Sunday, May 20, 2012

Review: Popeye #1

Popeye has finally returned to comic books, in the first issue of IDW's new series.  Written by Roger Langridge with art by Bruce Ozella, the first thing I noticed about the issue was the rather disappointing paper cover.  Instead of a slick, magazine style cover like most other comics, this one has a paper cover like the ones from those "Big Boy" comics you used to get for free at the restaurant (only POPEYE # 1 has a $3.99 price tag).  Other than that, however, the issue was great, but still with room for improvement.  Langridge is following the original Segar continuity.  Things such as Olive's brother Castor Oyl having a major role in the story... the fact that Bluto only appeared once during Segar's run making this his first encounter with Popeye after that... shows that Langridge is either a real fan, or did his homework very well.  However, I found the script to be, not only faithful to Segar, but also seemed to have a touch of early Bud Sagendorf.  The script was big on adventure but rather mild on humor. That's the first place some improvement could be made.  I would love to see the series embrace some of the wilder humor of the Max Fleischer Popeye cartoons.  Langridge has the adventure storytelling down pat, but he needs to work on getting funnier with the humor.

Ozella's art likewise echos Segar nicely, again with maybe a slight hint of early Sagendorf.  But I think it would be wiser to make the figures more fluid and slick like in the Fleischer cartoons (Stephen DeStefano is a master at that, and IDW really, really needs to tap him to do covers for the series).  Ozella needs to move beyond the stiffness and slight crudeness of the Segar/Sagendorf figures, and move to a more fluid and animated Fleischer style, blending the two as DeStefano, Ken Wheaton (whom I understand will draw issue 2), and Donnie Pitchford do.

IDW reports POPEYE #1 has sold out, and has gone to a second printing, which is also on the verge of selling out. It has also been confirmed that despite reports of POPEYE being a 4 issue miniseries, it is an on-going series.

So, my advice for the creative team would be to keep up the great work, but drop the slight Sagendorf influence, and go with a Fleischer influence to blend with the Segar style.  Final grade: for the effort and intent, issue 1 gets an A+, but for the actual final product, it gets a B+.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Curse Of Shazam, part 3

Part 3 of Curse Of Shazam in JUSTICE LEAGUE #9, begins with an increasingly annoying Darla screaming "hooray", because Billy wakes up and she can eat breakfast.  Then its off to Billy's first day at Fawcett High (I guess that's a way to keep the name "Fawcett" in there since the story is set in Philadelphia).  We get see see just how much of a hustler Freddy is, as he explains to Billy he can get test scores, doctor's notes, and hall passes, offering Billy a family discount.  Billy snaps that they are not family.  Freddy says friends, then.  Billy snaps he doesn't need friends.  Cut to end of school.  The kids are walking home as moody brooder Billy goes off on his own, not wanting to walk with the other five kids.  Then two rich bullies named the Bryer Brothers confront Eugene for getting an A in class and blowing the curve.  Freddy steps in and insults them.  One brother pushes Freddy against the wall, warning him Freddy's crutches won't stop him from messing Freddy up, while the other brother twists Mary's arm, telling her to cry.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, Billy punches out both bullies.  He warns his foster-siblings it was no big deal, he just doesn't like bullies, but then a teacher busts Billy for fighting. Cut to the Principal's office where she unloads on Mr Vasquez she has seen Billy's horrible record. Then the brothers' father, Mr Bryer (who looks way too much like Lionel Luther from the Smallville TV series) enters and demands Billy doesn't fight his boys again.  On the way out, Billy confronts Bryer, threatening his sons if they continue to bully other kids.  Mr Bryer then physically threatens Billy, but Mr Vasquez breaks it up. The two adults exchange heated words and Billy and Vasquez head home.  Cut to Baghdad. Sivana is on an expedition where he finds the tomb of Black Adam.  He tries to open it, but lightning strikes Sivana, leaving him with a Harry Potter style scar over his right eye.  Sivana exclaims he can see magic.

