Monday, January 31, 2011

New Take on SPIDER-MAN

Can less CGI and a stylish new look save the world's favorite web slinger?

Spider-Man has seen some bad times in the past few years. Many fans of the comics feel that, since the reveal and then un-reveal (not a word) of his identity, the character has suffered and lost his integrity. In the film world, Spiderman 3 was a financial success, but everyone agreed that it was garbage. Now that Mark Webb (Ha-Ha!) is going to be directing, it looks like the series is going to take a much more stylistic approach to the Web-Head.

The costume itself is radically different. With changes in the shape, fit, and design of the classic spider suit. It even looks like some silver trim has been thrown in around the boots and back.

I for one kind of like this outfit. It reminds me of a mixture of the Spider-Man outfit Ben Riley wore in the 90's, mixed with the classic suit we all grew up with. Also, it seems as if the eyes are actually goggles instead of cloth. Something that would make a ton of sense if you were swinging at high speeds with wind in your face.

From a video of this scene in action, it seems that they're primarily using wires for the web swinging and stunts. Whether or not this will transfer well to the final edited project is guesswork at this point, but I think it's great that they're trying to stay away from the CGI overdose the other films pushed on us. This might be a way to give this character the same treatment Batman got in his 2005 film reboot.

Paint me impressed. Which, if you ask me, is a shade of whitish blue. I'd really love it if they could restore one of my childhood favorites to an empty storage space in my heart. Especially since it looks like they're going to make Hal Jordan out to be a Tony Stark replica in the Green Lantern movie.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Batman: Detective Comics #872 - Review

An Auction to Remember

I had originally been very harsh to the idea of the Batman Incorporated story line, but the writers and artists of DETECTIVE COMICS have always delivered the best Batman stories. When I saw the cover for this issue, I was instantly intrigued. The creepy look of that gas mask with a raised crowbar reflected in it spoke to me on the shelf, and I'm glad it did. The crowbar in question is the same one the Joker used to beat Jason Todd (Robin II) to a bloody pulp before blowing him up with explosives. The reason it's featured in this story is because it's up for auction by a mysterious character called The Dealer, who has been selling DC supervillain merchandise to the rich and famous for years. Dick Grayson, who is now Gotham's Batman, sneaks into the event, only to be found out and cornered by a mob of crazed socialites in gas masks.

If there's one thing the DETECTIVE books do well, it's keep the crime noir feel of the original Batman stories. Though this is a part 2 of 3, I'm intrigued to get the next issue to see what happens to the new fledgling Batman.

Dick Grayson does surprisingly well as the new caped crusader, and it seems that he'll be the resident hero for Gotham City for some time.

Friday, January 28, 2011

House of Five Leaves Vol. Two - Review

A Cowardly Samurai Continues his Adventures

Masa continues his moral and social struggle by keeping company with the notorious Five Leaves, a gang of kidnappers who refer to themselves as "chivalrous thieves." This volume explores the reasons that each member of the gang has decided to get into the nasty business of kidnapping, as well as the conditions under their first job. A coming storm of gang activity is hinted at, as Masa takes on a boasting gang member who threatens Ume, the owner of the restaurant that the Five Leaves operate out of.

This volume was a pleasure to read, though there was little or no action for being a story about a ronin. The lack of violence doesn't make the story bad, but it does succeed in keeping the reader interested, yearning to see Masa use his sword. Though he's a socially awkward man, it's been hinted at throughout the story that he's an incredible swordsman. The promise of Masa coming over his social hang-ups keeps the manga moving swiftly, but so does the incredible artwork by Natsume Ono. Her style lends much of it's layout to classic film traditions of fades, pans, and close ups. It'd be interesting to see her direct a live-action film of one of her stories.

If you enjoyed the first volume, then you can find the same enjoyment in this next installment. I know I have the next chapter on pre-order through Amazon.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

DC: The New Frontier - Vol. One - Review

The Silver Age Revisited and Revamped

Written and illustrated by Darwyn Cooke, "DC: The New Frontier" is a retelling of the start of the Silver Age of Comics, when superheroes entered into the age of science fiction, and were reintroduced after the downfall of the Golden Age of Comics and the political influences keeping comics down.

"The New Frontier" takes place the same time the burgeoning Silver Age did, during the late 1950's, and tells the story of the DC Superheroes assembling together for the first time against a cosmic threat. The main protagonist of the story is Hal Jordan, a fighter pilot who was mentally damaged after having killed a man in the trenches of the Korean War, and eventually chosen to be Earth's first (official) Green Lantern.

