Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Vicious Cycle – A "Logan" review

Logan is the third solo film in the long-running X-Men franchise to focus on the character of Wolverine, although some might argue all the X-Men films are focused on Wolverine to some extent or another. 

"What, you thought they were about Cyclops?" 

That being said, this film is deliberately set up to be the "final" Wolverine story––a broken, aging warrior's last chance to make a difference. 

Before we proceed any further, though, I must warn you that there will be 


ahead, as this is a full review, as well as a general overview of my reaction to the film. 

Hugh Jackman, who has played Wolverine for 17 years now, has claimed this is his final performance as Wolverine; it certainly feels like a final send-off, just as it is for Patrick Stewart's Professor Charles Xavier (although Stewart has expressed interest in reprising his role on the television series Legion, which would be fantastic). This is depressing for a number of reasons, first and foremost that at 48 Jackman finally looks like the gruff, rugged Wolverine from the comics instead of a lean, fresh-faced guy with similar hair. But, alas, all good things must come to an end, and Jackman has expressed interest in renewing his relationship with pasta now that his days of staying in peak physical form are past, which no one could truly judge him for. Although I'd still wager he could be coaxed out of retirement for one (or two, or five) subsequent appearances as Wolverine (get on that, Ryan Reynolds!), going forward we shall assume that Logan does indeed mark the final appearance of Jackman as Wolverine. 

This doesn't count as a cameo. 

The basic plot is this: in the year 2029, mutants––who were once prolific––have now essentially died out. There haven't been any new mutant births in years, and many of those that remain are suffering from diminished powers. James Howlett, a.k.a. Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine, falls into the latter category. His healing factor, which has sustained him for almost 200 years and allowed him to regenerate from many a mortal wound, is burning out, and as a result the unbreakable adamantium––the toxic metal that has been bonded to his bones––is starting to take a physical toll. He's going to die ... it's just a matter of when. And just in case the pain of living becomes more than he can bear, Logan has started carrying around an adamantium bullet, the only thing that can pierce his skull. 

Logan works as a limo driver along the Mexican border, supporting his heavy drinking habit as well as buying meds for the 90-year-old Xavier, the once-brilliant and powerful telepathic leader of the X-Men, who now wastes away from a neurological disorder that causes both severe dementia and seizures. Unfortunately, even though Xavier's powers aren't what they used to be, they're more dangerous than ever, because his seizures cause him to involuntarily lash out, causing extreme mental trauma. Logan's healing factor helps him to withstand Xavier's unintentional attacks, but it's still rough on him, and he knows before long he's going to have to get Xavier away from civilization. To that end, he's saving up to buy a yacht, so he and Xavier can live out the rest of their days in peace and relative comfort. But, yet again, he gets dragged into violent circumstances he can't walk away from. 

Helping Logan to care for Xavier is Caliban (Stephen Merchant), an albino who has the ability to track other mutants. A much younger Caliban appeared in X-Men: Apocalypse as well, although this version is wiser, kinder and less pretentious. Because he can't handle direct sunlight, Caliban knows he can't join Logan and Xavier when they leave, but he's content to help out while he can. 

While also working on his Darkman cosplay. 

While carting around various clients, Logan is approached by a Mexican nurse (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who pleads for his help. Logan refuses, and as she furiously drives away, he spots a young girl (Dafne Keen) glaring at him through the back hatch of the vehicle. Logan thinks nothing of it, but soon he runs afoul of Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a smarmy southern charmer with a cyborg hand who is sniffing around for the nurse and her precious cargo. Realizing he's stumbled into a dangerous situation, Logan is again hesitant when nurse approaches him again, pleading for his aid in getting the girl across-country to the Canadian border, but he relents when she offers him $20,000 up-front and the promise of another $30,000 at the end of the journey. $50,000 will buy a lot of booze, a lot of pills ... or maybe even a lot of boat. He goes to let Caliban know he'll be gone for a few days, but when he returns to pick up the nurse and the girl, he finds the nurse dead and the girl is nowhere to be found. He returns to Caliban and Xavier, thinking there's nothing more he can do, but Pierce follows him back, and soon Logan realizes he's in over his head ... and there's more to the girl, Laura (who has stowed away in the trunk of his limo) than meets the eye. 

A LOT more.
Yep, li'l Laura has adamantium claws of her own, but that's not all: she's a female clone of Logan himself––essentially his daughter. In a message left on the nurse's phone, Logan learns that Laura, a.k.a. X-23, is one of several children genetically engineered by mad scientist Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant, who played the icy Dr. Simeon on Doctor Who) to be child soldiers. The children, however, developed empathy and refused to become monsters, so Rice declared the useless and ordered them to be exterminated. The nurse, with others, tried to help the children escape, with the promise of meeting up later at the border, where they could cross into Canada and be safe. Logan, perennial loner that he is, isn't all that eager to trade in his booze and limo for juice boxes and a minivan. He's gruff toward the feral, mute Laura, even though he does decide to help her with Xavier in tow. Unfortunately, Caliban gets captured by Pierce, who uses him to track his prey. What follows is a whirlwind adventure with a lot of F-bombs (many of which are lobbed between Logan and Xavier) and bloodshed, much of which comes in the form of collateral damage. 

