A cover and several pages from Final Crisis #3 and #4 by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino, Alex Sinclair, Rob Leigh, Adam Schlagman, and Eddie Berganza.

Perhaps the thing I like least about this entire series is that it re-established Barry Allen as a living, breathing character in the DCU. At least in this version of the DCU anyway, this was a totally unnecessary move that no one was asking for. There were already three popular living speedster characters and Barry worked just fine as a fond memory, a beloved martyr, a heroic inspiration. Now 6 years later, Wally West and Jay Garrick exist in unrecognizable forms and no one at DC has managed to tell a compelling Barry Allen story to justify his reemergence.

While I’m complaining, I’ll mention that for the monumental scope of this series, the pool of heroes that Morrison draws from is actually really small. We do get a couple big group scenes that show us some of the lesser characters valiantly defending their little patch of Earth, but heavy hitters like the Titans, Outsiders, Doom Patrol, Shadowpact, Suicide Squad and so on are really underrepresented. I realize that the heroes are supposed to be reeling, scattered, and disoriented from the nature of Darkseid’s attack but it would have been fun to see a more varied group survive and get a chance to shine.

That said, there are some nice moments here for Alan Scott and Ollie and Dinah. This series doesn’t have a ton of meaty character work going on, but little moments like those pictured above manage to say quite a lot.

One thing I appreciate more with each re-read is just how creepy and weird it is to have the evil Gods possessing other characters. At first it seems like Mary Marvel is just another example of a deconstructionist ‘good girl gone bad’ routine, but then you realize she’s actually possessed by the torturing toadie Desaad, and it becomes properly horrifying, in a good way.

It does seem to take a few readings to get a handle on who’s hiding in who’s body though. The Female Furies posses Wonder Woman and company, Kalibak is a big tiger man, and Glorious Godfrey is rather cheekily recast as Al Sharpton, basically. Dan Turpin’s metamorphosis into Darkseid is one of the best things about the first half of this series, the inevitable horror and momentum of the transformation is really well done and scary.


Check out my homepage for more Final Crisis stuff!

The covers and pages from Final Crisis #1 and #2 by Grant Morrison, J.G. Jones, Alex Sinclair, Rob Leigh, Adam Schlagman, and Eddie Berganza.

I wanted to revisit Final Crisis because Multiversity seems like it picks up on a lot of threads that were first introduced in it and I wanted to refresh my memory on some of the details. This was at least my third time through it and I think it is one of Morrison’s most ambitious and epic superhero sagas, yet it also feels oddly small in some ways, for good and ill. It also employs a most unusual structure, which works brilliantly in terms of establishing momentum and a sense of cosmic horror, but also ends up being rather confusing and frustrating in other places. Final Crisis is flawed, to be sure. But it’s flaws are born out of innovation and creativity and multiple readings always seem to reveal new wrinkles and angles.

There are lots of thorough reviews and annotations on the internet for this series, so I’m not going too in depth here, providing just a few observations on each issue and the series as a whole.

The DCU of issue #1 sure is a grim and unpleasant place isn’t it? We’ve got Kirby gods laying dead in garbage piles, rapist super villains leering at teen heroes, and Martian Manhunter brutally executed without struggle in one page.* This is a post Identity Crisis, post 9/11 version of the DCU where the heroes seem to lose as much as they win, and they don’t seem to like each other very much. In Supergods, Morrison wrote that he wanted to demonstrate with Final Crisis what happens when bad stories overtake good ones and evil wins. He suggests he was trying to critique the nightmarish nature of the 2000s version of the superhero myth by creating the ultimate nightmare story. I’m not sure I believe that was intention from the start, but intent doesn’t really matter at this point. The ugly depiction the DCU at the beginning of Final Crisis does seem to support Morrison’s take on his own work. This certainly isn’t a world I’d want to live in, or even read about really.

