Posts Tagged ‘Review’

EG’s Review: World War Z

October 23, 2009

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Alright, peoples, you’ve waited long enough to hear about this one! The Steve Austin Book Club is back, and more extreme than ever! Or, perhaps that is Xtreme! Mayhaps we should rename ourselves The Xteve AuXtin BooX Club, as an indicator of our new hip and happenin’ ways!

Or, not.

Anyway, this is the review of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks. This review is apt to spoil the book, so if you haven’t read it and want to, you may want to skip this. There will be SPOILERS-A-PLENTY! If you have read the book, feel free to leave a comment!

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Now with the preliminaries out of the way, sit back and enjoy!

World War Z is a collection of the post-Zombie War rememberances of indidual survivors throughout the world. It is ten years after the official end of the war… a time to look back. The book is presented in a series of personal stories/interviews with individuals discussing their roles and reactions as the world was plunged into a panic and near extinction of the human race. Using these personal stories, the audience follows as the events of the Zombie War are revealed in pieces, from its start within the borders of China, to the various steps taken by governments throughout the world in attempts to protect their borders, through battlefields where traditional tactics are found lacking, to the eventual steps toward survival, which rely on plans for each nation to virtually abandon most of their citizens. The stories come from average individuals, politicians, military personnel, corporate leaders, slackers, etc., etc., etc.

And… that’s about the sum of it.

Let me start this by saying that the concept of this book is genius. I loved the premise and the style used. As an avid fan of the History Channel, I could really see this story being told through the account of eye witnesses just as much of their programming does. If there is any downside to that, it is that I think that this is one of those few occassions where the upcoming film based on this book may surpass the book in effectiveness. Why? Because the biggest complaint I have about the book seems to be a near universal complaint about it – while we are told that the stories come from various individuals, the vast majority of the stories are very much in the same voice, seemingly from the same individual. That is why I think the movie has the advantage. The various actors will lend their own spin to each vignette, allowing the audience to see a greater variance than what was afforded in the book.

I did appreciate the fact that the author knew his audience. Very little time was spent dwelling on what zombies are and trying to explain them away. Instead, he worked from a standpoint of “the people that pick this book up know what these creatures are.” It was nice to not have the lodestone of origin dragging the book down.

Now, the downside. Without an establishing of the specifics of the zombie of this book, we don’t have a firm enough idea of what these zombies are really like. And, it seems that the author forgets as well. There are times when we are told that zombies eventually decompose, and yet we are confronted with zombies in several instances that seem to have survived locked up in abandoned homes for years, no worse for wear. We are told that frozen weather will freeze zombies, yet they can walk unencumbered along the ocean floor, which rests at right about 32 degrees. (Fun science fact: the ocean, being salty, doesn’t freeze until the water hits about 28.5 degrees. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.)

There also seems to be a real lack of knowledge about military weaponry. The idea that modern weapons would be less than effective against the undead is really hard to believe. The shrapnel described in the book always somehow managed to avoid hitting the zombies in the head. There is a reason that the militaries of the world issue metal helmets to their soldiers.

I can go along, to some extent, with the laughable actions of government during a situation like this, but the overall political commentary in the book is hack-kneed and blunt to the point of near rhetoric. Everything is too surface, no depth.

I was also unimpressed with the two types of people that we were presented with in the book: the noble hero and the scummy opportunist. There didn’t seem to be any other degrees of personality. I understand that a tragedy can be a polarizing event, but there are more shades to people than this, and not having those shades made almost all the characters boring and relatively two-dimensional.

Which, now that I think about it and re-read my last complaint, is the problem I have with the book as a whole. For all the supposed individuals “interviewed” in the book, there just isn’t enough to any of them. The characters are flat, which is really what makes them all sound the same. Perhaps if the author had focused on fewer stories, we could have had a more in depth character study of each. People aren’t simply noble or evil… they are far more complicated than that.

The book wasn’t terrible, but I expected and wanted so much more from it. As I mentioned, I’m really hoping that the actors in the planned film are able to bring that little extra to this project that is sorely missing in the book. For the potential of this book and the concept, I’m giving it two and a half Running Steves.

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And, here’s to hoping that the film gets moving from development limbo and into actual production!

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Movie Time: Zombieland

October 22, 2009

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Zombieland
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigal Breslin

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How to sum up this movie? In a post-apocalyptic world filled with zombies, four individuals join up… sorta… in search of a safe place that at least 75% of them don’t even believe exists. And Twinkies. Oh, and along the way, they learn a little about themselves, family, and they kill zombies.

And, honestly, that’s about it.

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If you are looking for anything more than that, Zombieland is going to be a great disappointment. If you are just looking for a relatively fun film with some zombie killing, you’ll probably like it. But (and, this is where I differ from about 90% of the people that see this movie), if you are looking for a great zombie movie, you’ll probably be a little let down.

Parts of the movie were fantastic. Early on in the film, we are introduced to Columbus (Eisenberg), in all his nerdiness, and his rules for surviving in the new status quo, which is really funny.

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(By the way, I find that Eisenberg:

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… is completely interchangeable with Micheal Cera:

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… who I originally thought was in this movie before I actually saw the film.  Just sayin’.)

And, when Tallahassee (Harrelson) and Columbus are in the early stages of their road trip, the film takes total advantage of the contrast between the characters. The comic chemistry between the two was fantastic, and the zombie killin’ they commence to doin’ is top notch and entertaining.

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If the whole film had been just that, I would’ve enjoyed the whole thing much more.

Once Tallahassee and Columbus meet up with Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigal Breslin), though, the focus shifts away from zombies almost altogether to the bonding of the group of four individuals… which isn’t a horrible thing, but it kinda sapped away my enjoyment of the movie in the manner it was shoehorned into the middle of the film.