There is a particularly heartbreaking scene where, while on the road traveling through Oklahoma, Xavier convinces Logan to stop and help a farmer (Eriq La Salle) and his family rescue their horses, which have gotten out of their trailer and are running onto the highway. Logan grudgingly does so, and the farmer invites them to his house for dinner. Logan says "no"; Xavier insists. So, against Logan's better judgement, they sit down for a home-cooked meal and ultimately agree to stay the night, and for the first time in a long time, they're at peace. They're happy. They're almost a family. And then, of course, the crap hits the fan. 

I'm not going to sugarcoat this, although I am going to––once more––warn you that there are 


ahead. Got it? Because I'm going there. 

Pierce and company manage to track Logan to the farmhouse, but they don't do anything. They just wait. And they release Rice's newest weapon, X-24. 

Logan and the farmer run afoul of some local redneck thugs working for the owner of the adjoining farm while trying to fix the water pump that serves both properties. The adjoining farm is part of a huge corn operation that produces genetically modified corn for the production of corn syrup. This seems like a throwaway detail, but it is ultimately a very important one. Logan runs the thugs off, and they head back to the house. Meanwhile, Xavier is in bed as Logan enters the room, and Xavier reminisces on the events that led to the downfall of the X-Men. Some time ago, when Xavier's mind first started going on the decline, he suffered a horrible seizure at the X-Mansion that injured 600 and killed several X-Men. We don't know who died, exactly, though it's probably a safe bet that any other telepaths (*cough* Jean *cough*) got iced, otherwise they would be around to try and heal or at least help Xavier. Since developing dementia, Xavier's memory of "the Westchester incident" has been spotty at best, and he sadly comments that even though this has been the best night he can remember since then, he doesn't deserve it. Logan steps forth out of the shadows, places a hand on Xavier's chest ... and pops his claws. 

^ Literally everyone in the theater at that exact moment.
Now, before y'all start thinking Logan got triggered by the awful memory and snapped, let's get something straight: it's NOT ACTUALLY LOGAN. It's X-24, a "perfect" soldier clone of Wolverine unencumbered by silly things like morals, friendship, empathy, etc. X-24 proceeds to massacre the farmer's entire family, and then also slices through the thugs (who have returned to drink beer and kick butt, and they're fresh out of beer). Logan tries to fight him off, but he's completely outclassed (and, by the way, X-24 acts as evidence that Jackman COULD indeed still play Wolverine in his prime ... just sayin'). Fortunately, the mortally wounded farmer manages to smash X-24 into a combine harvester with his truck, and then proceeds to empty a shotgun into his oh-so-handsome Hugh Jackmany face. He then turns toward Logan, aiming the gun at the man who brought death and ruin to his house, and Logan just stands there, knowing he deserves it and hoping that maybe––just maybe––there will be an end to his pain and torment. But the gun is empty, and the farmer falls dead. 

Meanwhile, Caliban makes the sacrifice play, grabbing a pair of grenades and blowing up himself and the surveillance van ... unfortunately, Pierce escapes more or less unharmed. Logan and Laura continue their journey, but Laura accidentally leaves behind a photo with the coordinates of their rendezvous point on the back, and Pierce uses it to track them now that Caliban is dead. 

They reach their destination, and sure enough––the other kids made it. Logan is on his last legs, and the kids give him a mutant growth hormone serum they swiped from the lab that will temporarily restore his powers ... just enough, in small, gradual doses, to keep him alive a bit longer. Laura asks him to join them, and Logan declines, saying everyone he cares about dies. Laura indignantly replies that she'll be fine, then, and Logan passes out. The next morning, the kiddos are on their way, but Logan sees Pierce's cybernetic goons, the Reavers, heading to intercept them. He quaffs the entire vial of serum and, like Popeye on spinach or John Belushi on cocaine, goes into a final berserker rage, chopping and slicing through Reaver after Reaver. 

The kids are no slouches themselves, mind you. One of them dismembers a Reaver with her ice breath; another, Rictor (Jayson Genao), can shake and shape the earth itself. But eventually the kids get subdued, and Logan has to approach Pierce and Rice head-on while Laura tries to free her friends. Rice reveals that his father was one of Logan's victims when he first clawed his way out of the Weapon X facility some 45 years prior, and he is also the one behind the decline in mutant births, heavily implying the mutant gene-suppressing formula was spread via the genetically modified corn syrup. 

Darn you, Coca-Cola NOT-SO-CLASSIC.

Logan responds by shooting Rice in the face and blowing Pierce's cybernetic hand off (he's not one for gunplay, but by golly, these be desperate times!). Unfortunately, he's too late to stop X-24 from being released. Logan yells for the kids to run, and they do ... after working together to finish off Pierce. Laura tries to help Logan fight X-24, but he's simply too powerful, and Logan's serum is wearing off. X-24 hefts Logan up and brutally impales him on an exposed tree root, but Laura blows the top of his fool head off with the adamantium bullet. Dying, Logan begs her not to let her origins define her, and she embraces him as her father before he breathes his last. 

Yes, they freaking KILLED OFF WOLVERINE. They actually went there. 

Laura and the kids bury him, and as the others run off into the wilderness, Laura pulls up the makeshift cross and places it askew, forming an "X," before joining her friends. 

