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Comic Review: Runaways (2015) #1

runaways1coverThe new Runaways #1 came out June 17, but it wasn’t on my radar until two weeks ago. That’s when I read Lumberjanes Vol. 1 and started seeking out all the other things Noelle Stevenson has written. Many years ago, I ate up the original Runaways series run started by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona and continued for the stint by Joss Whedon. I lost track of it after that, but I continue to have a great fondness for it, so when I heard Stevenson was picking it up, I thought I’d check it out, ever hopeful.

Boy-howdy was I disappointed. I already knew that the Secret Wars Battleworld version of Runaways was vastly different than the original set-up. In fact, I knew that only one character overlapped–Molly, a pint-sized 12 year old with a super-strength mutation. But before we really get into it, here’s Marvel’s marketing description:

The best and brightest teens from all corners of Battleworld are chosen to attend a prestigious school on the planet’s capital! • But what does the new class do when they discover the school’s beloved headmaster is actually a diabolical super villain? RUN AWAY! • A SECRET WARS story like none other from the remarkable minds of Noelle Stevenson (LUMBERJANES) and Sanford Greene (UNCANNY AVENGERS)!

So, really, the whole set-up and character set is changed. I didn’t find it for the better. Though this is only issue #1, I found the characters’ introductions to be lackluster. The conceit of how they all come together is akin to The Breakfast Club–a bunch of students who otherwise don’t get along get in trouble with the school authorities and put in detention. Meanwhile, they’re all concerned about a skills test that will decide whether they can stay in the school or will be expelled.

The characters lacked any pizazz, depth, or uniqueness. Sure, they were delineated into different cliques by their clothes and interactions with each other, either positive or negative, but they largely all talked the same. I had been looking for the kind of quick-handed characterization of Lumberjanes with a touch of that wackiness. Perhaps that’s too much to expect from issue #1, but the characters left me so bleh I won’t be buying issue #2.

Furthermore, Sanford Greene’s art was fine but difficult to love. Close-ups had excessive etching, medium shots looked like Archie-style, and long shots looked like classic Annie.

However, there were glimpses of something better to come. I enjoyed the re-imagining of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters as Victor Von Doom’s Institute for Gifted Youths. With it came a frame composition that easily called to mind posters for Hitler Youth. And here’s where the playfulness can be seen. The Hitler Youth here become Doom Youth, which becomes doomed youth. runaways1detention

I also enjoyed seeing the larger picture of Battleworld through the description boxes for each character. Since I’m only reading A-Force and Captain Marvel and the Carol Corps, I don’t have a full sense of the different regions of Battleworld, but this gave me a taste. Initially I was thrown off by the voice in those info boxes. It was distinctively young sounding with a touch of snark. Of course, the final reveal of the book gives a name and face to these student notes.

Also laudable was depiction of non-cisgendered characters. Sanna is extremely masculine, so much so that I originally took her for a him. Pixie and Jubilee previously dated but are now just friends.

But it doesn’t add up to a story I’m interested in seeing the development of. If you’re reading the series and want to convince me of its merits in the coming issues, I’d be glad to be proven wrong on this title.

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‘Con Man’ Trailer: Insights, Cameos, and Easter Eggs

conmaniconAlan Tudyk’s and Nathan Fillion’s IndieGoGo-funded webseries Con Man had a huge Hall H panel during San Diego Comic-Con this past week. During the panel, he premiered the trailer for the upcoming show.

The trailer highlights the satire of the series for Tudyk and his co-star Nathan Fillion.

  1. Spectrum, the sci-fi series Tudyk’s character Wray Nerely is known for, parodies Firefly, the show Tudyk and Fillion are best known for amongst the geeks of sci-fi conventions. Like Firefly, Spectrum was cancelled too soon and gained a cult status afterwards. In the trailer, various people ask Nerely is they’re going to make a Spectrum movie. Firefly was resurrected for the big screen in the film Serenity.alan-nathan-deck-crop-143647
  2. Like in the trailer, Fillion has gone on to bigger stardom. In Con Man his fame is in films, while in real life, Fillion has been the star of the hit t.v. series Castle.
  3. Meanwhile Con Man minimizes Tudyk’s post-Firefly fame by his character Nerely bemoaning that Spectrum was the best thing he’s ever done then showing him doing what appears to be animation voice-work. In real life, Tudyk is a rock-star voice actor, having wonderfully villainous roles in massive hit films Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph.alan-voicework
  4. As is shown in the trailer, Tudyk’s and Fillion’s characters hope to work together again. Con Man was in part an excuse for Tudyk to actually make that wish come true.