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At this point, you get the weakest portions of the movie – a sequence of destruction of a souvenir shop that was pretty “eh”, and the Cameo (which you likely already know about, but I’m not going to spoil). The Cameo was surprising to me (because I was fortunate enough not to have heard a thing about it), but it was also only mildly amusing. And, then you get more character bonding (which is undermined by some less than stellar humor).

Which then leads up to the big finale, where two of the characters, in maybe the greatest display of stupidity in the entire film, run off to an amusement park and turn every light and noise-maker on, so they can play for a while. This, of course, attracts every zombie for miles around, and the two idiots have to be rescued by the only two other remaining people on earth (okay, we aren’t expressly told that, but it is implied). This rescue, though, lacks the creative and comic sense of the zombie kills early in the film, and kinda seems a little easy, despite the overwhelming numbers involved.

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I enjoyed the movie as a sort of mindless popcorn film, but I wasn’t as blown away by it as most folks. As a result, I can only give Zombieland two and a half out of five Running Steves.

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I just wish they had kept up the momentum from early on in the film.

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Movie Time: Surrogates

October 14, 2009

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Surrogates
PG-13
Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Starring Bruce Willis

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There was a time, not too long ago, when Hollywood offering a token of science fiction with good production values and name stars was unusual. It was a dark time. As a result, I still get excited when I see a movie preview from the genre, despite the greater number of offerings.

Enter, Surrogates.

I saw the previews for this film and was really amped to see it. Real life delayed me, until this past weekend, but now I’ve seen it, and thought I’d go ahead and give my two cents about it.

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In a future world quite similar to ours, technology has allowed the vast majority of people to purchase robotic surrogates, physically perfect avatars, to interact in the real world. No more need to fear the dangers of the outside world, people plug themselves in and live through these machines in perfect safety. Even if the surrogate is damaged, the operator is perfectly safe.

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That all changes, though, when a college student is somehow murdered via their link with a surrogate. FBI agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) investigates the death, running into roadblocks from the company that creates the surrogates, the military, and those that rebel against the use of surrogates.

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The movie is based on a limited comic book series from Top Shelf Productions.

I’ll admit, I haven’t read the comic book. I thought about seeking it out before seeing the movie, but I tend to believe that is a bad idea. Seldom to films live up to the source material, and I wanted to give this film every chance.

At the start of the film, I was completely struck by the look of the characters. I would bet that underwear companies had to delay their ad campaigns while every perfect underwear model in the world worked on this film. That isn’t a knock against the film – it establishes very early on the feel of the movie, and artificial perfection, a “fakeness” that allows the premise that people living through perfect machines is plausible.

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In fact, this is reinforced when we meet up with the plastic version of Bruce Willis’ character. I don’t know what all they did to Bruce Willis to give us the plastic/perfect look that blends in with the underwear model cast so well, but it is impressive.

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And, when his character is forced to go without his surrogate, the grizzled, wrinkled, and bald look of the actual human behind the puppet is also great for establishing the contrast of the film.

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Unfortunately, one aspect of this compare/contrast demonstration didn’t really work. In the movie, there are those that are resistant to using the surrogates. Resistant is probably too subtle a term. “Violently opposed” is more accurate. They have been separated from the general populace in various camps. To emphasize the difference between these “real” people and the surrogates, most of the real folks are too real – sloppy looking, craggy, unkempt. It made me wonder, as I was watching, why none of the “real” people looked basically average. You can’t tell me that only the least attractive members of society reject surrogates. There have to be a couple of average folks mixed in, or it seems too black and white, which actually took me out of the movie.

The movie does have several good action sequences, and I have no complaints about the effects within the film. And, with a running time of under 90 minutes, the movie certainly doesn’t drag!

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On the other hand, the film is pretty heavy handed in its moral. Not only does the main plot seem to revolve around the detachment of humanity, the sub plot of the relationship between Greer and his wife does as well. I think the makers of the film were trying to use the sub plot as a more personal reflection of the widespread issue of the main plot, but what results is the feeling of being hammered over the head in a “well, if you didn’t get the idea from that, how about this” sorta way.

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(Ooh, by the way, wanna see what that surrogate having its face pulled off looks like? Okay!)

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And, had the film stuck with the single social commentary of the detachment of humanity, I think they could have had a better product. Unfortunately, that non-dragging 90 minutes doesn’t really allow for the exploration of that theme, the violation of personal civil liberties, the question of justification in terrorism, and any of the other statements that the film failed to sufficiently elaborate on.

The movie failed to really offer anything new, though. We’ve seen this same sort of story done before, both better and worse.

The real problem with the film, though, is predictability. Every action seems to be telegraphed throughout the movie. Plus, I was able to figure out most of the film in the first five minutes, which is something I hate. OG tells me that this is partially my fault, because I never go into any book or film without overanalyzing as I go along. Maybe he’s right, but I still hate knowing how things are going to be put together at the beginning.

Overall, the movie was okay. Nothing spectacular, but it wasn’t unwatchable. I wouldn’t recommend running out to the theater to catch it before it moves to DVD. It isn’t worth that.

I’m going to give Surrogates two Running Steves.

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I don’t know that they could have really done enough to make the film great, but there was definitely room for improvement.

Preview Review – Cable #16

September 25, 2009

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That’s right kiddies! It is BACK!

Welcome to the Preview Review, wherein I find the unlettered preview pages offered online for a comic (that I really have no intention of buying), and write a review of the issue based entirely on my perceptions of what is going on.

And, what do I have in store for today? Why, nothing less than the majestic wonder that is Cable #16!