Y'know, a lot of people cried after watching Logan. I didn't. There were a few moments when I felt my tear ducts starting to open up, but the tears never came. The abruptness of the ending ... of Logan's death ... left me numb, and I'm honestly still processing what I watched even now. All I know for sure is it's a beautiful film, rife with all the blood and gore you could want from a gritty, realistic take on Wolverine. The cinematography is gorgeous, the action is well-paced and the acting is spot-on.

Jackman really pulls out all the stops to portray this weathered, weary Logan. He might not look old-as-dirt, but he feels it. He is tired of the violence (which nonetheless has not grown tired of him), he is tired of the pain and he is tired of the loss. His claws don't pop like they used to and his scars don't heal. And there is such a beautiful, tragic, father-son relationship between Logan and Xavier that is difficult to watch at times because it feels so authentic. He and Xavier have been through so much together, but there is resentment on both sides––from Logan for all that Xavier has cost him and the strain of taking care of him, and from Xavier for the feeling of being trapped in his own body, and of being essentially held prisoner to keep him from accidentally harming others. They bicker and cast verbal barbs at each other that cut deep as only family can cut one another, yet there is still love there––dysfunctional, grudging love. They are both very old and very tired, and Stewart very effectively channels the encouraging teacher, the stern father and the hotheaded young man he once was, while also conveying the sense that he is old and broken, and completely bewildered by that fact. 

This is Professor-freaking-X, and he's been reduced to a sad,
sick, lonely old man in a wheelchair. Who can melt your
brain with his mind if he's having a bad day. 

Merchant, too, is excellent as Caliban, as is Grant as the cold, cruel Rice, but it is Keen who steals the show. She is vicious and impulsive, but she is also a lonely, vulnerable child who wants her father but is too hardheaded to reach out to him, just as Logan is too hardheaded to reach out to her. And her fight scenes are nothing short of incredible. Because only her claws (two in each hand, one in each foot) are the only parts of her coated in adamantium, she has an otherwise normal skeleton, allowing her to launch herself at enemies in ways Logan can't (as he weighs roughly 300 pounds with his metal skeleton). She's a cross between a deranged kitten and a Ninja blender, and it's a blood-soaked joy to see her in action. 

Early on, director James Mangold makes it clear the film is supposed to play out like a Western. This is entirely unsurprising, as Mangold also directed the superb remake of 3:10 to Yuma, which shared many of the tragic themes as Logan, such as dysfunctional father-child relationships and unfair collateral damage. But the plot becomes a bit on-the-nose when Xavier and young Laura are chilling in a hotel room watching the Western classic Shane together. If you've seen Shane, the plot from that point onward becomes very familiar. Indeed, the last words Laura speaks over Logan's grave are the closing lines from Shane, where Shane comforts the little boy before bidding him a final farewell. But this time, the wounded hero doesn't ride off into the sunset. 

Where does this leave the X-Men franchise? Well, for starters, I don't think there will be another movie to take place after Logan. Yes, I would love to watch an X-23 film, because Keen absolutely nails the role, but after such a grim finale, it would probably be best to let the timeline end riiiiiight there. What's especially saddening about this film is that "the Westchester incident" takes place not too long after the happy ending of X-Men: Days of Future Past, so even though Logan was able to save the X-Men from one apocalyptic future, they were nonetheless wiped out by another enemy even more pernicious and sneaky than the Sentinels: high-fructose corn syrup. 

Seriously, Coke, you can eff right the heck off. 
But there is a ray of sunshine, and his name is Cable, the time-traveling son of Cyclops and not-Jean Grey. Cable's jam is fixing catastrophic timelines, and I'm sincerely hoping his mission in Deadpool 2 is to prevent the Westchester incident. It would also be a perfect way to rope Patrick Stewart in one more time––think about it: Cable knows something horrible happens that destroys the X-Men, paving the way for a resurrected Apocalypse to take over the world (or something––maybe in the film timeline it'll be Mr. Sinister or the Shadow King). So he decides to nip it in the bud by going back to before the Westchester incident to assassinate Professor X. He runs afoul of Deadpool along the way, who convinces him that Xavier is a cool dude, and then they find the real enemy, Mr. Sinister (whose Essex Corporation provided Rice with all his mutant DNA samples) and stop him before he and Rice can unleash the unspeakable evil of cheaply-produced corn upon the world––saving the X-Men, saving the potential mutants and even saving Wolverine from a really depressing movie. Shoot, Cable could even bring young Laura back in time with him, allowing her to interact with the current-day (or even the '80s-'90s) X-Men. 

It really can fix anything. 
Or maybe Deadpool 2, and the X-Men franchise as a whole, will go off in a completely different direction. Or maybe Logan is considered to be a non-canon, one-off film altogether. Either way, even though it's a really good movie, it's nonetheless the kind of movie that leaves you feeling all manner of feels afterward, not all of them good. I would still argue that X2: X-Men United is the best film in the X-Men franchise, closely followed by the verrrrrrrry polarizing X-Men: Apocalypse, but Logan is right up there with them. In a lot of ways, it's a lot like Sam Mendes' adaptation of The Road to Perdition, or the smash hit video game The Last of Us. You care deeply about the characters, knowing full well it's not going to end well for any of them, and even though the journey is beautifully presented, you are still left uneasy by the resolution. It's good––very good––but it hurts to watch. 