The new 52 rightly gets a lot of flak for being too grim and gritty, but that was a trend DC started well beforehand, with dozens of deaths and maimings (and one infamous rape) occurring throughout the 00s. I wonder if at some point, perhaps behind the scenes or maybe just in Morrison’s head, FC was meant to allow for a firm reboot point into a kinder, gentler DCU. The events at the end of the series seem to suggest this was on the tabel at some point, but Final Crisis was pretty much ignored by DC after it wrapped up.

I was going to criticize J.G. Jones’ art as being rather ugly and too realistic for my tastes, but maybe it actually suits Morrison’s ideas rather well. I think it a nice happy accident that Jones couldn’t keep to schedule and the final issue of the series was done by Doug Mahnke, a proper superhero artist who ably depicted the goings-on in a more mythic, fantastic scale.

Issue #1 also demonstrates the scope and ambition of the series. We go from ‘the first boy to the last boy’ as I believe Morrison was fond of saying at the time, and we have the drama with the Monitors happening on the macro cosmic level while the Justice League deals with Orion’s murder on Earth.

Issue #2 introduces more characters and more levels to the mystery of Orion’s death. The creators impressively set up two generations of Japanese super people in incredibly economic fashion. I don’t think the Super Young Team ever really pay off in this series though, other than being from the same country as Sonny Sumo (who himself only seems to be here because he’s a Kirby character), they seem rather arbitrary.

I love the funeral scene if only because it communicates a very clever idea so elegantly - that being that superheroes would probably have an entirely different sense of religion and spirituality based on the crazy things that happen to them. I think at least 7 of the characters in that image had already died and come back to life at that point.

The last panel above is, if I recall correctly, the last time we see Batman until his very big scene in #6. It would have been nice to see more of his struggle to free himself.

* - Peter Tomasi, Dough Mahnke and company did a very nice tie-in book called Final Crisis: Requiem that expands upon that scene and lets J’onn put up much more of a fight. Again, a more conventional event book would have let us see that scene within the main storyline, but that wouldn’y have fit in with the shock and awe approach of these first issues.


Check out my homepage for more Final Crisis stuff!

I’ve wanted to see Pupi Avati’s Zeder for years now, in part because I’m a big fan of his The House with Laughing Windows, a creepy exercise in weird, slow burn Italian horror. I’m sorry to say Zeder didn’t meet my expectations at all.

Zeder is sometimes described as an offbeat take on the zombie genre, which is a generous and misleading reputation, really. People looking for any kind of brain munching action will be sorely disappointed. The premise is kinda neat though - a struggling writer stumbles onto a mystery involving places called K Zones, supernatural hot spots purported to bring the dead back to life. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t do too much with the idea beyond that. The central puzzle of the plot is simplistic and doesn’t unfold in an interesting or unexpected way, and the visuals aren’t compelling enough to distract from the storytelling shortcomings. Nor is it ever especially scary. There are some slightly chilling images at the very beginning and very end, and a lot of nothing in between.

I think there’s a reason Zeder as been out of print on DVD for so long. It’s slow and underdeveloped and doesn’t introduce the good stuff until way too late. For completists only.






The AntiTunes Equation

Probably the uncoolest thing one can admit on the internet this week - the new U2 record ain’t half bad, really. For a big mainstream pop rock thing, that is. But they really shot themselves in the foot with the desperate, semi-invasive way they released it.

Ambush Bug vs. Darkseid from Ambush Bug #1-#4 by Giffen, Fleming, Oksner, Tollin, Costanza, and Schwartz.

The cover and some pages from Ambush Bug #4 by Giffen, Fleming, Oksner, Tollin, Costanza, and Schwartz.

This issue is basically split into two parts, with Ambush Bug fighting a guy called Scabbard in the first bit and getting hassled by a gang of sentient socks in the second half. It’s not the strongest book in the series but Scabbard has some untapped potential. Evidently, his first and only other appearance was in the Robert Loren Fleming series Thriller. It seems his power is that he has a fleshy sheath on his back that he can pull a real sword from. One wonders if he can store weapons in other places as well. So many possibilities.