(Ooh… ahh…)

Yes, my friends, gather ’round, and let’s take a look at this masterpiece provided to us by writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Paul Gulacy. First up, the cover by Dave Wilkins!

Cable #16

Let’s see… looks like we have a little kid, most likely a girl is my guess… mostly because she seems to have that look of the “big eyed girls” that was prominent in outsider art of the 1960’s.

That’s right, scoffers! I have an art degree and I’m not afraid to use it! Sure, I could have gone for the lazy reference to anime/manga for the size of the eyes, but no! I went all historical! Ha!

Where was I? Oh, yeah, the cover. Anyway, the little girl is standing there, wearing a pair of boots that, based on the size, must come from Guy Gardner’s closet of the late 80’s/early 90’s!

Really? I’m the only one that gets the reference? Fine, here, take a look:

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See?

Anyway, the little girl appears to be standing in front of Cable, drawn from Picasso’s Blue Period.

Ka-Zow! I did it again! Another zinger courtesy of my art degree! Ha ha ha! It makes it all worth it – the years of study, the student loans I’m still paying back, the virtual uselessness of the degree in an actual workforce…

(On a blog, no one can see you cry…)

Alright, so, the kid is in front of Cable (I know its Cable, because, a.) the massive gun, b.) the large number of pouches, and c.) I lived through the 1990’s.). Cable is… I’m going to say that Cable is encased in a giant block of ice.

And, given how he’s standing, the cold front must have moved in fast. Maybe one of those “superstorms” we saw Jake Gyllenhaal running from in The Day After Tomorrow. Which means that Cable, despite being a superhero, can’t outrun Jake Gyllenhaal.

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(Wow… he’s got some crazy eyes, huh?)

I’m not sure what purpose that knowledge will ever serve, but now you know, and knowing is half the battle. GI JOE!

Given the cover, I can only assume that this comic deals with the kid trying to free Cable from the block of ice… a plot that makes me flashback to the film atrocity known as Batman and Robin, and thus makes going any farther a less than inviting thought.

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And, yet, I must! On to the first page!

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First panel! Ah… well. Hmm. It seems that the guy with the metal arm… Colossus? No, he has black hair. Oh, wait, white hair! That must be Cable! I see pouches and a gun!

Okay, so Cable is… assaulting a little person in the ruins of a building? That doesn’t seem right. What happened to the little girl from the cover?

What? No, that can’t be the little girl from the cover. That is *clearly* a woman’s head on that wee body, not a little girl. Although, she does appear to be wearing the same outfit at the girl from the cover.

So… confused… already… move… to… next… panel…

Alright, see, I told you! That is NOT a little girl. Maybe it is the little girl’s mother, and they have matching outfits. Oh, and she is ticked because Cable is getting fresh.

But, man, take a look at that head of hair on Cable. That is some nice, thick, well-maintained hair. Even in the midst of a building in ruins and fighting with a little person, Cable remembers the importance of looking good for the odd camera angle.

Next Panel!

Look! Cable and the little person are posing for a boxing match promotional poster! And starting to glow blue? Hmm…

After the poster shoot, it looks like the little person has fought off the advances of Cable with a mighty kick that looks to have crushed his sternum. And, again with the blue glow… why does that look so familiar?

Last panel of the page an — wait a second! I understand it now! I know where I’ve seen that blue glow! Quantum Leap! The little person appears to be leaping! Leaping from life to life! Striving to put right what once went wrong! And hoping each time that the next leap… will be the leap home!

Wow, I didn’t know that this was happening in Cable comics! I LOVED the tv show Quantum Leap! If I had known that it was picked up in the Cable comic, I’d have been there from the start!

Woo hoo! I’m suddenly much more interested in this comic! I wonder where the little person will leap next? Maybe into a police officer in the early 80’s, or a high school freshman of the 1970’s, or maybe a grandmother in the 1990’s…

Let’s turn the page and find out!
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Ha ha! Too bad, Cable! The little person Leaper is getting away! No more of a chance for you to try to work your charms on her!

And the next four progressive panels, we see the continued leap. Strange, I never really noticed Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap having such a look of distress on his face when leaping. Still, by that third panel, I can almost hear the Quantum Leap theme song, “Do do, doodoo, do do, doodoo…”

And the leap seems to be almost over, wonder where we will end up! Next!

Hey… wait a second. Why are we back with Cable?!? We were going to leap, following the adventures of the little person bouncing around in time! She got to leap away, and we get stuck with what? A Cable comic? C’mon… how is THAT fair?

Those last two panels on this page are fitting. Yeah, Cable, we are with you. We thought we were going to get a great Quantum Leap story, too… but now… just the sad, pathetic knowledge that the leaping little person is gone, and we are stuck here… alone… with you.

Turn the page. It has to get better, right?

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Huzzah wha-? Did I miss where the ground went out from beneath Cable? No, I didn’t. Okay, then we are climbing to… the next panel…

Ah, here we go. Cable was climbing to get to the rooftop of some building… because as a moody character, he’s required to look over the vast decay of the environment and brood? Sure, why not?

You know… that’s a lot of debris on that rooftop. Its like someone actually had to carry it up to the rooftop. I don’t know why they would do that, but that’s what it looks like. And, right there, in the center… is that a tire rim? Why in the world would someone carry a rim up there?

On to the next pan – Augh! Oh, wow… I was not expecting a close-up of Cable’s giant, sweating dinosaur head. Gee willickers, a little warning next time. Let’s just move on… that milky-white eye is creeping me out.

Now it appears as if there is a dust storm on the rooftop. And the silhouette of two large bones. Maybe there is more in the last panel…

Hmm… seems the bones weren’t bones, but hydraulics. Wait, I get it! Rims, hydraulics… this rooftop was the domain of nomadic Lowriders!