Final score: 4.5/5 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Wizard World St. Louis--fourth time's the charm!

Well, 2016 marks the fourth anniversary of Wizard World St. Louis, as well as my fourth consecutive trip thereto. It also marks the THIRD consecutive trip I’ve managed not to leave behind anything important, like, oh, I don’t know … MY ENTIRE BAG OF CLOTHES AND TOILETRIES!!!! Yeah … still a bit bitter about that one.

Anyway, we were very glad (indeed, blessed) that our pal Tim was able to come along for the ride again this year. He had an absolute blast with us in 2014 but had to miss last year due to some unforeseen (and pretty lousy) circumstances. Thankfully 2016 saw him in better circumstances, and with the band back together we journeyed to St. Louis for what was to be one of our best convention experiences ever! 

We maintained our yearly tradition of eating at Jack in the Box our first night in town. I loaded up on egg rolls and tacos, and let me tell ya, they were DELICIOUS! The remainder of our Friday night consisted of playing Cards Against Humanity at our friend Tom's house and drinking the unholy moonshine that still lurks in his freezer to this day. 

Finding a parking space took some effort. Turns out there was a hairstylists' convention in the America Center the same weekend as the comic convention, so there was an interesting mix of people with elaborate costumes and people with elaborate hair. I wonder if anyone was there for BOTH ... In any event, we were most assuredly there for the comics. 

Although Brett's and my hair were very much on point.

One of the headlining guests this year was Charlie Cox, who plays lawyer by day, vigilante by night Matt Murdock on the Netflix series Daredevil. Co-star Jon Bernthal (formerly of The Walking Dead), who plays the Punisher, was initially scheduled to attend but cancelled three days prior to the event, which is a shame because I had planned to have them both sign my copy of Daredevil #183. I got Cox's autograph; Bernthal's, alas, will have to wait.

It's still pretty awesome, though!
As part of my "Charlie Cox VIP Package" I got two Wizard World-exclusive Daredevil comics from one of their previous conventions. One was the regular edition and the other had a rare black-and-white cover. I received the comics as I redeemed my tickets at registration, and the Wizard World staff member offered to put the comics inside the free "swag bag" I got. I declined, saying I'd rather put them with my other comics where they'd be safe. In retrospect, what happened next is funny. At the time, though ...

I found a space where I could sit down and dig into my laptop bag full of comics. I selected a book 
that had a particularly roomy bag and opened it up, intending to slide the new comics inside with it. Now, this was the first time I had ever opened this bag; it was a blank sketch variant of a book I already had, so I'd had no reason to open it up before. Unfortunately, I soon learned that the bag was held shut by Tapezilla. We're talking some STICKY-@$$ TAPE. And naturally, I got the tape stuck to the cover of my brand-new, black-and-white, convention-exclusive, worth-a-quarter-of-the-cost-of-admission Daredevil comic. I IMMEDIATELY started to panic, and started to gently peel the tape back. I cringed as little bits of the cover started to peel off with the tape. And then I died a little inside as the other side of the cover got stuck to the tape, too. I ended up mangling the cover--HORRIBLY. And no, I didn't take a photo of it. In fact, I couldn't bear to look at it anymore, and gave it to our friend Cody, who drove up separately that day.

The first thing I did after the tape debacle was seek out Lou Ferrigno, who had just set up for the day. My buddy Ryan had paid me in advance to get a comic signed for him (the issue of Iron Man where Tony first takes on the Hulk in his Hulkbuster armor). Ferrigno was supposed to be charging $40 for autographs, which I coughed up immediately, but when I pulled out the comic he shook his head and said, "It's $20 more for a comic." That ... was a little disappointing. But soon I was off to meet Charlie Cox!

I think just about all of us ended up getting photos with Charlie. Cody, in fact, swiped a Sharpie off somebody's table and got Charlie to sign his T-shirt as he was being herded in for a photo op. Cody, I salute your audacity, even if I am a bit appalled at your petty thievery. 

Tim and I couldn't resist grinning like idiots. Mean mugging just
wasn't an option. :D 

I also got to meet James Marsters, most famous for playing Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Marsters was easily the nicest celeb I met that weekend, and his Wizard World "handler" was nice, too. I had wanted to meet Marsters at the inaugural Wizard World St. Louis in 2013, but had been low on funds. I mentioned that to his handler this year, and he said I would have been welcome to come by and say "hey" whether I bought anything or not. Not all are like that, as I discovered with Ferrigno, and neither are their handlers, as we would discover later. 

But for now, let's just bask in the moment!

I also got Marsters' signature on one of my mom's Buffy comics for her birthday. She was very surprised!

Best. Cover. Ever.
With the best caption ever. 

This year marked the biggest group of nerds we ever assembled, as Ed, Brett, Tim and I had brought Tom, Cody had brought his friend Keara, and our friend Meghann met us there. Although we went our separate ways across the convention floor pretty quickly, for one fleeting moment we came together to make use of Keara's selfie stick. 