This book is so good it's hard for me to do it justice with just words. The world that Cooke has woven, which has been officially introduced as one of the alternate Earth's of DC Comics (Earth 21), is so well laced with the iconic DC characters, both superheroes and war heroes, that it feels more like an official history than just a story.

My favorite moment of Volume One is during a boxing match in Vegas, where champion boxer Ted Grant AKA Wildcat, is boxing against an up and coming rookie. Attending the match, though in separate social groups, are Bruce Wayne (Batman), Oliver Queen (Green Arrow), Lois Lane, Carol Ferris (Hal Jordan's soon to be girlfriend), Hal Jordan (Green Lantern), Selina Kyle (Catwoman), Dinah Drake/Lance (Black Canary), and Ace Morgan (Task Force X). All of these characters are walking past each other a party, some mingling with each other, and unaware that they'll soon be the world's greatest force against evil. Not to mention the genius way in which the Flash is introduced, putting them all into a situation where those who are currently crime fighters and vigilantes can't change into costume. They watch Barry Allen (Flash) firsthand, almost like they're checking out the new guy.

The artwork is a whole different monster. A beautiful monster that wraps your eyes onto the page and doesn't want to let go. Cooke has a modern take on the classic drawing style of the comics of the 50's and 60's that he uses in all of his work that looks so sleek I could read a comic about a guy who worked at an insurance agency as long as it was drawn with Cooke's flair. It fits perfectly with the setting and tone of the book, making it feel like the book was actually written back then.

I'll wrap up on the entire overarching story once I've read Volume 2, and I can't wait for it to show up in the mail.

If you're looking for an introduction into the DC Universe, this is the perfect place to start: The Beginning.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Green Hornet (3D) - Review

Best Friends and Crime-Fighters

When my cousin saw me at the movie theater, waiting for a friend to go in and see the new film adaptation of "The Green Hornet," directed by Michel Gondry and starring Seth Rogen and Jay Chou, she assumed I was excited to see it. I'm known amongst my friends and family for being a lover of comic book lore, and even radio-serial characters like the Hornet. I admit, I wasn't excited in the least bit. I had seen the trailers, the ads, and posters, and I just wasn't pumped to see this film.

I was pleasantly surprised and proven wrong.

I'm in no way saying that the film was wonderful, but it was a very fun movie and well executed. Rogen and Chou were better matches for the roles than I had thought, and Gondry's Black Beauty (their car), was, dare I say it, kick-ass. The only big drawback in the movie was the casting of Cameron Diaz, who felt phoned in and useless in the film.

That being said, the stylistic choices had Gondry touches on them, but it would have been cool to see a couple more signature cherries on top of the film. The comedy in the movie was well written, and I think that it was good that they didn't take themselves too seriously.

My favorite moment has to be when they first rollout in the Black Beauty with intention of being crime-fighters (posing as crime lords if you don't know their gimmick). There's a very "my best friend and I just became superheroes" feel to it that makes you think you'd do the same if you were on your way out to fight crime.

Overall I'd give it a "B," and recommend it if you just want a fun movie to watch.

Side Note:

This was the first movie I've seen since the new 3D craze. I had not seen a 3D movie, nor was I planning on it. My verdict on that is that it's a fun gimmick for about ten minutes, but you don't even have the choice of taking the glasses off and watching it in it's normal form. I hope this fad doesn't last too much longer.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What a Wonderful World Vol. 1 - Review

An Album of Graphic Art

In Inio Asano's collection of vignettes called "What a Wonderful World," he explores the lives of people who have lost their way mentally in the hum drum of ordinary life. Often taking somewhat supernatural twists and turns, there's drama, sex, and humor for just about everyone.

Trying to pinpoint one or two stories from this collection, which plays like a mixtape you'd give to someone you wanted to cheer up (the chapters are called "tracks"), this graphic work shows that slice of life stories don't need to be boring just because it's about everyday life. For many people in their twenties who are unsure of what they should be doing to be happy, this book offers the simple answers that we often overlook when complicating things with social rules and hang ups.

The stories are all linked by people passing by or influencing other surrounding characters. Each chapter ends with one character passing or bumping into another one in a single panel, then following the other character on the next page in a similar panel. It's sort of like those movies in the 90's with a traveling camera at a party and all the guests that make up the main characters.