You know, coincidentally, all my friends love a lowrider.  They really, really do.

Okay, let’s turn the page.

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Alright, now, here we have Cable saluting in front of a wall of junk. He probably thinks it is fitting, since a lot of that junk looks like it could have once been some of the massive guns he carries. Ooh, and his hand is glowing! Maybe he’ll finally get to leap and find that little person!

Oh, and look! A little inset of sand castles. Lovely. Not really sure why it is there, but lovely nonetheless.

Just under that, Cable poses, showing off his gun, pouches, and firm buttocks. His hand is still starting the Quantum Leap. Must be a delayed reaction.

Sliding over to the next panel, another close-up of Cable and his milky-white eye. Sheesh, that’s creepy. But, it seems he’s finally noticed the leap is starting! Almost time to travel through time!

At the bottom of the page, we have… Cable rending his clothes? Huh? Hold on, I know what is going on. The blue glow of the leap is spreading, and Cable thinks he has to strip naked to travel in time like in those Terminator films. Someone should explain to him that Leaping doesn’t really work like that.

Alright, how about that last page? I can’t wait to see Cable assume the identity of a diner waitress at a truckstop in 1978!

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Oh, guess I was wrong. Seems that Cable leapt into a black guy in… well, it looks about the same sort of place that Cable was already in. Oh, and what irony! This guy also has a metal arm, but it is on the opposite side that Cable’s normally is.

And, a little inset of debris. Wonder why they focused on tha —

Holy smokes, Cable’s using the debris to tear into that metal arm! Cable! Stop! I know, this wasn’t the most excited leap in time, but trying to force another leap just isn’t the answer!

In the next inset panel, Cable, frustrated, seems to be ripping the metal arm off. That seems extreme.

And, finally, we are presented Cable, in profile, grimly accepting that leaping can’t be forced. There are things that have to be put right before you can leap… a lesson we all learned in the Quantum Leap episode entitled “Double Identity.”

And, if I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’.

(To the other three people on the planet that get that reference, thank you.)

Well, that was quite a little adventure. Sadly, there was NOTHING in this about Cable being encased in ice, which was disappointing. Plus, there at the end, they completely messed up the Quantum Leap stuff, because in that show, Sam only *appeared* to be the person he leapt into. He was actually still himself. So, Cable tearing into that arm with the debris? Yeah, that would have been him tearing into his actual flesh arm. And, that is kinda sick. I can only give this 218 stars out of 18,716 stars. I really think I’d have gone higher if we’d followed the leap of the little person that was escaping Cable.

That’ll do it for now. See you all at the next Preview Review.

*EG, enveloped by a blue light, leaps away!*

Preview Review – Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #1

August 1, 2008

‘allo, ‘allo, ‘allo!  And what ‘ave we ‘ere?  Why, boil me beef and call me Nigel, it’s another Preview Review!

For those of you not in the know, this is a Preview Review, wherein I find the unlettered preview pages offered online for an upcoming comic (that I really have no intention of buying), and write a review of the issue based entirely on my perceptions of what is going on.

Despite the shortage of unlettered pages being offered for preview (a conspiracy, I maintain, directly against this here blog), I, your humble host have manage to procure some pages from the forthcoming Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane #1.  Wait… #1?  Hasn’t this series been going on for a while?  I thought it was up to, like, issue 20 or so.  Oh, wait… now I get it.  New writer, and Marvel decided to cash in by slapping a #1 on the cover.  I see right through you, Marvel.  Can’t fool me.

Anyway, Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane is the heart-wrenching story of Peter Parker, caught in the grip of drug addiction, desperately trying to —

What?

Not about drugs?  A teenage girl in love?

Huh.  Okay.  I could be wrong.  Or am I?  (Just a note – I probably am.)

As I was saying, today we look at Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, written by Terry Moore, art duties by Craig Rousseau, with a cover by Terry Moore and Adrian Alphona.

Let’s see that cover, shall we?

Oh, wow… its so… symmetrical?  Yep.  Main subject posted front and center, grass on both sides, a tree on each side, background pretty sterile.  Hold on a minute – that lampost is only on one side. 

That’s daring. 

Moving of from the general composition of the image, we can take note that New York is filled with actual ivory towers, broken up by only the occasional line or square.  Most folks that don’t live in New York don’t know that.  I can already tell that this comic will be very informative.

And there stands Mary Jane.  Young, innocent, completely unaware that in the future, she will make a deal with the devil and completely screw up Spider-Man’s continuity.

Let’s open the book.

Splash page!  Alrighty, on this first page, we have… well, it look like M.J. is laying on a big canvas on which someone has pencilled a few faces.  And, it also looks like she’s rubbing out some of the images.

You know, that’s irritating.  I mean, someone sets up a canvas, pencils in some light drawings to get ready to paint, and along comes Lil’ Miss “Spider-Man-Loves-Me-I-Can-Do-Anything-I-Want,” who decides to just lay down on the canvass.

Anyway, what else is going on here?  Well, M.J. has a lot of hair.  Don’t get me wrong – very shiny and well maintained (she probably buys some really expensive conditioner), but she could do with a little trim. 

I just realized – that hair is probably why she is lying down.  The weight of it exhausted her.  Now I feel kinda bad for judging her too quickly.  Sorry, M.J.

Aw, she has a cute little Spider-Man doll.  You know, I can’t decide if it is a good thing or a bad thing that Spidey can give a doll of himself to a girlfriend.  I mean, it is neat that those things exist, but it seems a little creepy, maybe a little controlling, for a guy to give a doll of himself to his girl.  I mean, you don’t think that Mario Lopez gives out those Slater dolls to girlfriends, do you?