That evening, Ed was in line to meet Doctor Who and Jessica Jones star David Tennant, who drew a MASSIVE crowd (as did fellow Doctor Who alum Matt Smith, who had also been a guest in 2014). Brett, who had a media pass, attempted to get photos of Tennant at his panel, at which point a Wizard World staffer told him he couldn't take pictures. Brett flashed his media pass, at which point the staffer said, "Sir, I'm in charge of the press here. No pictures." This struck as as counterproductive, as the whole point of having press at the event should be so the press can provide free promotion, and photos of the headlining guest would provide great publicity. But hey, nobody asked me, and since I'm no longer a journalist I have no stake in it regardless. 

I couldn't afford to get Mr. Tennant's autograph, but I DID
get this Wizard World exclusive signed by the wonderful
British artist Rachael Stott!

While Ed was in line, Tim and I hiked to Star Clipper, a St. Louis-based comic shop that had recently moved from the Loop to downtown. It was a half-mile from the convention center to Star Clipper, and we had less than an hour until it closed, but we portly fellows made the brisk walk in 30 minutes. I can't stress enough how nice the store is, and how nice the staff members are. I got some great deals on some great comics, and I convinced Tim to give Totally Awesome Hulk a chance (it's totally awesome). 

On Sunday, Tim and I got to meet Mike Colter, who plays Luke Cage on Jessica Jones. He is a very big, very handsome man, and I'm excited to see him play Cage (I don't have Netflix, so I'm pretty much stuck waiting until the series FINALLY gets a DVD release). 

Sweet Christmas!

I also got lucky with a dollar bin Sunday morning. The guy clearly didn't want to lug everything back and was offering 50 comics for $20, so I loaded up. If I'd had more money, I might have bought a full 100. 

There was also a delightful assortment of cosplayers, including Sub-Zero and Frost ...

Just chillin' ...

These folks from Borderlands ... 

Few characters frighten me more than Tiny Tina.

This epic meeting of Xenomorph and Sith Lady ... 

"Buster, if you wanna keep that tongue, you'd better
keep it in your mouth!"

And this delightful assortment of characters:

Two Deadpools, Death, and ... a zombie pirate?

I also got to stroke Deadpool's unicorn, which was an honor most rewarding. 

"Nice, kid ... now stroke the horn."
On the way home, we once again stopped at White Castle, which ... isn't exactly my favorite part of the trip. But they have decent fish and chicken sliders, at least. And the good company always makes up for the "eh" food. 

When we got back to West Plains, we went to Brett's house to catch the season finale of The Walking Dead. Though ultimately uneventful (and cliffhangery), it was a pretty good episode, and I'm very excited to see more of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan (and of course, I'm eager to see more of Lucille). 

Right now I'm planning ahead for Wizard World Tulsa, which is scheduled to have Michael Cudlitz, James Marsters, Sebastian Stan and Michael Rooker among others. I'm also thinking about Planet Comicon in Kansas City, but I most likely won't have enough money to attend that one so soon after St. Louis. 

Long story short, it was a great weekend spent with great people, and I can hardly wait until next year! 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice review

When I first saw Man of Steel at its midnight premiere at the good old Family Cinema in West Plains, Missouri ... I loved it. I was completely blown away by the action sequences, awestruck by the magnificent visuals and captivated by Michael Shannon's fearsome portrayal of General Zod. When I got home that night, still feeling the rush of the final battle, I wrote and posted a glowing review on this very blog. But the next day, once I'd had more time to think about it, I started to realize there really were a lot of problems with the film, most notably Ma and Pa Kent. FREAKING Ma and Pa Kent. That's why, after watching Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice at its premiere last night (this time at the Glass Sword in West Plains), I decided to wait a day before writing my review.

"This town ain't big enough for the both of us, pilgrim."
"We're from different towns, bruh."
"I don't care, we're gonna fight anyway!"
Here's my calculated, considered reaction: it's okay. It's ultimately just a beefed-up version the trailer (with a not-at-all surprising twist ending if you know what happened when Superman fought Doomsday in the comics), but it's worth the price of admission just to see the unparalleled glory of Batfleck on the big screen. And let me tell ya, he IS the definitive live-action Batman. Y'see, opinions have long been polarized as to who is the superior Batman, Michael Keaton or Christian Bale. I'm of the opinion that Keaton was the best Batman and Bale was the best Bruce Wayne, and Val Kilmer was actually the best synthesis of both (because Bruce Wayne and Batman really are two very different characters). But Ben Affleck, God bless him, nails it. He's a 40-something Batman who is sick and tired of seeing his city ... his family ... suffer. He's a brutal fighter, willing to break bones, use firearms or even kill if he has to. He's seen too much ... lost too much. But he's far from broken. And even though he's a very dark character ... he's a lot of fun to watch.

Jeremy Irons, too, nails it as Alfred, outclassing Michael Caine in my opinion (though I would argue he's still slightly edged out by Michael Gough as the definitive Alfred). He's the voice of reason, the dry wit that counters Bruce's grim determination. He's still very much the doting butler we know and love, but he's not running around in gloves and coattails. His real work is in the Batcave, not polishing silverware. And the bromance is strong with Bruce and Alfred. I'm very excited to see more of their verbal exchanges in the next Batman film.

