Bizarro!



I know who I want to see in the sequel to Man of Steel! I think Henry Cavill could probably do a good Bizarro Superman.



Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Man of Steel: In Defence of the "Disaster Porn"

(My full review of Man of Steel can be found here.)



SPOILERS!!!

While Man of Steel seems to have been well received by the general public, one of the main complaints from fans & critics has been against the level of destruction suffered by Metropolis at the end. Terri Schwartz on Zap2It described the destruction as a "big gaffe", adding "it seems somewhat surprising that a superhero who strives so hard to protect humans would be so careless about destroying a major city" and "the movie offered no resolution for how Metropolis would hope to recover." Comic book artist Ty Tempeton said "The orgy of death that is the last twenty minutes sickened me." One of the most passionate complaints about the destruction came from comic book writer and massive Superman fan, Mark Waid;
Superman (makes) absolutely no effort to take the fight, like, ONE BLOCK AWAY INTO A CORNFIELD INSTEAD OF ON MAIN STREET. Still, saving people here and there, but certainly never going out of his way to do so, and mostly just trying not to get his ass kicked.... And then we got to The Battle of Metropolis, and I truly, genuinely started to feel nauseous at all the Disaster Porn. Minute after minute after endless minute of Some Giant Machine laying so much waste to Metropolis that it’s inconceivable that we weren't watching millions of people die in every single shot. And what’s Superman doing while all this is going on? He’s halfway around the world, fighting an identical machine but with no one around to be directly threatened, so it’s only slightly less noticeable that thousands of innocents per second are dying gruesomely on his watch. Seriously, back in Metropolis, entire skyscrapers are toppling in slo-mo and the city is a smoking, gray ruin for miles in every direction…but, you know, Superman buys the humans enough time to sacrifice many, many of their own lives to bomb the Giant Machine themselves and even makes it back to Metropolis in time to catch Lois from falling (again), so…yay?
I just wanted to note a few thoughts down, just to say why I don't share their complaint. Firstly, when people have argued that Superman is boring because he's too powerful I've always argued that rather than answer this by scaling down Superman's powers, writers should dial up the threat he's facing. That's exactly what this film did. There's no doubt about how powerful Superman is in this film, but the bad guy's are even more powerful. There's more of them, they've got his powers and they're trained soldiers. In order to emphasise that this was the fight of Superman's life, despite his great power, then I would argue that this gigantic level of destruction was necessary.

So why didn't Superman save more people? Well Waid himself said it, he was "mostly trying not to get his ass kicked." How can the audience be convinced that the threat to Superman is real when he's got time to nip off and put out a bunch of fires, or even, as Waid put it "use his heat vision on the fly to disintegrate deadly falling debris after a sonic boom."

Surely though, you might argue, if Superman is designed for anything, it's accomplishing the impossible? And this brings me to my final point. I would argue that Superman isn't about saving every single person ever. He's about inspiring the people of Earth to save themselves. In Superman: The Movie (1978) Marlon Brando's Jor-El says "They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you... my only son." In Man of Steel Russell Crowe's Jor-El says "You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders." And he does! Once they've been exposed to Superman the people of Earth in Man of Steel accomplish wonders!

I think it's quite significant that while director Zack Snyder didn't take time out of the action to show Superman disintegrating falling glass, he DID take the time to show things like Perry White and Steve Lombard risking their life to save Jenny Olsen. We saw Colonel Hardy and Prof. Hamilton sacrificing their lives to send the Kryptonians back to the Phantom Zone. As Waid himself points out "Superman buys the humans enough time to sacrifice many, many of their own lives to bomb the Giant Machine themselves."

In Man of Steel Superman fails to help everybody but he does inspire plenty of people to help themselves, and as far as I'm concerned that's very true to the spirit of the character.

And besides nobody complained about all the destruction and death in bloody Avengers!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Why I LOVED Zack Snyder's Man of Steel!

(This article is first impressions only. For a more detailed review click here.)


Yesterday saw the release of the new Superman film, Man of Steel, directed by Zack Snyder. Since Richard Donner's legendary Superman: The Movie came out in 1978 we've had four live action Superman films, three live action Superman TV series' (one of which ran for ten years) and a whole bunch of animated adventures. The story of Superman is well trodden ground in film and TV, and it's not as if other superheroes have been under-represented on the silver screen lately either. I think it's fair to say that if Man of Steel was going to stand out and grab people's attention it was going to have to give us something different, something pretty bloody spectacular.

And I'm pleased to say that it succeeded! And here's why....

WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD!

THE CAST!

Henry Cavill and Amy Adams are superb! While Cavill's fantastic in the fight scenes and the sad bits, he impressed me most in the scenes where he interacts with Lois and the U.S. Army. He radiates honesty and calm. You can totally believe that these people would trust him and feel safe with him, even though he's their first contact with alien life and they've seen first hand exactly how powerful he is. Cavill and Adams' interaction as Lois and Clark is a lot more dialled down and subtle than in previous versions of their story, but Cavill and Adams are so good that a few flirty looks across the table of an interrogation room speak volumes. Towards the end they share a kiss in a crater and this was where the subtlety they'd displayed in their interaction up until then paid off. I could honestly feel the passion that had been pent up for the whole film. They were practically trembling as they kissed.