Other Easter eggs, jokes, and cameos from the trailer:

  1. Spectrum isn’t all Firefly. The soundtrack and alien/supernatural presence, plus the red and black flight suits are similar to Farscape, another cult sci-fi show that was cancelled and later resurrected due to rabid fan fervor.
  2. Nerely’s accompanied at the convention by Felicia Day, Geek Queen, best known for her webseries The Guild and her role as Penny in Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog.
  3. Sean Austin, who will forever be Samwise Gamgee aka “the fat hobbit” from The Lord of the Rings encourages Nerely to embrace being a “space pilot” because it’s “better than reality.”
  4. The bartender who scoffs at Nerely being able to “play thirty” is Casper Van Dien, known in sci-fi circles as the star of the satirical masterpiece Starship Troopers, from which Firefly borrowed costumes to outfit their Alliance troopers in the episode “The Train Job.”
  5. The fabulous Gina Torres is playing the recording engineer in the scene where Nerely is performing voice work for an animated feature. Torres played Zoe on Firefly who was married to Tudyk’s character Wash.
  6. When Nerely attempts to get a seat on an airplane, he asks a man if he happens to be a sci-fi fan, and that man tells him to “F**k off.” That bearded, sunglasses-wearing jerk is Wil Wheaton, high king of geeks and known best for his role as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
  7. Fellow judge Sean Maher comments, “Oh, he’s sexy.” Maher played Simon on Firefly. He shared publicly that he was gay just a few years ago.
  8. Michael Dorn, aka Worf from Star Trek: The Next Generation, reads Shakespeare while Seth Green, known best as Oz on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and as writer and director of Robot Chicken to sci-fi con-goers, humors Nerely’s bad joke.
  9. Tricia Helfer, who is known for Cylon Number Six on Battlestar Galactica, plays a Helfer lookalike on Con Man. Nerely talks on the phone about how he met a woman who looks just like that hot, hot cylon then underlines the fact that all of the cylons were hot.
  10. Amy Acker shows up as Nerely’s wife? Acker co-starred with Tudyk in Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse.
  11. Speaking of Joss, he appears as a crew member shaking snow and his head.
  12. When Nerely brags that he’s doing a movie with Jack Moore (Fillion), the guy who asks if it’s a Spectrum movie is Milo Ventimiglia, who played Peter Petrelli on Heroes.
  13. Henry Rollins agrees to do Nerely’s movie, but only on the condition that there’s no crowdfunding–which is funny because Con Man itself was crowdfunded.
  14. When Nerely opens his Spectrum doll, the placement and pose of the doll’s right hand suggests masturbation, that he’s a wanker.


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The Whedon Western From ‘Serenity’ to ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’

After having recently watched both Joss Whedon’s first big screen writer-director debut, Serenity, and his most recent writer-director film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, I was struck by a shared theme, in fact, a theme that is most at home in the classic Western.

[Spoilers for Serenity, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Searchers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier]

Civilized vs. Savage

In the Western, the baseline theme is civilization vs. savagery. Sometimes it’s played straight, as in The Magnificent Seven where the semi-savage gunhands fight for the livelihoods of the civilized farmers, but other times the two ideas get muddied. In John Ford’s The Searchers, Ethan (John Wayne) hates the Comanche and especially their leader, Scar, for massacring his family. The hatred drives him out of a civilized head-space until at the end he actually scalps Scar in revenge, becoming the savage thing he hates. The movie goes to great lengths to show Ethan and Scar as foils, more alike than they are different, two sides of the same coin. Ethan, after becoming near savage himself, doesn’t belong in civilization. The final shot of the film symbolizes this acutely.

Ethan taking a last look at his family before heading back out into the wilderness.

Ethan taking a last look at his family before heading back out into the wilderness.

In Serenity, Ethan and Scar become Mal and the Operative. Malcolm Reynolds is “not the pluky hero” as the Operative points out. Mal finds out the Operative isn’t armed in their first meeting and immediately fast draws and shoots him. Mal does point out that he “doesn’t kill children,” as the Operative does, but the Operative points out that the world he’s trying to create through his belief and actions doesn’t have a place for either himself or Mal. “I’m a monster,” the Operative says of himself. They are both outsiders, uncivilized. Fit only the margins of society, broken by violence–perpetrated by and on them.

Ironically, in an attempt to make the universe more civil, the Alliance government introduces a drug into the air processors on the planet Miranda that causes most of the population to simply become detached from themselves and die, but .10% respond with an extreme aggression, becoming what is called Reavers in the film–rage-driven savages who rape, cannibalize, and generally terrorize whomever they can. They make the uncivil outer planets of the ‘Verse look homey and quaint by comparison. So the governors of civility, in Serenity, manufacture the ultimate savage in the form of the Reavers.