Poor Henry Cavill, though ... he's a great actor (loved him in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and perfectly suited to play Superman ... but not THIS Superman. He should be playing the classic Superman, the smiling, friendly, good neighbor and true American we know and love, red trunks and all. That's not this Superman. This Superman is kind of a sad-sack. Cavill does the best he can with what the script gives him to work with, but he doesn't have much. He's just kinda there as a generic almighty figure for the paranoid Batfleck to plot against. And he has precious little screen time as plain old Clark Kent, which is unfortunate because the movie desperately needs more Clark. But the lovable, dorky Clark ... not the brooding almost-hipster he is in this film. Hopefully now that the initial distrustful meeting between Bats and Supes is out of the way, we can start to see a lighter tone in future DC films. The dawn of justice needs to shine on the tone of the franchise as a whole.

The fight between Batman and Superman is great, by the way. And in the immortal words of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Batman stomps a mudhole in his @$$ and walks it dry. It's great! Batman fears Superman because he thinks he's not a benevolent god but an inhuman monster, and he pulls out all the stops to bring him down. In the end it isn't Superman's godlike power that saves his life but his humanity, and that realization helps Batman to reconnect with his own humanity as well. The fight has numerous callbacks to Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, and it's a lot of fun to watch Batman's strategic mind in action.

A lot of people complained when Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman, saying she was too skinny, couldn't act, etc., but I'm here to tell ya, she is a joy to watch onscreen. Gadot is beautiful, capable and cunning, and during the final fight with Doomsday there is a moment where we see just how fierce a warrior she is. She's a peacemaker first, but she loves a good scrap. And let me tell you, I got freaking goosebumps when I finally got to see the DC trinity fighting together against a common threat:

"You can run, Snyder, but you can't hide!" 

That threat, of course, was Doomsday. When I first saw Doomsday in the trailer, I was a little displeased, but he turned out to be not as shoehorned-in as I expected. An unholy medley of human and Kryptonian DNA, he starts off looking like a cave troll from The Lord of the Rings but soon morphs into the spiny monster we all know and either love to hate or just hate (I've never been a fan, personally). The fight is pretty great, though, and is frankly better than its comic book inspiration in that Superman actually tries to take the fight off-planet instead of slugging it out all the way to Metropolis. Although the comic version of Doomsday is a one-trick pony, whose only offensive abilities are super-strength and sharp edges, the movie version adds heat vision, energy absorption and a visually epic energy pulse to his repertoire.

Now, ANYBODY who has read "The Death of Superman" KNOWS what happens when Superman and Doomsday tangle. It's right there in the title--you can't have Doomsday without a dead Superman at the end. Does Superman die at the end of Batman v. Superman? Ummmm ... well ... sort of. And it's done in an absolutely perfect and heartrending way. But don't worry ... before the credits roll the film makes it abundantly clear we won't have to worry about seeing the Reign of the Supermen in the next one.

The jury's still out on whether or not we'll see the Super-Mullet, though. 

Now, even though Doomsday is the physical Big Bad, the TRUE villain is Lex Luthor, as played by Jesse Eisenberg. And y'know what? He's great. He is a creepy little son of a gun, a quirky, neurotic control freak consumed by jealousy and not just one step but leaps and bounds ahead of those he would make his enemies. He is pure evil, and when the scope of his schemes is revealed it's kinda mind-blowing.

True, he does look like a little twerp:

But he completely won me over the instant he appeared onscreen, when he greeted the audience with a very Mr. Burns-esque salutation.

Points if you're imagining it now. 

As for the supporting cast, Holly Hunter is fun as the senator leading a committee to hold Superman accountable for his destructive actions. It's a role that could easily have been "generic annoying authority figure," but she brings a lot of charm and intelligence to it. Harry Lennix returns as General (now Secretary) Swanwick from Man of Steel. Laurence Fishburne is a wonderfully cranky Perry White. Scoot McNairy plays the even more cranky Wallace O'Keefe (and NOT Jimmy Olsen, thank goodness, as the initial speculation led us to believe), who blames Superman for the loss of his legs during Zod's invasion. Diane Lane's Ma Kent is also a bitter old biddy, and she pretty much tells Clark he can let the world go to hell for all she cares. Great advice, Ma. No lectures on power and responsibility from you, I see. Also--and this made me cringe more than anything else in the movie--Pa Kent (Kevin Costner) returns in a dream sequence. I cannot stress enough how much I HATED Pa Kent in Man of Steel, and this film conveniently forgets the fact that even though Pa DID tell Clark he was sent there for a reason, he told him not to be a hero in the same breath. Pa Kent was a tornado-suicidal idiot who had zero faith in his son, and seeing his stupid face in Batman v. Superman made me legitimately angry.


Then there's Lois Lane (Amy Adams). I still don't think she was the best casting choice for Lois, lacking the feisty edge of Margot Kidder, Noel Neill or Phyllis Coates, but she's a distinct improvement over Kate Bosworth from Superman Returns, so at least there's that. She's the emotional center in Clark's life, not just his love interest but, as he says, his world, and she plays a pivotal role in the film's penultimate battle. Also ... *ahem* ... we get to see a lot more of Lois than I ever would have expected. Let's just say people are going to be utilizing the "pause" function a LOT when the DVD comes out.

And this was the PG-13 theatrical cut!

Here's the problem: this movie does what it set out to do, and that's it. It sets up the Justice League (including glimpses of douchey, not-Grant Gustin Flash, Aquaman the Barbarian and winner of the "Why Am I a Founding Member of the Justice League" award, Cyborg).