I  love the bottom row of panels on page nine above. AB just looks so comically fragile in his lil’ turtleneck.

The cover and pages from Ambush Bug #3 by Giffen, Fleming, Oksner, Tollin, Costanza, and Schwartz.

This is my favorite issue from the first Ambush Bug mini. You get lots of obscure DC history and Giffen putting on an absolute drawing clinic, in more ways than one. I don’t get every one of the references, but it’s very impressive how Giffen can ape so many styles effectively. I guess that skill got him in trouble back in the day, but that’s a subject for another post.

From Ambush Bug #2 by Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming and pals.

I LOLed at ‘…only the indicia has been read.’

The covers and several pages from Ambush Bug #1 and #2 by Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming, Bob Oksner, Anthony Tollin, John Costanza, and Julius Schwartz.

The first two issues of Ambush Bug’s first mini feature our lovably insane hero going up against a gang of inept Reaganite terrorists and a giant golfing kaiju koala. There are, of course, tons of other jokes, skits and asides sprinkled throughout, seemingly told with like, 20 panels on each page.

I always get a kick out of Giffen and Fleming’s use of Jonni DC. I wonder what she would think of today’s DC continuity!

Stairs and stripes from Luigi Bazzoni and Vittorio Storaro’s The Fifth Cord (1971). More images and a review here.

The Fifth Cord (1971) is a talky but visually accomplished giallo from director Luigi Bazzoni, starring Franco Nero as an alcoholic reporter on the trail of a murderer.

The film isn’t as bloody or psychedelic as many of its counterparts, with suspense scenes coming a bit too few and far between. But the flick is incredibly well filmed. Bazzoni and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro craft one captivating image after another. Plus, Franco Nero is a proper movie star. His great performance carries the film through the slower parts and the rest of the cast is filled with quality performers like the stunning Silvia Monti. Also, despite the tangled plot, the mystery element is pretty solid and plays fair, resulting in a satisfying finish.

While the movie isn’t especially frightening on the whole, there is one terrific sequence, wherein a young boy is left home alone while the killer lurks nearby. This is one of the most intense giallo moments I can recall, and the fact that it’s followed up with a thrilling foot chase ensures that the whole affair goes out on an exciting note.

The Fifth Cord isn’t a perfect giallo, but the stuff it does well, it does very well indeed, and I imagine it will be a treat for genre fans who haven’t seen it yet.

You can see another set of themed screenshots here.

And also check out Bazzoni and Storaro’s weirder, more colorful effort, Footprints on the Moon.

Le Orme (aka Footprints, Footprints on the Moon, 1975) is an unusual Italian mystery concerning a woman plagued by strange, recurring dreams of an astronaut abandoned on the moon. She also has trouble accounting for her whereabouts during the last week and goes to a lonely seaside town to investigate further. What she finds there casts doubts on her memory, sanity and identity.

This is a slow moving psychological thriller that expertly doles out clues and details to keep us involved and guessing. The movie is beautifully photographed and the exotic, desolate Turkish locations make for a subtly haunting and dreamlike setting. Florinda Bolkan is great as the unraveling lead and Klaus Kinksi shows up in a small but important role. The sci-fi imagery sets this one apart from any other Italian mystery or giallo I’ve seen.

Highly recommended for fans of oddball thrillers. Just don’t expect everything to be fully spelled out for you by the end.

Also check out director Luigi Bazzoni and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s giallo The Fifth Cord. It’s a more grounded but equally visually accomplished.

More of Le Orme here.

What I’ve Watched: August 2014

1. Pacific Rim (2013) - Liked it even more on second viewing. Terrific world building, epic action scenes, beautiful colors and imagery, and smartly realized, archetypal characters that are very easy to root for and care about. One of the best genre movies in years and years, especially impressive considering it’s a new, original property and not a remake, adaptation or spin-off.