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the theme of civilized vs. savage is explored through the inner struggles the Avengers face regarding whether they are actually heroes or monsters (an echo of the Operative). This is most readily seen in our two mad scientists: Tony Stark aka Iron Man and Bruce Banner aka Hulk. In the aftermath of the Battle for New York and the murky reveal that Hydra and SHIELD were in cahoots from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the good and bad sides of power are stone gray. Some consider the Avengers heroes–a statue in New York gives this view–others consider them monsters–as Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Ultron do.

Tony Stark believes he is working to protect the world by creating Ultron. He is trying to save the world from even needing the Avengers. But ultimately, the vision he is shown by Scarlet Witch is ambiguous in terms of what leads to the Avengers’ deaths. Is Ultron the cause or response to the possibility of Tony being responsible for his team’s demise? When Scarlet Witch tells Captain America that Ultron has gone crazy and doesn’t know the difference between saving the world and destroying it, she tags it with the question, “Where do you think he gets that from?” The answer–Tony Stark–is left hanging in the air. Stark’s past weapons sales have already placed him in monster-territory, and his movement to Iron Man has largely been a redemption arc. But the transition from monster to hero hasn’t been an easy one, and Tony’s decisions haven’t always had the best outcomes. Ultron is a case in point–he’s meant to protect the world, but the greatest threat to the world is humanity. So true, but not really what Tony was going for.

Bruce Banner’s inner struggle is somewhat more straight-forward. Bruce is a thoughtful, intelligent guy. The Hulk is muscle-bound rage. Banner’s not much use in a fight, but Hulk is difficult to control. The Avengers are learning ways to contain the extraneous damage Hulk can do–civilizing him with the “lullaby” or trapping him with “Veronika.” But ultimately Bruce cannot deal with the damage Hulk does–he’s a monster. Widow attempts to connect with him on this, pointing out that she was made to be a weapon. Even Captain America doesn’t seem himself anywhere but at war now. His civilian days are over.

The final battle of Age of Ultron sees the Avengers attempting to come down hard on the hero side by doing everything they can to rescue every civilian. To keep their civility over the savagery of violence, the Avengers must risk themselves for the people–all the people. Widow makes the relativity argument early on in the battle, suggesting that they drop the city now, sacrificing the population of the town but saving countless others by doing so. But Cap rejects this idea, and with the help of the helicarrier, the Avengers are able to pull off being heroic.

Despite this, Banner disappears, still unable to see himself as anything but a time-bomb, though he is crucial in keeping Ultron from dropping the city-bomb. The team needed the monster–“the other guy”–but the civilized man within can’t deal with the costs. Wild savagery marginalizes him, just like the Operative and Mal, just like Ethan in The Searchers.

 


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Joss Whedon on Feminism, or Why I Love Him

As a former World of Warcraft raider and guild leader, I still pay attention to the gaming world through side-long glances, though I no longer have the time to actually play games. And so the attacks against women as part of the misguided/misogynistic GamerGate movement has been an emotional kerfuffle for me. Shock, disbelief, sadness, outrage, pride (at the strong responses speaking out against the misogyny). It’s been a difficult mess to sort.

So I rather adore Joss Whedon for putting it all in a truly sensible way in his recent interview with Vulture.

You know, it’s one of those things that’s always surprising. I was raised by a very strong woman, I didn’t know feminism was actually a thing until I left home and found out the country didn’t run the way my mom’s house did. So I have this goldfish, idiot, forgetful thing in that every time I’m confronted with true misogyny, I’m stunned. I’m like, Really? That’s like, I don’t believe in airplanes. It’s like, What century are you from? I don’t get it. So usually I’m shocked, then occasionally amused, then occasionally extremely not amused, but once I get over the shock, it’s very clear that misogyny in our own culture — and not just where they perform genital mutilation and marry off 10-year-olds — runs so deep. When I see this hate bubbling up towards any kind of progress, my reaction is twofold: First, it’s horror, and then, it’s delight, because you don’t get this kind of anger unless real change is actually happening. It is a chaotic time. It’s an ugly time because change is happening. It would be lovely to be living after the change has happened.

Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes!

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Thank you, Joss, for giving words to your experience that also so nicely dovetail with mine but with more wisdom. This is why I love writers.


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Joss Whedon Inspired Art at Gallery 1988

Gallery 1988, an art gallery that specializes in pop culture-inspired art, has opened a Joss Whedon-themed show.

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As Faith would say, “It’s a thing of beauty, boss.” And it is. The pop art ranges in style and Whedonesque subject matter, from a kawaii-styled Cabin in the Woods to a watercolor style vampire Dr. Horrible to a retro, Myst-style Sunnydale High School library. If the artwork is any indication Cabin in the Woods is the most inspiring of his works with the tooth-faced ballerina being the most indelible on the consciousness of these artists.