The rest of the cast aren't too shabby either. Michael Shannon's General Zod looks and acts like a Jack Kirby character come to life. He's just a huge, immovable wall of power all the way through the film. A truly terrifying bad guy. Most of the film's emotional wallop comes from Russell Crowe's Jor-El and Kevin Costner's Pa Kent. They're properly fleshed out characters and their deaths are genuinely moving, Pa Kent's in particular. Never mind a Justice League film, they should spin off El & Kent: Super Dads, where they both fight crime and hang around riding dragons and being awesome.

THE ACTION!

The special effects are brilliant. There's a bit where Zod's spaceship looms over Metropolis that completely overwhelmed me. It's one of the few films where IMAX and 3D genuinely add to the experience. The fights were just as amazing as I'd heard. I felt every single punch and the devastation left in the wake of the fighting is like nothing I've ever seen in a super-hero film before, not even in Avengers. But it's not just a shallow, empty spectacle. As Superman and Zod battle above them, we see Perry White and Steve Lombard heroically risk their life to rescue Jenny Olsen, reminding us exactly what Superman is fighting for.

THE NAME!


I'm a massive super-hero fan (you might have noticed) and when I watch super-hero films I usually find that if they're any good there's always at least one scene that grabs my soul by the balls and fills me with an intense feeling of child-like joy. Whenever I get this feeling it usually causes me to grin like a twat and punch the air. In Superman Returns it was the scene where Superman lands the plane in the baseball stadium. In Avengers it was the moment where I realised that Thor and Hulk were about to fight. For the first half of Man of Steel I was enjoying myself immensely but I hadn't had that feeling yet. I began to worry that it wasn't going to happen, but then a random soldier guy said his one line of the film. "Superman, um, that's what everyone's calling him sir." That was the first time anyone had said the word Superman in the film, and as it turned out it was the only time. And when I heard it, just popping up like that and making me so intensely happy, I realised how powerful that name can be and why the film makers were right to limit it's use. I'd been enjoying the film before but from that line onwards I was completely hooked and on board and didn't stop smiling until the end credits.

THE CONTROVERSIAL BIT!

There's a scene at the end that's caused a lot of controversy among fans. Superman has been battling Zod and they've completely destroyed the city. Superman has Zod in a head lock and Zod is aiming his heat vision towards some innocent bystanders. Superman could have presumably taken off and flew Zod away, continuing their devastating combat, but in that moment Superman realises that Zod isn't ever going to stop trying to kill the people of Earth. And so he snaps Zod's neck, killing him, an action that is shown to cause Superman some considerable anguish. I can understand why a lot of fans have a problem with this. Superman is supposed to be the one guy who can always find an alternative to killing, because he's Superman! But, personally I had no problem with the scene. The important thing for me is that it wasn't presented as a case of the hero taking the easy way out, it was a case of the hero being forced to do the one thing he never wanted to do in order to save lives. It wasn't about anger, or punishment, or vengeance, it was about saving lives. And that made all the difference to me.

THE INEVITABLE COMPARISON WITH SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE!

So far I've deliberately avoided comparing the film to Richard Donner's Superman: The Movie. Superman is my favourite film of all time and I thought it was only fair to judge Man of Steel on its own merits. But to be honest they are such radically different films it would be very difficult to compare them. Superman is almost everything that's great about Superman from 1938 to 1978 packed into one amazing film. Bryan Singer's 2006 film, Superman Returns (while enjoyable enough and much better than its reputation would suggest) carries on with this version of the character and as a result fails to be the truly great film it should have been. Why on Earth did Singer rehash something that had been done so well already when there were 28 years worth of stories to take inspiration from that didn't exist when Donner made Superman?

Thankfully Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan do not make the same mistake as Singer. Except for one wonderful moment in the final few seconds of the film, Man of Steel seems free of the influence of Donner's Superman. Instead, Man of Steel takes it's inspiration from such relatively recent comic stories as John Byrne's Man of Steel (1986), Mark Waid's Birthright, (2003) and Geoff Johns' Secret Origin (2008). At the same time it offers us some elements that have never been seen anywhere before, even in the comic. For example, Pa Kent doesn't die of a heart attack, or while delivering an inspirational speech from his death bed. He dies while protecting his son and teaching him one final lesson.  If Superman, and to a lesser extent it's sequels, embodies almost everything that's great about Superman from 1938 to the early '80s, then Man of Steel embodies almost everything great about Superman from 1986 to 2013. The two films are both utterly true to Superman and yet utterly different, and they can sit beside each other quite comfortably.