I recommend this book for anyone who likes comics that aren't about people bashing heads in. Though there are some very funny scenes involving moments like that. Also there's a guy in a bear costume with a gun.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer (Movie) - Review

Gundam takes a new Direction

"Mobile Suit Gundam" has been one of the biggest anime and science fiction franchises in the world. Centering around various incarnations in which mobile suits (large, piloted robotic machines) have become the military standard, and conflicts exist between those living in space, and those who live as the "Earth Born Elite." A Gundam is a specialized mobile suit, having a samurai-style face, specialized armor (gundarium alloy), and overall better quality parts and mechanics. These series always focus on the pilot(s) of these specialized mobile suits, trying to find an end to man's conflict.

"Mobile Suit Gundam 00" was the newest series installment to have an alternate universe storyline, in which the Gundams were part of a private armed organization called Celestial Being, whose objective was to eliminate acts of war through armed intervention. Basically, if two armies were fighting, the Gundams would show up and take out both sides until they stopped being aggressive. This was all part of a grander Watchmen-esque scheme to unite the world and stop all wars altogether.

The show had two seasons and ended with an image of Jupiter, and a strange signal being shown from the planet's orbit.

"Mobile Suit Gundam 00: Awakening of the Trailblazer" is the movie sequel to both series, and has an incredible twist:


Never in Gundam history have any series dealt with extraterrestrials. A series that has mainly explored the philosophies of human evolution and war, has taken the next step into the understanding of intelligent life outside of humanity. The verdict: It works.

It's not the best, but it works. Something just feels right about it, though it doesn't seem to fit as well. That's usually the problem with jumping into unknown territory in the realm of story telling, you just can't tell if what's new is good or not.

Basically the alien life form is a sentient living metal that talks telepathically. It enters the solar system latching on to anything living thing that has the potential to speak without using words. It's numbers are vast, and it can evolve on the fly to combat threats.

The Gundam Meisters, or pilots of the Gundams, are prime canidates, so they're relentlessly targeted while trying to protect civilians. The whole thing ends with one of the biggest battles in Gundam history, with all of the world's military going against an unfathomable onslaught of alien-metallic craft.

The ending is the strangest thing, however, as it ends with the main character, Setsuna, using his new found mental powers to have a mental conversation with the hive mind and understand their intentions. The result is very similar to the ending of "Ender's Game," in which the whole thing was a misunderstanding of culture and communication. The main collection of alien matter turns into a giant metallic flower in space, in the shape of a flower that Setsuna had used in season one as a motivator from a close friend.

This suggests that they're finally understanding of one another, and Setsuna uses his new Gundam to travel deep into space to talk to the collection of the alien beings.

The story concludes fully with the newly evolved humans, innovators, preparing for their own deep space voyage to explore the stars.

To sum it up, this isn't a traditional story in terms of a popular franchise. It'd be like if Batman suddenly could walk through walls. But the progression to this point throughout the "Double 0" universe feels like it fits, even if it is a bit scary.

It just goes to show you that sometimes taking a series in a new direction can be fun and frightening at the same time.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies - Review

Lex Luthor is the President - Oh Snap!

Continuing my tour of DC Universe Animated Features, I watched "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" this morning while exercising. The movie is based on a graphic novel in which Lex Luthor assumes the Presidency of the United States, and soon has every hero under his command by will of the country. Superman and Batman aren't convinced that he's turned over a new leaf, and the oncoming threat of a meteor the size of small country, as well as being made entirely of concentrated kryptonite, reveals some of his true motives.

I've never been the biggest fan of Superman, but I do like certain representations of him. Bruce Timm has always shown Superman in a light that I can get behind. Instead of being this all powerful god that many of the books and movies tend to do, Timm has always represented Superman as a character who could be beaten to death by any other super villain strong enough to do it. Not only that, his Superman makes tons of mistakes, taking the initiative without thinking or sticking to close to his school-boy heroics. This is where pairing him with Batman sets off a storyline like a wildfire. The two completely different methods of vigilantism clash and work together so well, it's a wonder why they don't do more stories of just the two of them.

The overall execution of the movie is pretty much a slug fest. Batman and Superman take on hordes of villains and heroes who are fighting for a one billion dollar bounty on Superman's head, framed for a murder he didn't commit. Most of the villains and heroes are from DC's popular and obscure rogues gallery, so villains like Mr. Freeze are instantly recognizable, while villains like Killer Frost are for dedicated fans.

The art and style of the story isn't my favorite. I'm not too keen on the character designs of this installment. The muscles are a little over the top, and Powergirl's cleavage looks like it could crush Superman in a single hug. But the voice acting has Tim Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series) and Tim Daly (Superman: The Animated Series), reprising their roles as the Dark Knight and Man of Steel, which give it a really nostalgic feel. The movie also nails the thought-processes and motivations of Lex Luthor 100%.