Let’s just go to the next page.

Splash page!  This comic is going to be a really quick read if this keeps up.  Twenty-two glorious single image pages!  Thirty seconds of entertainment for only $2.99!  What a deal!

On this page, we get to see that Spidey also has a doll of M.J.  I guess that’s okay, kinda like a reciprocal gift of young love.  You know, like when you see boyfriends and girlfriends wearing identical shirts… which is actually kinda nauseating.  But, they are young and in love and do stupid things like that.

I’m not certain why Spidey is crushing one of his model airplanes, though.  Maybe we’ll find out on the next page.

Hold it right there!  That M.J. doll is emoting in this first panel!  Unless that is one incredibly expensive doll, I’m guessing it isn’t a doll at all.  It is Janet Van Dyne, a.k.a., the Wasp!  And, she appears to be dressed up in some sort of Mary Jane costume!  Oh, no… I don’t like where this is headed.

Panel 2, Spidey looks back at Janet.  Say it ain’t so, Spidey!

Then, in the third panel, their eyes meet.  I can’t believe you would do this to M.J., Spidey.  Have you no shame?  Cheating on her, making the Wasp dress up like her… oh, man… this is wrong AND creepy.

The next panel, Janet moves in for the kiss.  I can’t watch this.  It is just so wrong!

Last panel on the page – a reprieve from the creepy, as someone fires a bazooka at Spidey!  He appears to be the same size as the Wasp… which means it must be her husband, Hank Pym, a.k.a., Ant-Man.  How will the superhero community survive all of this?  Hero against hero?  All for what?  The creepy desires of Peter Parker.  It is just disgusting.  Move on to the next page.

Oh… well, that is a startling change of pace.  We are now in what appears to be a classroom, where M.J. is blissfully unaware of the two-timing activities of her love.  We also learn another previously unknown to most people fact – Mary Jane’s arms.  They are gorilla-long.

Seriously, why is she passing that note to the blonde girl to pass to that sulky kid?  I’m pretty sure if she fully extended that arm, she could open the window.

And why is she passing a note to the sulky kid, anyway?  Oh – maybe it is a friendly note to try to cheer up sulky kid.  It really is a nice gesture on her part.

In the following panel, M.J. looks on happily as the blonde girl gives the note to the sulky kid.  She is likely thinking on the coming appreciative smile from sulky kid.

By the next panel, M.J. has returned to her studies, and… a wadded up tissue floats in the air near her head?  Or is it orbiting her head?  I must admit… I’m a bit confused here.  Maybe the next panel will explain things a bit.

Nope, no help at all.  The wadded up tissue has now crashed into the side of her head, irritating M.J., as well it should.  On a quick sidenote – are those walls behind her made of marble?  What kinda budget do New York schools have?

Next page, please.

Okay, it is 11:12 p.m.  (Thanks for the time update, Craig Rousseau!)  In the next panel, we see a tuckered-out M.J., asleep in her clothes among her school books as the TV plays in the background.

Moving down to the next panel – Aghgh!  A mysterious hand on the window!  M.J. is going to get attacked in her sleep!  Quick, move to the next panel!

Uh oh… aw, man… say it ain’t so, Spidey!  Seriously?  You are a Peeping Tom now?  First, giving a doll of yourself to M.J., then having the Wasp dress up as M.J. for your creepy little encounter, and now this?  Man, I haven’t been this skeeved-out about a superhero stalker since I watched Superman Returns.  Ugh!

In the last two panels, we see Mary Jane, completely oblivious to the invasion of privacy, and then Spidey slips away, fearful of being caught.

Thank goodness that’s over!  The entire creepy context of this issue really threw me off.  As such, I can only give it 138 stars out of 15,933 stars.  I like my Spider-Man less stalker-y and more devoted to M.J.

Here’s to hoping the next Preview Review is less icky!

EG, signing off.

Rollerball (1975) vs. Rollerball (2002)

May 30, 2008

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By and large, I’m not a fan of remakes.  I know the goal is to try to capture lightning twice, to get an easy “win.”  All too often, a studio finds a perfectly good (often great) film, and proceeds to “update” it, making something that is, at best, pale imitation of the original, and, at worst, a two hour display of modern movie makers urinating on history.


Sure, there is the odd occasion when a remake is actually good, and the extremely rare case where it is as good as the original, and the almost non-existant instance in which the update is better than the original, but, by and large, remakes are bad.


I have long said, though, that if Hollywood wanted to really impress me, they shouldn’t try to remake great films, but, rather, lousy films.


That’s right – don’t give me a remake of Planet of the Apes; give me a remake of Batman and Robin, a film so bad that it made me want to gouge my own eyes out while sitting in the theater.


Anyway, time marches on, and, as is apt to happen, Hollywood is running out of “great” films to pillage, leaving lesser offerings.


Enter Rollerball.


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Rollerball was a film released in 1975 starring James Caan and John Houseman. 

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Set in the year 2018, the world is ruled by several Corporations that control everything.


Rollerball is the sport of the future, a game designed by the Executives of the Corporations, to show that the effort of the single individual is pointless.  It is played on a circular track, with ten players on each team – seven skaters and three motorcyclists. 


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As the teams move around, a steel ball about the size of a softball is shot out, roulette style, around the top of the track. 


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The teams try to take possession of the ball and deposit it into a goal.  Just that simple.


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Oh, and it is pretty much a no-holds-barred free-for-all in stopping the opposing team from scoring.


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The Executives face a problem, though.  In a sport in which no individual is supposed to rise above the others, one has – Jonathan E.