2. Sabotage (2014) - A surprisingly grindhouse-y genre bending thriller from David Ayer, who’s seemingly written and/or directed every corrupt cop movie in the last decade. This one is a mix of heist movie, mystery, noir, revenge thriller, western, and even slasher horror, with Arnie leading a gang of paranoid narcs on the take. It’s crass and gory and there really isn’t a likable character in the bunch, but I found myself really enjoying it, if only for the bizarre, unpredictable weirdness of it all. It’s not often I watch a movie where I seriously have no idea what might happen next. It’s also another movie that makes great use of an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’m enjoying his comeback even if no one else seems to be.

3. Lucy (2014) - This movie has a dumb premise, but Scarlett Johansson is super watchable and brings some gravity to her role as a normal girl who accidentally achieves godhood. It’s energetic, has a cheeky sense of humor and wraps up tidily in 90 minutes. An enjoyable time waster.

4. The Purge: Anarchy (2014) - I had zero expectations for this one but really loved it. Super tense and politically ballsy action/horror that seems very ‘of the moment’ and relevant. It totally mocks America’s infatuation with guns and general disregard for the poor. A lean, mean, and gritty apocalyptic vision, but not totally without hope. Despite all the carnage, a new family is formed through acts of compassion and mercy.

5. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) - Wes Anderson is the antidote to all the samey, sitcom-y American comedies pumped out year after year. This is an aesthetically gorgeous caper film packed with tons of subtle jokes and quirky performances. The cast is like an Expendables of cinematic weirdos and they’re all terrific. Easily one of my favorite films of the year. 

6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) - I wouldn’t have chosen to see this one if it hadn’t been playing in front of Guardians, and I would have been right to avoid it. I don’t think they did a good job making the Turtles likable at all. In fact, Michelangelo is pretty much straight-up creepy, Leonardo has no defining traits whatsoever, and Raphael is a dickhead. Oh, and Donatello wears glasses. The fact that they’re now physically invincible robs the action of any real tension and this version of the origin story is super convoluted and unwieldy. Barely tolerable on the whole.

7. Guardians of Galaxy (2014) - It was worth sitting through TMNT to get to this one. I’m a lifelong comic book reader but I had little experience with these characters on the printed page. James Gunn and company quickly set up this gang of misfits and get us invested in their world. The movie is expertly cast and the actors have terrific chemistry. There is some great action and spectacle, but the humor and heart drive the picture. A very strong contender for best Marvel movie.

8. Review Season 1 - Comedy Bang Bang! MVP Andy Daly excels as Forrest MacNeil, a ‘life reviewer’ who will try out any experience and review it on his low rent TV program. Even the most benign subjects are fodder for dark humor but the show really shines when Forest learns what it’s like to become a drug addict or go through a divorce. Frequently, disturbingly funny but Daly’s insanely likable performance keeps things from ever getting too bleak. Glad to hear this was renewed for a second season.

9. Olympus Has Fallen (2013) -  Intense and ultraviolent old school shoot ‘em up with little depth or humor. I found the movie gripping at the time but didn’t necessarily feel good about it afterwards. There is a weird misogynist streak running throughout, including a lengthy scene in which a middle aged woman is beat up by a terrorist. Plus, the North Korean villains are too thinly drawn. This is real jingoist stuff for paranoid xenophobes. Republisploitation, if you will.

10. 300: Rise of an Empire (2014) - There is some cool imagery here on occasion and Eva Green is fearless as a sexy Persian admiral, but the rest of the characters are cardboard and the constant, terrible CGI blood and herky jerky action techniques get old after a while. Also, most of the battles are entirely lacking in tension, with the Greeks easily mowing down the Persians in wave after wave. I think more practical effects and stunts, and more deliberately paced battle sequences would have given the movie an earthier, more visceral feel. I’m not sorry I saw it, but it’s ultimately rather cartoonish and ephemeral.