This movie is a fun one to watch if you've seen many of the others, but I wouldn't say it's on par with all of the other DC Universe Animated Features that have come out in the past few years. It's good, just not awesome.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Green Lantern: First Flight - Review

Timm Strikes it Green

Added to the new and ongoing collection of DC Universe Animated features, "Green Lantern: First Flight," is a retelling of Hal Jordan's origin story with a twist and style that could only be achieved by Bruce Timm (Batman: The Animated Series creator).

Hal Jordan is a washed up test pilot who spends more time in simulators than actual planes. When Abin Sur, Green Lantern of Sector 2814 (that's us folks) is killed, his ring seeks out a worthy candidate - Jordan. Assuming this responsibility, he's taken to Oa, center of the universe where the Guardians, leaders of the Green Lantern Corps., decide to test and see if a human is worthy to hold the power of a ring.

I've always been a huge "Green Lantern" fan, and I think Bruce Timm nailed the tone of Hal Jordan in this story. He's unsure of himself, but knows when to step in and do the right thing, even if it means disobeying authority. He isn't overly brash, macho, or a womanizer, he's just himself. The action is well directed, and the way that the power of the rings is displayed and used looks awesome, especially on blu-ray.

The voice cast is incredible:

Christopher Meloni - Hal Jordan
Michael Madsen - Kilowog
John Larroquette - Tomar Re
Victor Garber - Sinestro

Not to mention a supporting cast that sound like actors, not cartoonish and shouting amateurs. Which I think can be said for just about everything that Timm has ever produced in the DC line of animated shows and films.

I think that many of the live-action superhero movies could take lessons from the way that Timm and the other people who work on and produce the DC Animated features approach the material and let it be it's own thing. Instead of trying to cater to certain people, they cater to the material and what makes it powerful storytelling.

In fact, I'd rather see these movies up on the big screen than the live-action adaptations. I think I'll be doing reviews of the other DC Animated films as well, mentioning their strengths and weaknesses.

If there's one thing that "First Flight" might lack in, it's the fact that you don't have a great deal of time to get to know the supporting cast of Lanterns. They're still well represented and played, but interactions with each of them personally would have maybe added a little more flair. But, as I understand it, most of these films have a strict limit on how long they can be. So no real complaints on this one.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 11 - Review

The Story Continues

The quest for the Philosopher's Stone continues as Edward and Alphonse Elric tackle the dangerous homunculi, the secret behind the night they lost their bodies, and even their estranged father.

This volume was a great balance of chapters dealing with action and plot development of the overall arc of the story. The series creator, Hiromu Arakawa, raises the stakes by making the main characters go through harsh challenges and sacrificing emotionally and physically for their goals. Though there were some jokes that felt as if they were getting repetitive, the overall story is progressed to keep the reader wanting to read more and more. And the villainous plot set in motion by the homunculi and the Elric's father, Hohenheim, is starting to flesh itself out.

My favorite part of the story was actually the hotel scenes where the Elric's simply theorize where their missing body parts have gone and what it might take to get them back. Those elements of science fiction have always been fascinating to me, and it was great to see a chapter that relied more on actual writing than action.

If you've been reading this, keep on going! I know I will!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Green Lantern: The Animated Series - 2011

A Bright Day is Coming . . .

Bruce Timm, the legendary American animator behind the DC Comics Animated Universe and producer of award wining series like "Batman: The Animated Series," is now tackling the Green Lantern mythos in an animated series this year.

I'm a huge fan of both Timm and Green Lantern, and I have to say I'm more excited for this animated series than I am for the movie. The show won't follow the plot line of the movie, and will focus more on the actual comics. I remember reading an interview with Timm where he said that he'd always wanted to do a big, sci-fi Green Lantern show, but that he could never get it off the ground. With the release of the movie, Timm has finally been given the "green light," so to speak.

I think this is probably the best way to approach the story and characters. It's such a rich universe and material, and I feel like the movie, at least from the trailers, is trying to appeal to an audience that I'm not a part of as a dedicated GL fan. Timm writes/produces/directs superhero animated narratives with heart and soul, which is what I expect to see from the "Green Lantern" show he'll be producing this year.

Monday, January 10, 2011

NBC's The Cape - Series Premier

Tales of "The Cape"

NBC recently had the premier of it's newest comic book styled show, "The Cape," this past Sunday. I just watched the series premier and I was pleasantly surprised at how fun of a show it actually is. Borrowing heavily from the Golden Age (Beginning of Comic Book Superheroes), this story of a cop framed for criminal activities turned caped avenger pays homage to classic comic book franchises while adding it's own flair. The series has an overall "Batman" sort of theme to it, but also utilizes Golden Age characters like "The Escapist."