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Jonathan E., played by James Caan, is the premiere Rollerball player in the world, a ten-year veteran of the sport.

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The Executives decide that it is time for Jonathan E. to retire, and inform him.  Though resistance to the will of the Executives is unheard of, Jonathan finds that he cannot bring himself to retire.

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What follows after that is a steady stream of pressure on Jonathan to obey the will of the Executives, while Jonathan comes to a place wanting more from himself than the futuristic gladiator that he has become.


The movie culminates in a final Rollerball match in which – well, I don’t want to spoil the whole thing.  Suffice it to say, the theme of the individual achievement versus sublimation to the rulers of society comes to a head.


Sound good?  Yeah, well, don’t get too excited.


Now, don’t get me wrong – the movie isn’t horrible.  It is too long and hasn’t aged as well as some other films, but Rollerball’s biggest crime is that it is pretty much just slightly better than mediocre. 


What manages to keep this movie above that line is the acting.  James Caan is good, though he seems to be trying to out melancholy Hamlet at times, and John Houseman, as the Energy Corporation Chairman, is very good.


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(As he almost always is, even when he was on Silver Spoons.)


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The theme of the film is a bit heavy handed, but handled well enough to inspire further thought on the matter even after the film is finished.


One thing is for certain:  Despite my idea of remaking bad films, I don’t think that anyone was really crying out for an update of the film, and yet…


Enter Rollerball, 2002.


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Gone is that pesky futuristic world!  This film takes place in the here and now!  It is loud and in your face!  And it is eXtreme!  Yeah!


*sigh*


Okay, in this version, Rollerball is the big sport of the former Soviet republics.  It is essentially the same kinda sport, but now played on a figure eight track, and the point of the game is not to send a message to the people, but, rather, to get ratings. 

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And to display singer Pink on large screens around the arena.


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The star player of the sport is Jonathan Cross, played by Chris Klein. 


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In this version, there are no Executives, but the sport is run by a crooked promoter played by Jean Reno.


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Evil looking, ain’t he? Oh, yeah, and LL Cool J and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos were in the movie, too.


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So, Jonathan Cross discovers that players are being set-up to die to bring in ratings, and decides that is wrong!


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He and LL Cool J attempt to escape across a border, which is about 20 minutes of your life you’ll never get back filmed entirely in glorious, grainy night vision.


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Yeah.


Eventually Jonathan Cross is captured and forced to play.  Of course, he is now the next target to encourage increased ratings.

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At this point, a film that was barely making any sense degrades into Jonathan Cross somehow starting a social revolution.


The end.


And, what did the re-makers manage to do with this film?


They took the heavy handed, yet still thought provoking theme of the original film of the individual achievement versus sublimation to the rulers of society and replaced it with an even heavier handed theme of greedily capitalizing on society’s bloodlust, a theme that requires no thought.


They replaced good actors (James Caan, John Houseman) with actors whose abilities remind one of cardboard.  Seriously, Chris Klein couldn’t inspire me to blow my nose, let alone revolt against the powers that be.


And, speaking of, the images of Chris Klein so far have been awfully fierce looking.  I mean, come on!  The Chris Klein we have come to know is that dopey looking Keanu Reeves kid.  Remember?


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Where is that guy?  Oh, wait.  Found him!


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Yep.  That’s the dopey guy we know.


Now, back to Rollerball.


Thankfully, the 2002 version is much shorter than the original.  Unfortunately, it feels twice as long when you are watching.


So, while the original film isn’t the greatest, it is a masterpiece compared to the updated version.


On a closing note, the basis of these films was a short story called Roller Ball Murder.  Aside from the ridiculous name of the sport (yeah, “Roller Ball Murder” is the name), it is actually quite good – a first person narrative from the viewpoint of Jonathan E., very much the story of a weary, futuristic gladiator.  If you have about a half hour, you can listen to the whole thing, courtesy of radio show from the ’70’s, MindWebs, the episodes of which have been archived in MP3 form on the internet!

Preview Review – She-Hulk #31

May 22, 2008

Greetings Earthlings!  It is time once again for another Preview Review, wherein I find the unlettered preview pages offered online for an upcoming comic (that I really have no intention of buying), and write a review of the issue based entirely on my perceptions of what is going on.
Today, we look at She-Hulk #31, from Peter David (writer) and Vincenzo Cucca and Barbara Ciardo (artists), with a cover by Mike Deodato.
So, how about that Deodato cover?
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Background?  Who needs a background?!?  Give me a big blank space any day!  Why, all that extra “art” would only serve to detract from the focal point of this cover, which is She-Hulk swinging from that “L” above a group of her adoring fans.
(Maybe you didn’t know, but in the Marvel Universe, Shulkie is, like, more popular than the Beatles.  Its true!)
Oh, and look!  Her fans all have green skin, pointy ears, and chin lines!  Gotta be Skrulls.  I can only take that to mean that this is yet another comic trapped in the vortex of Marvel’s massively oppressive event, Secret Invasion.
You know, it makes sense that Shulkie would have a lot of Skrull guys as fans.  I mean, think about it.  You are a young Skrull guy, and while there may be a lot of attractive Skrull gals out there, they all have the same problem:  chin lines that give off an awfully “goatee”-esque vibe.  Not exactly the most appealing feature.
Enter Shulkie, with that green skin and smooth chin.  Yeah, boy!  Sure, her ears aren’t pointy, but no one is perfect.
Hey!  I just realized who her fans are impersonating!  That’s Jaime Madrox (Multiple Man), from X-Factor!  (Ha!  See, I don’t ALWAYS have to be told who characters are!)  On a side note, X-Factor is the only X-Book I read… and if this means that this event is going to mess that up, I’ll not be pleased.  Anyway, moving on.