So far Man of Steel has been receiving a lot of average ratings from critics, and one or two comics pros have expressed their disappointment with it, (particularly with the way Zod dies). But it's doing very well at the box office and if the Man of Steel hash tag on Twitter and Tumblr are anything to go by then it's being very well received by a hell of a lot of fans. Warner Bros. have already commissioned a sequel and hopefully we should be closer than ever before to getting a Justice League film. So I think it's fair to say that despite covering well trodden ground, this film really has stood out and grabbed people's attention. Which makes me happy, because I absolutely loved this film and I think it deserves to be very successful indeed.

***** FIVE STARS OUT OF FIVE!

(My opinion of the "disaster porn" criticism of Man of Steel can be found here.)


Thursday, 13 June 2013

Superman Unchained #1: Review


Quite simply, this is the Superman comic that we've all been waiting for since the New 52 began. Now don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved Grant Morrison's recent Action Comics run but I'll be the first to admit that his meta-textual, non-linear approach to storytelling is the superhero equivalent to Marmite, you either love it or you hate it. I've also hugely enjoyed Scott Lobdell's action packed run on Superman so far. But I can see that his habit of playing up the bull-headedness of this much younger version of Superman, coupled with his habit of occasionally writing less than convincing dialogue, might put some readers off. Superman Unchained #1 on the other hand, is clearly going to be a real crowd pleaser. Superman has an incredibly diverse fan-base, and different fans want different things from their Superman comics. Every Superman fan has their own ideas about what a Superman comic should deliver. Honestly though, I can't imagine this comic not ticking every single box for practically every single fan.

The main action of the story comes from Superman's rescue of two astronauts, who are plunging to Earth in a huge, nuclear powered space station. Now this may seem like a relatively mundane thing for Superman to be doing, especially when compared to some of the more fantastic and wonderfully over the top situations Superman's faced recently at the hands of Morrison and Lobdell. But writer Scott Snyder and artist Jim Lee make the rescue feel like something special, a genuine Super-feat. Superman never seems overwhelmed by the rescue, but at the same time the success of the rescue doesn't seem like a foregone conclusion. I felt genuinely excited by it. We follow Superman and the astronauts down from space, through the heat of re-entry, right up until the station smashes into the Earth. Superman is reassuring the astronauts all the way down, while at the same time reminiscing in his inner monologue about his childhood in Smallville. In the hands of other writers this kind of thing has sometimes made Superman come across as folksy and twee, but Snyder pitches it just right. Superman seems warm, compassionate and human, but confident and powerful at the same time. The whole scene is a balancing act that Snyder pulls off beautifully.


The rest of the issue is equally successful. While the old, familiar trope of of the military meddling with super powers in sinister ways is trotted out, Snyder stops the whole thing from descending into cliche by re-writing a real life historical event. Snyder's Lois Lane is brilliant, undermining an exasperated Perry White and constructively criticising Clark Kent. The friendly journalistic rivalry between Clark and Lois is something I've missed in recent years, and it's great to see it back and being written so well. Snyder's use of the new status quo established by Lobdell (Clark's left the Daily Planet to be an independent blogger) serves to reinforce and enhance this rivalry while at the same time places the events of this issue firmly in current DC continuity. Snyder's Lex Luthor is just as spot on as his Lois. All Lex really does is make a little origami city out of a book, but we're left in no doubt of his personality, his motives, or his relationship with Superman.

A big part of this book's success is down to Jim Lee's art. In the past Lee has put a greater emphasis on cool but generic super-hero posing over story-telling, but this thankfully isn't the case here. There's never any doubt as to what's going on and the story flows along nicely. His action scenes are as powerful as ever but Lee accomplishes the more casual scenes with equal success, demonstrating a greater range of facial expressions than usual. The pages featuring Clark and Jimmy are a particularly good example of this. In places the art reminded me of Andy Kubert's. Unfortunately Lois Lane still has the one face that Lee seems to stick on every female character, but that aside, this is the best I've seen Lee's work for a long time.


The back up story is short but just as effective as the main story, with a pair of binoculars offering us a poignant little call back to the issue's opening. If this issue has a flaw it's the daft, gimmicky, pull out poster that's glued to a bit of card half way through the issue. There's no doubt that it features two great images by Jim Lee, but the whole thing's a bit of a pain in the arse if you're actually trying to read the story.

With Man of Steel hitting cinemas on Friday it's common sense for DC to offer something for people who love the film and are curious about the comics. This fits that bill perfectly, I would have no problem recommending this to a non-comics reader who wanted to get into Superman. It's exciting, action-packed and tells the reader exactly what kind of man Superman is without resorting to continuity laden exposition or long, po-faced monologues on the nature of heroism. For this reason I would also recommend it to any Superman fans who have so far steer cleared of New 52 Superman comics. I'll be very surprised if this series doesn't sell very well indeed, and not just because of the pulling power of the superstar creative team. This is quite frankly, how to write Superman comics with mass appeal. I can't wait for issue #2.

***** FIVE STARS OUT OF FIVE!

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