The Cape himself is actually a comic book character in the show, who the main character, Vince, takes on as a persona as a beacon of hope to his son, Trip. He uses illusionist methods taught to him by a gang of bank robbers known as the Carnival of Crime, and uses a special cape woven from actual spider's silk. The cape itself is his weapon, able to retract and stretch it to a supernatural extent. All of his gadgets are explained through the art of escapism, naming famous escape artists who used them throughout the years.

I'm interested in seeing where this show is going, and I think I might have finally found a fun/cheesy American science fiction show to watch for a while.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What Makes a "Good" Comic Book Movie?

It seems since the early 2000's that every other film or TV show that gets released is an adaptation of a comic book. Not just the big superhero stories, but even small press comics like "Scott Pilgrim" and obscure titles like "The Walking Dead." The question that's racking my brain is, "what makes any of these adaptations good as opposed to those that suck?"

Movies like "The Dark Knight" soar at the box office, while ones like "Daredevil" barely deliver. Which is strange, because "Daredevil" received two thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert when it was released.

Do we just enjoy our heroes in dark, brooding atmospheres? Or do only the big names get any recognition at the box office?

Personally, I think it all has to do with the approach. Most fanboys will piss and moan if there aren't hundreds of tiny details represented on screen, even though it's a completely different medium and a set amount of time in which it can be covered. Not to mention most characters have decades worth of material to cover, and only, at best, three films to cover it all. If the right approach is taken, I think that any comic book movie could be good, even great.

The reason "The Dark Knight" rings so true to both fans and regular audiences is that it focuses more on the themes of Batman rather than a Let's-watch-Batman-Punch-A-Villain festival. If anything, Nolan has made the new Batman films more about what it's like to be Batman, rather than what it's like for Batman to beat some guy up.

I think more comic book movies end up in the junk bin because directors think that they can just go in, be silly, and come out on top. The source material is a comic book, so why should anything have to make sense or attempt to be deep and dramatic. It all lies in the adaptor's hands. If someone can take the main themes of the original narrative, present them with some tweaks to the story for time sake, and retain the original flavor of the story, then a comic book movie can be a huge success.

Then again, fans of the franchise will turn out to see it whether it sucks or not. Which just puts more garbage out there for people to see.

Case in point: "Green Lantern" with Ryan Reynolds.

I don't have anything against Reynolds, I think he's a fun actor and I'd have a beer with him if the opportunity presented itself. But the movie that they've put together and the approach that they've gone with doesn't feel like a Hal Jordan story to me. It looks as if they were catering more to the "Iron Man" crowd. Which is fine for people who like Tony Stark, but not for those who like Hal Jordan. The basic themes and attitude of the character don't seem to be present. Then again, this is all based on a trailer. Which, despite looking like it's going to suck, I'll see anyway. Why? Because anyone who has ever met me knows that I wear a Green Lantern shirt just about every week. I'm a huge fan of the narrative and characters, and I've wanted a movie adaptation for years. I just hope the film turns out to be better than I think it's going to be.

Thus, the plague of the comic book movie: If it's good, we'll see it and they'll make more. If it sucks, we see it anyway, they get more money, and they make more.


Watch for a post of "My Favorite Comic Book Movies" sometime soon!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Batman: The Return - Review

The Dark Knight is back from the Dead

I haven't been keeping up with American comics for a little while, so I went down to my local comic book shop, Lang's in Muskegon, MI, and picked up a few books. One of them was Grant Morrison's "Batman: The Return," which marks the return of Bruce Wayne since his death in the Final Crisis series.

Yep, for those who don't read comics but still go to comic book movies, Batman died last year. Didn't make as big of a splash as Superman did when he died, but still, there it was.

I'm about to subject myself to some ridicule right now, and feel free to scream at me, but this is how I honestly feel. After reading this one shot issue, setting up the events of Batman and all of his cohorts, I honestly wish they had kept him dead.

This issue is one of the many that will start the "Batman Incorporated" series of books. What's that you ask? Basically, after Batman has come back from the dead, he decides that there now has to be a Batman in every country. And he won't even be Batman in Gotham anymore. He's leaving former and original Robin, Dick Grayson, to take over as Batman there.

What the hell, man?!

After reading the script from the issue I can see that they're taking quite a bit from Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns," where Batman eventually had an army of guys to back him up. But that was when he was too old to do it by himself, and the whole world had gone to hell. Now he just wants people to basically do his job for him.