My thoughts:  a nice chapter. We get to see more of Freddy's "Dead End Kids" style antics. There is evolution to Billy's character. Even though he is a brooding jerk, he won't hesitate to step in and fight someone who is bullying other kids. The introduction of the Bryer Bunch leads to think they will be adversaries of some kind to the Vasquez foster clan, with Mr Bryer perhaps becoming a villain at some point.  Johns needs to watch Darla's personality, as she is starting to remind me of Special Ed from Crank Yankers.  The postscript with Sivana hopefully signals the plot will now kick into high gear, for if this is to be a 12 issue arc, we really need to see Billy become Captain... er, Shazam before the half way mark.  I give chapter 3 a B.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

movie review: THE AVENGERS

The Avengers have done what previously seemed impossible. A movie that takes superheroes from their own franchises and have them team up.  DC-Warner Bros had several failed pre-production attempts at the Justice League of America, but Disney-Marvel was the one to pull it off.  In a way, all the previous Marvel movies are kind of like a serial, with The Avengers as the epic final chapter.

Director Joss Whedon pulls it off, mostly.  The plot is actually quite simple. Loki makes a deal with an alien race to lead them in an invasion of earth. Nick Fury has to get earth's mightiest heroes to team up and stop it.  That's the whole plot.

The first hour or so of the movie moves at a slightly slow pace. Its about getting the heroes together, and then getting them to stop quarreling with each other and get them focused on the greater threat.  A big portion is set on the SHIELD aircraft, giving the scenes an almost "kitchen sink drama" feel, which should have been avoided. This first part of the movie, with tighter editing and a quicker pace, could have been shortened by about 15 minutes, and would have made the movie better overall.

The second half of the movie is what we came to see. The Avengers taking on the invading aliens and kicking ass.  The special effects are excellent, as are the action sequences.  Now a break down to the main characters.

Captain America: Chris Evans does a great job in the role, and only hints at the fish out of water aspect (needless to say, that will play a much bigger role in Captain America II, so Whedon couldn't do too much with that here).  As expected, Steve Rogers ultimately becomes the de facto leader, figuring out the Avengers' strategy.

Iron Man: Robert Downey Jr once again plays the role with a comedic flair, giving the character far more personality than he ever had in the comics. You can tell he's probably having the most fun in the movie. If he hasn't already, Downey needs to get on his knees to Michael Keaton and thank him, because there is no way Downey ever would have even been given a second thought for the role of Iron Man if Keaton had not blazed the trail by playing The Batman.

Thor: Chris Hemsworth also picks the role up right where he left off from his solo movie.  Overall, Thor plays very well in this movie.  He gets some spectacular special effects calling down lightning, and his flying scenes are very real looking.  It may be because unlike Superman and Iron Man, all we get are glimpses of Thor flying, which makes the viewer want to see more.  My one complaint is he never wore his helmet. Loki got to wear his big antler helmet for a lot of the movie, but where's Thor's helmet?  Another complaint is it seems in post production, care was not taken to make the plastic parts of Thor's, and Captain America's costumes (including Thor's hammer) look like metal as they did in the solo films. Here, it does look like cheap plastic.

Hulk: it is in a movie like this where the character of the Hulk actually becomes interesting. In the two prior solo Hulk movies, with the big green goliath at the center of the plot, it gets kind of repetitive.  Here, where the Hulk is a supporting player, the character can shine much better than in a solo film. As for Mark Ruffalo taking over the Bruce Banner role, I think he falls in the middle.  Not as bad as Eric Bana, but not quite as good as Edward Norton.

Hawkeye and Black Widow:  In the original Avengers line up, it was Ant-Man and Wasp. Good call in using Hawkeye and Black Widow instead.  Hawkeye spends most of the movie under Loki's spell, and Scarlett Johansson does very well with her character.

Nick Fury: Samuel L Jackson plays the role that was tailored for him by the Marvel Ultimate Universe creators. But really, come on... we all know the only real Nick Fury is David Hasselhoff.
OK... I'm kidding on that one.

Loki: Tom Hiddleson really excels in the role, evolving the character from his appearance in Thor as being far more evil and cunning.  Plus the Hulk's treatment of Loki got the movie's biggest laughs and cheers.

Overall, The Avengers is an excellent film, despite being a little slow in the first half, and Disney-Marvel hit a home run they can be proud of.