"How is freaking CYBORG in this movie while we take a backseat?"

It also costs Lex his hair (though not in the way you'd expect). It teases the next Big Bad (Darkseid--and although we don't get to see him, per se, WE SEE PARADEMONS!!!!). And that's it. There are some great visuals, some incredible fight scenes and a couple of quality emotional moments. But there's really nothing that merits a second viewing other than checking out Lois in the bathtub and watching Batfleck hurt people. That's unfortunate. It's not the labor of love The Avengers was, and even though I'm definitely excited to see the what's next for the DC cinematic universe (especially Suicide Squad and the next Batman film), Marvel is definitely still top dog in terms of movies.

Final verdict: 3.5/5. It's worth seeing in the theater, maybe even twice if you can hit a matinee, but you might oughtta save your money for Civil War instead.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Wizard World Tulsa: A miserable trip but a wonderful show

I generally go to ONE comic convention a year, primarily due to financial constraints. That convention is usually Wizard World St. Louis, which has been an annual tradition amongst the friendly local media personalities for three years now. But when I found out the "Secret Wars Reunion Tour," which reunites writer Jim Shooter, penciler Mike Zeck and inker John Beatty, was going to make a stop at Wizard World Tulsa, I knew I'd have to save my errant couch change and start plotting a course westward.

After much deliberation, I ended up deciding not to go for the whole weekend, and opted to head up on Sunday instead. My reasoning was twofold, both due to finances. First, Sunday tickets were cheaper, and secondly, the vendors would be packing up to go home and would therefore be more inclined to make a deal.

I convinced my friend Kyle to make the pilgrimage with me, and with the promise of a photo op with Norman Reedus we made plans to set out before dawn that Sunday.

What I didn't count on was catching a flu bug that had been wafting around the house for the better part of a week. I was fine until Friday, but then--BAM! Instant misery. There was much DayQuil and Kleenex to be found for the rest of the weekend, and although I still felt miserable Sunday, there was no stopping me at that point.

The drive to Tulsa is actually quite pleasant. Once you get out of Springfield, it's easy-cheesy all the way to the city. The bad news is when you feel like dirt, even an otherwise-pleasant drive can feel awful. I also learned the joys of toll roads, and learned that if I have to pull over to get gas, there's surely ANOTHER toll booth awaiting just off the exit. Clever, Oklahoma. Very clever, indeed!

Also clever: this sign near the convention center.

Once we arrived at the convention, the first thing we did was get our Norman Reedus photo op ticket exchanged for a handy-dandy voucher card. I'd learned my lesson from previous conventions, and got that done post haste. Then, since we still had a bit of a wait, I ventured over to artist and painter Mike Mayhew's booth. Mayhew is one of the finest painters in comics, and he is most famous for drawing comic book women REALLY well--so well, in fact, that he was listed in good company in a 2005 issue of Wizard along with Greg Horn, Frank Cho, Adam Hughes, Greg Land and Terry Dodson. I had already obtained their autographs at the inaugural C2E2 event 2010 in Chicago, and Mayhew's was the last signature I needed to complete the set. He happily provided it, and I also scored some great prints.

MAN, he's good!
He also signed my copy of Avengers: Finale, which also boasts signatures from Mark Morales, David Mack, David Finch and Steve McNiven.

I still couldn't bring myself to shell out $30 for Neal Adams' signature (which is unfortunate, because he drew the cover), but I'll probably cave next year. I did, however, have Adams sign my copy of Avengers #96 ... which was WELL worth it.

Gorgeous, gorgeous art, even if the book itself has seen better days.

Meeting Mr. Reedus (of The Boondock Saints, The Walking Dead and Blade II fame) was great, even though, as per usual at conventions, we were herded in and out like cattle. He's a really nice guy, even though I'm guessing the sunglasses were due to a late night at the nearby casino.

We're not worthy!

I also met Marvel and DC penciler Mike McKone, and even though I went to his booth only expecting to say "hey," get a couple of signatures and be on my way, he proved to be one of the nicest, friendliest creators I've met over my years of convention-going. I had a couple of blank-cover comics on-hand and, after talking with him a bit, requested a basic Wolverine head sketch. He said it'd be about 90 minutes, so I wandered off for a bit. When I came back, THIS is what awaited me:


Let me make something perfectly clear: all I asked for was a basic head-sketch, with maybe a bit of red marker scribbled in for blood effects. This work of ART? This magnificent, detailed, full-color masterpiece? That was out of the goodness of Mike McKone's heart. I will hereby sing his praises forevermore. He is TRULY a class act.

I also met Neal Adams' son Joel, who was a character designer for King of the Hill during its early seasons. I had a blank Batman '66 cover which, combined with a moment of inspiration, resulted in this glorious commission:

Bask in the glory! BASK IN IT!!