The problem with American comic books is that they don't know how to let a story just end. Instead of having one tight long narrative with a solid ending, they have to drag out a story line forever.

I love Batman. I love Batman to death. And I know that this is just a phase that isn't going to stick. But I don't think it's a very good one. Hopefully "Detective Comics" will stick with the original plot line, because that series has always given good old fashioned Batman stories with new takes by various writers and artists.

To give them some credit, at least they're trying to take the character in a new direction. I just think it's a horrible one. Surprise, surprise, the rich crime fighter turns his persona into a brand. Does anyone else think that this is a little Watchmen-esque?

Also, he apparently wants a thousand robots to become robotic Batmen too.


Bored to Death - Season One - Review

Bored to Death: Season One

Starring Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson, "Bored To Death" is the story of Jonathan Ames (Schwartzman), a novelist whose girlfriend just left him and hasn't written anything new since his first book. When life seems to be it's most boring and Ames thinks he can't get any lower, he posts an ad on Craigslist offering his services as an unlicensed private detective. Joined by his comic book artist pal Ray (Galifianakis) and his insane boss George (Danson), Ames tries to balance his life as a struggling writer with taking on cases other private detectives would never touch.

Jonathan Ames is also the series creator, and writes the bulk of the episodes.

Right off the bat, the show is brilliant. It's a little slow starting, but after the second episode the momentum really picks up. Schwartzman is always a delight to watch on screen, and he and Galifianakis play a friendship that's very believable and ripe with comedy. The one who really steals the show, however, is Danson. His lines and delivery are so well timed and written that most of the gut-bursting laughter comes when his character is on screen.

Whether you like detective stories, like guys who pretend to be detectives, or just like the odd combination of Schwartzman, Galifianakis, and Danson, this series is a must watch.

Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 1 - 10 (Manga) - Review

The Truth Behind Truths

When two young boys commit the ultimate taboo in the world of alchemy, the older brother, Edward, loses his right arm and left leg. His younger brother, Alphonse, loses his entire body and is saved by Edward through transmutation of his soul to a suit of armor. The young boys set out on a quest to find the fabled philosopher's stone and restore their bodies. But little do they know that they're not the only ones looking for the stone, and that great evil lurks around every corner.

The first ten volumes of the manga deal with the brothers joining the military in order to gain access to the research and files on alchemy that the government has access to. In the process, they discover that a sinister group of homunculi (artificial human beings) are trying to gather human sacrifices to create a perfect philosopher's stone themselves. There's double-crossing, espionage, and a whole lot of crazy scientific powers through alchemy. The series hasn't lost steam near the halfway mark (there are 28 volumes and 108 chapters), and I'm excited to see where the story leads.

I picked up the first few volumes of "Fullmetal Alchemist" at the library when the book I was looking for was checked out. I couldn't have been happier to stumble upon the adventures of the Fullmetal Alchemist (Edward) and his armored brother Al. The series had become pretty popular a few years ago amongst watchers of anime and readers of manga in the US, but I had written it off as kid stuff and ignored it, sticking with "Mobile Suit Gundam" and "Darker Than Black." I now know that I was wrong, and I admit that outright.

The themes of messing with the rules of life through science ring as true as Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein," and often leave haunting images to remind us that science can take us too far.

I highly recommend this series for anyone who likes steam-punk and superpowers, as well as deep themes about family, honor, and the dangers of science.

Eden of the East - Review

Noblesse Oblige

12 individuals have been selected to carry hi-tech cell phones, each with 10 Billion Yen installed and one condition: Use the money and the super-intelligent onboard computer "Juiz" to bring radical change to the country, or you lose. What does it mean to lose? Death.

This thrilling series is another that took me by surprise. It's modern day science fiction and suspense wrapped into a spy thriller. The main character, Takizawa, even refers to himself as Jason Bourne at one point, having lost his memory and being chased by people he doesn't know. It's a series that explores the dangers and powers of money, and how the slightest influence and affluence can change the world for the better or for worse.

The series is short, but it is followed by two sequel movies that continue the main narrative. The story is tight, lean, and well scripted. The characters are believable and are easily invested in, making this show a gem to watch.

I'm conflicted as to whether or not I'm going to actually buy this one, because it is on sale on right now for about 60% off the blu-ray. Ah, what the hell, I've sold myself in this review.

See it!