Ooh, this preview, along with the cover and interior pages, also included a pin-up!  Shall we take a look?
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By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth!  Shulkie’s all manga-ized!  Oh, great.  That probably means that She-Hulk’s new costume will be that of an Asian schoolgirl, she’ll pick up some tiny, overly cute mythical creature as a companion, and before long, she’ll be piloting some giant robot into battle.  Oh, and readers will be forced to read her book from right to left instead of left to right.
What is going on in that picture anyway?  Shulkie is just standing there, all posed, while cars seem to be flying apart behind her.  (Alas, I am vexed.  Should I lower myself to enter here the obvious flatulation joke?  Or should I rise above?)
I suppose Shulkie made a “run for the border” for lunch!
(Come on!  You knew it was coming.)
Alright, let’s check out the first interior page:
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Well, it looks like Shulkie is running toward some arthritic woman.  There’s a lesson for you kids – don’t crack your knuckles, or your hands will end up like that.
Bypassing another obvious gastrointestinal joke, did Shulkie recently get some sort of uncontrollable speed powers?  Look at that path of destruction in her wake!
Next page, please:
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Okay, so the arthritic woman can fly.  She easily dodges the brute force, run-straight-at-her attack from Shulkie.  She-Hulk looks up at her, mouth open.  Arthritic Flying Girl crosses her arms all smug like, as if to say, “What, are you going to ‘scream’ me down?!?”
Suddenly, Arthritic Flying Girl is hit by… wait… is that She-Hulk’s spit?  Open mouth, blast of liquid flying through the air… ew.  Well, I suppose if its in your arsenal you can use it.
Still… ew.
Let’s move onto the next page and hope for less saliva.
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Okay, so Arthritic Flying Girl realizes that she can… you know… “fly”… and gets out of the path of the flying drool.  And then we find out – oh, it wasn’t spit!  Shulkie just destroyed a fire hydrant.  Now, that makes me feel better.  In fact, it relieves me so much I won’t mention A.) the lack of background in this panel, and B.) the bizarre placement of the fire hydrant to Shulkie’s crotch.
Arthritic Flying Girl is ticked at Shulkie.  She’s got on her mean face and everything.  She flings herself at She-Hulk!  And, finally, what we all wait for in any manga/anime project – speedlines!
Wow, those little arthritic fists must be powerful.  I woulda thunk She-Hulk could take a punch from a girl that looks to be a third of her size.
On to the next page!
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Ah, there we go.  Using the forward momentum of Arthritic Flying Girl and… the top panel line from the panel below as a fulcrum, She-Hulk flings her assailant into a car.
Poised to finish off Arthritic Flying Girl, Shulkie is distracted by an eclipse of the sun, which she stupidly turns around to look at.  Didn’t anyone ever tell her that she would burn her retinas out doing that?
Let’s see if she learned that lesson on the next page:
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Oh, luckily, Strong Guy showed up to stop her from looking into the eclipse.  (Yeah, that’s right – Strong Guy.  That’s his super-hero name.  It was the early 1990’s, okay?  Creativity was reduced to slapping pouches onto costumes, issuing heroes leather jackets, and giving them all mullets and a five-o’clock shadow.  So Guido… *sigh* yes, again, that is his real name… ended up with the moniker Strong Guy.  I suppose it could’ve been worse.  They could have gone with “White Ponytail And Creepy Goggle Guy.”)
It does seem that Strong Guy was a little overzealous in averting Shulkie’s eyes from the blinding powers of the eclipse.  He did so with enough gusto to not only crack the pavement, but to also create his own speedlines.
I wonder if She-Hulk will understand he was just too enthusiastic.  Let’s take a look at the last page to find out:
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Oh… well, she appears to be okay with it, just laying there in the rubble, smiling.
In the next panel, Strong Guy doesn’t look too happy.  Oh, maybe Shulkie didn’t say thank you.  That’s probably it.  I mean, he did save her vision… seems that would warrant a little grati–!!!
Great Shades of America’s Funniest Home Videos!!!  Holy cow… I guess She-Hulk didn’t take kindly to the excessive helpfulness of Strong Guy.  Man… he is NOT going to be walking away from that anytime soon.  A guy doesn’t recover from a shot like that very quickly.  What with the pain, the nausea, the headache, the seeing-stars, and the crying… I figure Strong Guy is down for a good hour, and walking delicately home after that.
What have we learned today?  She-Hulk may be fast enough that the vacuum that trails behind her is devastating, causing millions of dollars worth of damage, but she doesn’t have any sort of super-spit abilities… that we know of.  Also, it is good to be helpful, but being too helpful can result in having ice your crotch for a while.
I give this comic 116,204 stars out of 197,385.  I liked the art despite the fact that the artists felt the need to include those pesky “backgrounds” in so many of the panels.
EG Out!

Review: All-New Iron Manual #1

May 15, 2008

They got me.

I hate when that happens.

See, I don’t tend buy comic book one-shots.  Most of the time, they are overpriced and all too often, the “extra pages” included are nothing more than reprints of stories I’ve probably already read.

I’m also wary of projects that come out just to tie-in with movies.

And yet…

*Sigh*

I order my comics through an online service.  It is a great convenience, having discounted comics delivered right to my door (the nearest comic book shop to my house is a 20 minute drive away).  The one disadvantage is pre-ordering and not having the chance to really look at what I’m buying ahead of time.  I am forced to depend on the blurbs put out by the various companies about their projects.

Overall, it isn’t that big a deal.  I know what artists and writers I like, and my track record is pretty good for avoiding pitfalls.