I also had an awesome time talking to Jim Shooter about the appeal of the original Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars, and commented that it's a shame we never got to see a black-costumed version of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Spider-Man balloon. Shooter grinned and informed me that he was the one who designed the balloon, shortly after he had been "let go" from Marvel (Shooter is a bit of a polarizing figure in the comic book industry, rather like Neal Adams. But, like Adams, his positives have vastly outweighed the negatives in retrospect. Here's a great read about his methods, which really makes me feel bad for him, and also inspires me more than a little bit). Legendary Spider-Man artist John Romita, Sr., had initially been brought in to provide input on the balloon, and the result was a scrunched-up figure that looked like a scrunched-up, ugly baby. Shooter said the problem was Romita was "too nice," and backed down when the sculptor told him a proper-looking Spidey balloon "couldn't be done." Shooter, on the other hand, told the sculptor upfront what needed to be done, and wouldn't take no for an answer. The result was the now-legendary, awesome balloon, and once it was sculpted, Shooter said, Romita himself provided the intricate web design, showing the painters how to apply it.

Even when seated, he towers over me.
I asked Jim if he'd be willing to do a quick Spidey head-sketch on my copy Secret Wars #8. He politely declined, citing his shaky hand, and that was fine. It was a pleasure just to meet him, speak with him, and shake that hand.

He did, however, sign my comic, as well as my copy of #1. Again, I can't stress enough, he's a legend in the comics industry, and one of the key reasons I drove almost six hours to Tulsa, flu symptoms notwithstanding.

LOVE it. 
These are also signed by Zeck and Beatty. 

You know who else was at Wizard World Tulsa? KEVIN CONROY, the voice of Batman himself! And you know what he did as soon as he walked into the signing area? He climbed up on his chair, spread his arms and bellowed, "I am VENGEANCE. I am THE NIGHT! I ... AM ... BATMAN!"

I might have fangirled just a little bit.

Maybe a lot.

He was very pleasant, and clearly enjoys his job. What's funny is I shelled out $40 for his autograph fully intending to flip it later when I opened up my very own comic shop (which is happening ... soon). But as soon as he asked, "Would you like me to make this out to you?" ... well, there was no doubt in my mind when I said "yes." I'm framing that sucker and keeping it forever!

He even signed it "Batman." BATMAN!!! :) 

Zeck and Beatty were awesome as well. I bought several prints from Zeck, including one of the classic Captain America Annual 8 to go with the comic I also had signed.

What I love about this issue is it's the one where
an angry Cap tells Wolverine he'll NEVER be an
Avenger ... and 20 years later, he becomes an Avenger. 

Michael Golden was also available to sign my copy of Avengers Annual 10, which is best known as the first appearance of Rogue (she thrashes the Avengers mightily).

Traded for this beauty at Oz-Con earlier this year. 

I met Jai Nitz by accident. Kyle and I were walking past his table and I thought he said something to me, which prompted me to say, "Huh?" He replied, "What?", and after ten minutes of listening to him talk about the industry and the influence of legendary professionals, he convinced me to walk away with two volumes of his series, Dream Thief. I honestly didn't expect to enjoy it, but I fought off the effects of my NyQuil long enough to get through the first volume last night, and I've got to say, it was VERY hard not to stay up and devour the second volume. It takes a very unlikable character and makes his story and evolution as a not-quite-hero quite compelling.

It's DARK. But it's good. 

I also went on a joyful search for assorted swag, and came up very happy. First off, how 'bout dis Riddler figure?

Based on Greg Capullo's "Zero Year" design.

How about this sweet Joe Kubert Ghosts cover, just in time for Halloween?

Valuable? Nah. Awesome? YES. 

Then there's the convention-exclusive reprint of The Walking Dead #1, with a spiffy cover by Good Charlotte guitarist Billy Martin. Although it's a little odd that Rick still has his hand even though Carl's missing an eye ... it's still a fun cover.

Mr. Martin was very nice as well, by the way. 

Then there's this awesome book from the '70s JSA resurgence, by Paul Levitz and Joe Staton. A copy of this was one of my very first comics, but I read the thing ragged. I'm glad to have a fresh copy because Staton is going to be at Comi-Conway in November, where I'm going to have vendor space. I'm looking forward to meeting Staton and I might just see if I can convince him to do a sketch of the classic Earth 2 Flash.

Before there was Wolverine ... there was Wildcat!

I picked up Batman #10, the penultimate chapter of the "Court of Owls" yarn, and also the one issue I yet lacked of that series.

Capullo goodness!

And, of course, the one I've wanted for years but never thought I'd own ...

And now you want it too. 

The drive home was miserable, in large part due to my flu symptoms and also as a result of the Volcano Quesarito I had for dinner. But I'd do it again in a heartbeat (except for the Quesarito part). The show was a lot of fun, as all the conventions I've been to have been. It was low-key and friendly, and I loved interacting with the various creators. I also got to see my friend Amber, who has volunteered for quite a few Wizard cons, and does a great job of it.

Some people might complain that the Wizard World conventions place to big a focus on celebrities as opposed to the comic book aspects, and to an extent that's true (Mike Tyson of all people was on the guest list for a while before he had to cancel due to other engagements). But I love the diverse crowds and the many different ways many different nerds from many different walks of life can come together and nerd out.

Will I go back next year? I'd like to. Like I said, I might not be as financially stable as I am this year, and I might only be able to go to one (and if that's the case, I'm going to St. Louis, because it's closer, and more of my friends would be able to go). But if business is booming, I'll gladly make the trip to Tulsa once more. I just hope I'm not sick. And I'll probably stay the night somewhere.