Mushishi (anime) - Review

All I can say is "Wow"

The story revolves around a species of supernatural creatures called "Mushi," that are often the cause of paranormal activity or even prosperity and disease. A varied range of behaviors from a varied range of creatures. Not everyone can see these ghost-like insects, but they effect humanity's way of life in great ways. A Mushishi is a "Mushi Master" who can see Mushi and try to help those affected by them, as well as study them for research purposes. Ginko, a Mushishi who seems to be out of place in time (he wears a white button shirt, loafers, and slacks, while other people wear traditional period clothing), is the main character of the story, visiting different villages and characters in every episode.

The thing that's wonderful about this story is that it's basically a collection of mythology and folklore wrapped up around one character who experiences and studies it all. Every story has a moral or deep theme about humanity involving these strange creatures, and every episode ends with a hauntingly beautiful message or image.

I was introduced to this series about a year ago by a dear friend of mine and have been obsessed with it since. It's funny that only now do I finally finish off the 26 episode run and get around to reviewing it. I guess I just didn't really want it to end. There's really no other series quite like this one. And I have to say that I'm probably going to go out and get the manga that this series was based on as soon as humanly possible.

For those that are fans of Hayao Miyazaki films like "Spirited Away," "Ponyo," or "Howl's Moving Castle," this is the same vein of animated fantasy, but with a more mature touch.

Not to mention the opening credits and theme song are gorgeous.

7 Billion Needles Vol. Two - Review

The Hunt Continues

Picking up right where Volume One left off, Volume Two of the re-imagining of Hal Clement's "Needle" pays respect to the original by giving it an island setting. Hikaru and Horizon believe that everything has finally relaxed after killing Malestrom, the creature that had inhabited a classmate of Hikaru's and went on a murderous rampage. While visiting her father's grave on the island where he was killed in a mysterious accident, Hikaru and Horizon realize that Malestrom has survived, and now wants to play an even deadlier game with them.

This installment of "7 Billion Needles" really put the story into overdrive as far as battling and character exploration go. Hikaru's past is taken deeply into account and becomes the center for this collection of chapters from the manga series.

There's a big twist at the end of the volume, which makes waiting for the third to be released all the more difficult.

If you're still on the fence about reading this, give it a shot, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam - Review

Short but Sweet

A collection of DC Universe Animated shorts put together by animation legend Bruce Timm, this set showcases four very different stories about some of DC's most varied characters.

The first story and title of the set, "Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam," tells the story of Billy Batson first becoming Captain Marvel under the dire circumstances of the return of Black Adam, another character with the powers of Shazam. The story revolves around the theme of doing good things because you should, not because it's rewarding.

The second story is "The Spectre," which follows the story of Jim Corrigan/The Spectre, who is an undead avenger of the underworld. This story is setup like a 70's crime film with grainy picture and dull colors. The plot is a classic murder/revenge story, with the Spectre actually doing most of the killing.

The third tale is "Green Arrow," taking place at an airport where Oliver Queen/Green Arrow is picking up his long time girlfriend Dinah/Black Canary. He stumbles on a plot to murder foreign royalty executed by two of his worst enemies. The story follows Queen's determination to protect someone, all alone, under overwhelming odds, as well as decide how he's going to work up the stones to ask Dinah to marry him.

The final showcased story is "Jonah Hex," taking a walk into a saloon where customers check in and they don't check out. He confronts a gang led by a prostitute who murder men and take their money. The story is a morality tale about the bodies you leave behind keeping you company in the afterlife. It has a very Edgar Allan Poe feel to it, even though it's a Western.

I had already seen some of these shorts on previous DC Universe titles, but was excited to see them presented as a group of shorts. Personally my two favorite were "The Spectre" and "Green Arrow," which has a cool little nod to a Justice League of America identification app for the iPhone. Queen uses it to scan the face of someone in the airport and it gives him a complete dossier on the perpetrator. Little touches like that can make a short story feel really authentic.

As a whole, the collection feels like a stack of DC Showcase comics you'd pick up on a Saturday after your morning cartoons. Which is always a good thing.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Favorite Underrated Comic Book Characters - PART 1

Everyone is familiar with the big guns in the comic book medium: Batman, Superman, Spiderman, the X-Men, and countless others that get turned into cartoon shows or movies. But today I want to look at some of the little guys. Some of the characters that only someone who might actually read comics or care enough to see a minor character and go, "wonder who that is?"

So here's a small list of characters that I think are awesome who don't get enough attention.

1. Green Arrow/Oliver Queen

Known as the "Emerald Archer," Green Arrow is the world's greatest shot with a bow and arrow, and has always been a strong member in the JLA. Though he has his own comic book title and many fans, he often gets written off as just a background character. If you like characters like Batman who have to use their wits and own human skills in order to conquer baddies, this guy is for you. Though he is a little more "left" than Batman is.