Not so today.  Today, I recieved my shipment of comics, and, sitting atop the pile, is the physical representation of my own stupidity:  All-New Iron Manual #1.

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Yep.  A one-shot designed just to take advantage of the Iron Man film recently released.

So, why didn’t the red flags go up on this project for me?  Actually, they did, but I chose to ignore them.  And, why did I buy a book so glaringly not for me? 

Here is the description of the book that I ordered:

These are the chronicles of Tony Stark: the playboy, the genius inventor, the philanthropist, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., the futurist, the hero. This Handbook is the definitive resource to the world of Iron Man, featuring Tony’s closest allies (Happy and Pepper Hogan, War Machine, the Order) and deadliest foes (Justin Hammer, Mandarin, Obadiah Stane)! Includes a complete gallery of the Iron Man armors, plus all-new schematics of key armors and the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier!

I read through that description and was unimpressed… until that last sentence.  That last, horribly deceptive sentence.

One of my favorite things about Iron Man is the fact that his armor changes.  Unlike other comic book heroes, who seem to stay with relatively unchanging costumes for most of their existence, Iron Man’s look has updated every few years since inception.

Imagine my thrill about the chance to have a complete gallery of those armors!

So, despite my reservations, despite all the warning signs, and despite the $4.99 cover price, I bought the All-New Iron Manual #1.

I will never learn.

With undisguised excitement, I picked up the comic from my recent shipment, determined to take a look at it immediately.  The cover?  Fantastic.  It brought hope to me for what would be contained within.

I began to flip through the pages.  It was, essentially, what was promised – basically, a lot of entries about characters, pulled from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe.  I continued flipping, knowing I would eventually be greeted by an amazing gallery of the various armors used over the years.

Then, I got to the actual Iron Man entry, and beheld the gallery.

And regret set in.

In my dreams, I hoped for a sequence of splash pages, each type of armor brilliantly displayed in detail, one per page.  In more realistic fashion, I thought that maybe I’d get two sets of armor per page, maybe not as detailed or dynamic, but still a nice display.  Bare minimum, I was expecting the gallery pages to be quartered, displaying four armors per page.

Any of those would have been preferable to what I got.

Bordering the Iron Man entry, like guards for the gutter, were a series of armor images, measuring about 1 inch wide by 2 1/2 inches tall.  There are eight per page (one row of four on the top, one row of four on the bottom), with an equal amount of space devoted the text of the detailed history of Iron Man throughout the “gallery.”

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Thirty-nine types of armor, displayed across the top and bottom of five pages.

Yep, Marvel, you got me.  I was expecting an incredible display of the various armors, and you give me thumbnails.

Ha ha.

Jokes on me.

Listen folks, if you are wanting a detailed look at Iron Man and his supporting cast/enemies, this book does deliver that.  If you, like me, were hoping for more in the way of art, save your five bucks and go visit The Iron Man Armory, which has better images of most of the armors anyway.

 

Review: Dave Sims’ Glamourpuss

May 5, 2008

Okay, true confession time:  I’ve never read Cerebus.

For the majority of my life, I’ve been a mainstream comic guy.  Still am.  Now, though, I’m more open to independent projects.

Still, though, Cerebus is something that I’d like to get around to reading at some point.

My friend OG mentioned that he also missed out on Cerebus, but that he was jumping on board with the new Dave Sim project, Glamourpuss.
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I have another confession to make:  The more I heard about Glamourpuss, the less I wanted to pick it up.

The bits and pieces I heard about it were not exciting me.  The idea of a satirical book made up of drawings based on the models of women’s fashion magazines?  Wow.  So not my cup of tea.

Honestly, it felt more and more as if this was turning into some sort of self-indulgent vanity project, that Sim was taking advantage of his Cerebus fans to purposefully put out a book, completely without a market, just because he could.

Yet, my curiousity about the project could not be denied.  If there was to be a disaster, I intended to be there to gawk at it.

This past week, I recieved my comics in the mail (thank you discount online ordering services!!!), and among the stack of spandex covered superheroes was Glamourpuss.
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In a time when my curiosity often makes me regret plopping down my hard-earned cash on new comic projects, Glamourpuss turned out to be a real surprise.

It was good.

It was more than good.  It was fantastic.

What I had feared would be a mediocre satire turned out to be more of a personal examination of the photo-realistic line art of such artists as Al Williamson, Stan Drake, Neal Adams, and Alex Raymond.

And, yet, it wasn’t merely a clinical and dry examination of the art styles or the men.  It felt very much like having a conversation with a knowledgeable fan, who as he talked, took out a piece of paper to demonstrate what he was talking about.

Throughout the book, Sims demonstrates the styles used, not by merely photocopying the images and pasting them in (because the copies have been reproduced so many times that the details are all but lost), but by actually tracing and redrawing them, diversifying the line weight in his best guess of what the original was.

And, as he does so, the project takes on a very personal feel of an artist trying to grasp the techniques of a style that is all too seldom seen.  Glamourpuss is a journal recounting this voyage.
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Oh, there are aspects of the satire within the book.  And, while it is competent enough, it is more of a window dressing to the book.

Here I am, I’ve come this far, and I haven’t really talked about the art itself!  If you are only concerned about the art in your comics, don’t worry.  You will not be disappointed in this book.  It is really, truly beautiful stuff.  By examining the art under the guiding explanations of Sims, you will take even more from it.

Is this a self-indulgent vanity project?  Yeah, it really is.  It certainly isn’t a “traditional” type of comic book.  And, if Dave Sims was not Dave Sims, there is little chance anyone would have ever heard of this book.  That said, even though it is a self-indulgent vanity project, it is a really, really good self-indulgent vanity project.

If you haven’t checked it out, you should.