See the artwork here.

The show will run from Sept. 5-27 in the Los Angeles gallery. Oh, how I wish I could see these in person and buy them all and decorate my entire house with their fabulousness.


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Book Review – The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

An ad on Facebook using Joss Whedon’s praise for The Girl with All the Gifts got me on board for this novel, not knowing much of anything about the type of book it was. Joss liked it. That was enough.

And he did not steer me wrong. Like much of Joss’s work, The Girl with All the Gifts plays with a familiar genre, twisting what we think we know of it. All those assumptions we make of the story’s and character’s forms are smudged and redrawn by Michael Carey.  But as with Cabin in the Woods, the Whedon co-written horror-comedy film, the less you know going in, the better. So I’ll try to keep only to the publisher’s book description and spoil no more.

girlwithallthegiftsMelanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.

The title comes from a repeated allusion to Pandora, a girl who was given all the gifts by the gods, but got with it the curiosity that pushed her to let loose all the evils of the world. Melanie is gifted in both mental and physical ways, but her gifts are pricey.

Girl is a sci-fi mystery/thriller, and does share some broad qualities with those genres, even as it bucks particular tropes. It has the science fiction tendencies of dystopian setting and philosophical themes grappling with the biggest of questions, in this case, what makes us human as opposed to monster. Like other mystery/thrillers, it has secrets to reveal as it goes and the teasing of those secrets creates tension and suspense. There are even a couple authentically white-knuckle moments.

Unfortunately, to talk about how Carey redraws the lines of the genre would be to delve deeply into spoiler territory. You’ll have to discover that for yourself.

Despite the innovations of genre, the characters remain somewhat shallow throughout, standing in as types or even carriers of a particular philosophy in the face of their particular situation, but despite that they are empathetic and engaging. Each thinks she is doing to right thing to help humanity; each thinks she is the hero.

I didn’t see the ending coming. It was the kind of ending that both surprised and made perfect sense. No easy task to pull off.

I would recommend The Girl with All the Gifts to fans of Neil Gaiman, Joss (of course), and John Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In.


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Ability to Resist Firefly Online Fading

fireflyonlineiconEnter the last week of July, the season of San Diego Comic Con, which always brings out the big news and developments in the geek world.

A year ago, I experienced momentary glee when Quantum Mechanix Inc. (QMx) and Spark Plug Games announced Firefly Online, a multi-user strategic roleplaying game set in the Firefly ‘Verse. That moment was immediately followed by resigned distance. If the game actually got legs, it might be lackluster. If it was, in fact, good, it wouldn’t matter anyway – I didn’t have time for it. I had a 6 mo. old at the time and was three years out from World of Warcraft progression raiding, which had taught me that MMO’s turned into a second job of near 40 hours a week when you play them seriously. No matter how good the game turned out to be, there was no way I could let myself get involved.

This year, my emotions are again in turmoil thanks to SDCC. First I heard that all of the major cast members were going to reprise their roles for the game – even Wash (Alan Tudyk) and Book (Ron Glass), who were cruelly killed off in Serenity. Alan Tudyk, the actor who played Wash and has now become something of a voice-actor extraordinaire, is actually voicing multiple roles in the game. Also appearing, Niska.

That’s what initially engaged my attention again – the news that the cast would be involved, that those characters would be reprised. They would part of the gameplay, their stories continued in some way.

Then I saw the video of gameplay. It opens with Ron Glass narrating, “If I were a captain…” then montages numerous Browncoats talking about the type of character or ship they would generate with screenshots. There’s even a Sims-like aspect where they showed decorating the ship with posters, furniture, and rugs. Are you kidding me? (Before the World of Warcraft obsession, I was a total Sims addict.) Then Nathan Fillion shows up. And by then my eyes were watering. Seriously, there may have been tears.

So I’m starting to wonder if I can resist the pull of Firefly Online. And I’m not alone.

QMx and Spark Plug announced that the player networking system, aptly called The Cortex, was now live and invited people to register. And then their servers broke. Big time. The Firefly Online Facebook page gave this update on the topic:

We’re aware of the issue, the server is being swamped with 10s of thousands of hits every second. Apparently us Browncoats are generating more traffic than an Amazon sale.

They’re now in the process of relocating everything onto Amazon servers to take the traffic demands. So currently The Cortex appears to only be gathering intel, allowing wannabe players to register. However, registering before the end of August will pay off in a free Kepler as a starter ship in the game.

Word is that the game will also be available to play on iOS and Android, which greatly increases my ability to work it into nap times and the other minute spaces of “free” time I have.

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Hey, look! They’ve already made me in game – how convenient!