2. The Question/Vic Sage

The obvious inspiration for the "Watchmen" character Rorschach, The Question is a faceless detective who is probably the only character in the DC Universe who can match wits with Batman or Sherlock Holmes for that matter. Another character who relies on his physical training and intelligence, The Question is a little less conspiracy driven than Rorschach, but does now borrow some things from the character that was based on him. Pretty strange, huh?

3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Many people forget, or just plain don't know, that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started out in panels and not cartoons. Also, the comic book version is raw. We're talking Sin City raw. In the later versions of the comics that are still running, the Turtles are a little less violent, but still take on more realistic and social problems like gang wars and drug trafficking. I had heard rumors of a film version of the comic series, but alas, Disney now owns the TMNT franchise. Don't see that happening anytime soon.

4. Guy Gardner/Green Lantern

Known as "The Warrior," Guy Gardner isn't really that popular among Green Lantern fans or comic book fans in general. At least, from the circles that I've spoken with. Which is a shame, because I'd say Guy Gardner is the DC Comics equivalent to Marvel's Wolverine. He's got an attitude, doesn't get along with that many people, and has a strange complicated past. When push comes to shove, Guy gets the job done.

5. Captain Marvel/Billy Batson

Wrongly known to many as Shazam, the character's actual name is Captain Marvel. Given all the powers of the gods, Captain Marvel is Earth's magical protector, who is also just a little kid who turns into a full grown man. You can imagine the story possibilities when a ten-year-old is charged with acting like an adult while saving the planet time and time again.

Upon reviewing this list, I noticed that most of them are DC characters. I want to apologize for Marvel fans, as I'm more of a DC fanatic. I'll do another installment with a wider base in the future.

Neon Genesis Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone - Review

Giant Living Robots Vs. "Angels?"

The classic anime series has been condensed, re-cut, and re-animated into three movies, and "You Are (Not) Alone" is the first of the three.

The premise revolves around the near future, where giant monsters known only as "Angels" have ravaged the planet, leaving only about half of the world's population left. The military science defense organization known as "NERV" has created powerful piloted robots known as Evangelions (EVAs), in hopes to thwart the Angels and save humanity. Shinji, a high school student and son of the creator of the EVAs, is selected to pilot Unit 001, and defend Neo Tokyo III from the Angel's attacks.

I was first introduced to "Neon Genesis Evangelion" when I was a freshman in high school. I watched about the first ten episodes, then ran out of tapes to borrow from a guy in my class. When I had heard that it was being re-cut into films and released on Blu Ray, I was excited to see how it measured up to the original series. That being said, I had no recollection of the details of the plot or of what was actually going on.

What I'm driving at is that it's bat-shit insane.

The Angels are very strange creatures, with a very unique design to each monster. The EVAs themselves are a bit sinister, being made up of living tissue and mechanics. And the deaths of the Angels are just as odd, leaving only a rain of blood and a rainbow after their demise.

Overall, the movie version was much better paced than I remember the TV series being done. I can't speak for the DVD version, but the Blu Ray looks spectacular. The colors are vibrant, the sound is shattering, and the new animation is just what the doctor ordered. At least, I'm pretty sure it's all new, most of it might have just been re-colored.

To sum it all up, if you have an open mind about really crazy stories, or just like to watch humans use giant robots to fight monsters, give this a go. If you want something a little less philosophical and deep, you might want to stick to the live-action Transformers movies.

Oh, burn.

Ristorante Paradiso - Review

Girl in Love with a side of Family Secrets

This story of a restaurant full of handsome Italian waiters wearing glasses and a young woman looking to expose a mother's secret over her abandonment caught me off guard. Another work that was written and illustrated by Natsume Ono, who, I think it's safe to say, I have a literary crush on at this point, and conveys deep emotional story in a simple and smooth graphic style. Nicolette, the red-headed young protagonist of the story, has arrived in Rome to find her mother who left her deeply in love with the owner of a popular restaurant. The restaurant is populated with waiters who all wear glasses (whether they need them or not), and make all of the female diners swoon when they walk by. Nicolette is torn between exposing her mother's secrets to her boyfriend, and falling in love and trying to be happy as well.

Right off the bat, this isn't the kind of story I usually read. Someone could go ahead and call it "chick lit," but Ono once again is able to take a genre I wouldn't normally like and populate it with characters I care about. Whether you're looking to read a love story, or just love stories in general, this is a surprising little graphic novel that puts a face on those who serve us in restaurants.

Side Note:

There's also a second prequel series called "Gente," which is about the different waiter's pasts and how they came to all work at the ristorante.